As a culture, we heap a lot of praise on so-called morning people, but there’s nothing wrong with being a night owl. Many of history’s most creative people did their best work at night, finding that the quiet and solitude -- and in some cases, their inability to sleep -- brought out their best ideas.
If you're someone who comes alive in the small hours, after everyone else has gone to bed, the question remains: how do you make sure all those late-night creative fireworks don't set you up for a groggy, cranky, unproductive morning? Studies show that there are real benefits for those who follow an early to bed, early to rise schedule -- they maintain a sunnier disposition, they're more likely to be proactive, and have a lower risk for depression.
Fortunately, it's possible for night owls to take small steps to create a routine that can put them on a path to a more pleasant and more productive morning. And it begins long before that alarm begins to buzz.
If you plan on burning the midnight oil, here are 10 steps you can take to get the most out of your night and still enjoy some of the benefits we associate with early birds.
Turn off the tech at night.
As your peak creative hours arrive, shut down your laptop, turn off the TV and leave your smartphone charging in another room. By keeping technology out of your nighttime creative space, you leave your body's natural sleep-inducing processes intact. Earlier this year, Harvard Medical School scientists found that the specific wavelengths of light emitted from your tech toys inhibit the body's release of the hormone melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. Instead, opt for a soft yellow lighting as you work, which could help improve your quality of sleep when it's time.
Set a shut-down time.
Feel free to let those creative juices flow, but make sure to designate a time each night to put work aside. According to Kelly Glazer Baron, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, creative people tend to get into a rhythm with their work and don't want to stop working just because it's getting late.
"The time we fall asleep is somewhat behaviorally determined but also biologically determined," Baron told The Huffington Post. "A lot of night owls would love to fall asleep at 10 p.m., but that’s not really doable for them. So start with at a time at which you can fall asleep. If it’s 1 a.m., you should be done working for about an hour before that to give yourself some transition time, and about two hours before that time, dim the lights.”
Don't beat yourself up when the alarm goes off.
Night owls are naturally more likely to feel annoyed when the morning arrives, cursing the early hour and their lack of energy to spring out of bed. But internalizing this feeling rather than trying to force a chipper mood could prove far more beneficial.
"Accept that you’re not a morning person, and focus on the things you can do," said Baron. "Add some things into your morning routine that you enjoy, like listening to the radio as you get ready or sitting and drinking your coffee on the porch -- things that will make your morning as pleasant as it can be."
The morning may not be the best time for you, but trying to make the most of it can go a long way.
As you hop out of bed, head straight to the kitchen to down at least one full glass of water. The body can lose up to a pint of water through respiration and perspiration while you're sleeping, so it’s important to start rehydrating as soon as you wake. Drinking water helps to revive the mind, support the endocrine system's detoxifying processes, boost the immune system and jump-start the metabolism. This simple step signals to your body that a new day has begun and it's time to prepare for it.
Having a cup of coffee after hydrating can also be particularly helpful for night owls, said Baron. "It’s not true that you have to totally eliminate caffeine from your diet -- a cup or two of coffee in the morning can help you wake up. And as long as it’s not too late in the afternoon, it shouldn’t affect your sleep at night."
Take a few minutes, as the sun rises and the rest of the world remains relatively quiet, to sit alone in silence and simply be with your thoughts. Find a comfortable seated position (but not so comfortable that you feel like nodding back off to sleep) and just focus on your breath. Let your lungs fill with fresh oxygen, nourishing and energizing your body, and let your mind be still, watching any wandering thoughts float by and accept them for what they are.
"Night people feel best at night no matter what you do, but they can do things like this to help them function better in the morning," said Baron.
For an extra dose of optimism, try practicing loving-kindness meditation, sending you and those around you wishes of love, peace, happiness and well-being.
Work up a sweat.
Night owls find morning exercise physically and psychologically more challenging than early birds, explained Baron. "But it could help them feel more alert and awake. Additionally, a lot of the exercises you can do outside expose you to sunlight, which can also help advance a rhythm and help them feel more alert. Morning light at the right time can help."
So whether you prefer a power walk around your neighborhood or a patio yoga session, setting aside time in the morning to get your blood pumping can do wonders for powering up your energy for the day. Plus, research shows that people who choose to exercise in the morning remain more consistent with their fitness routines, stress less about scheduling it into their day, and are more productive as a result.
Fuel up with a healthy breakfast.
The human body is like a machine -- if you want to feel energized, you need to give it fuel to keep it running. Sugary cereals and morning pastries may have the taste you crave, but they cause your blood sugar to crash and energy to plummet along with it soon after eating. But making a healthy breakfast doesn't require slaving away in the kitchen for hours, either. Simply build a balanced meal of lean protein, monounsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates to keep your metabolism fueled for hours, and your mind sharp and focused. And whatever you do, don't skip the meal altogether.
"We’ve found that night owls eat less in the morning, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing," said Baron. "But be sure to grab something for breakfast, even if it’s small."
Prep for the day ahead.
One of the keys to making the morning more manageable for night owls is to simplify your routine as much as possible. Baron suggests showering the night before if possible, packing your lunch and laying out your clothes -- any step that can be completed when you're at your peak energy level as opposed to your low. That way, you can snag an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning rather than battling with the snooze button.
Turn up the happy tunes on your commute.
Whether you’re driving to work or taking public transportation, take this last little bit of "you" time to take in some positive vibes. The Mayo Clinic reports that music has the power to sooth physical pain, reduce stress and improve your memory. Create your own playlist that reminds you just how great life can be -- anything that makes the morning more pleasant and make you a bit happier is a good idea for night owls, said Baron.
Indulge in an afternoon nap.
Since most night owls can't cram in the optimal seven to nine hours of sleep before the sun rises each morning, they can benefit the most from a short afternoon snooze. In fact, science has shown that napping can help you increase your creativity and boost your productivity, helping you do what you do best after an already-full day. And consider investing in opaque curtains or blackout shades to block outside light -- sunshine, headlights, street lamps, you name it -- so you can fall asleep faster.
"I think naps are a really great way to deal with sleep deprivation for people who don’t have insomnia or other sleep problems," said Baron. "A 30-minute nap can be quite restorative midday."