From personal experience, I’ve found that taking control of my mornings–and popping out of bed as soon as the alarm clock rings–has changed my life.
If you’ve read or listened to The 5 Second Rule, you already know how I feel about the mornings!
I’m obsessed with mornings and, in the book, I outline exactly how I use the 5 Second Rule to wake up early and take charge of my day.
Your mornings set the tone for your day. And when I wake up early and have time for relaxing, planning, and being with my family, I tend to always have a better day of work.
Here’s the thing…when I’m tired, it’s hard to do this. It’s tougher to wake up early and I’m lagging the whole day.
I decided to delve into the topic of sleep and figure out for myself if waking up early (and going to bed early) is actually any better for us. My personal experience says it is…but I wanted to see what the experts said.
Like I do with many other topics, I wanted to know everything. So I pulled together the best research about sleep on four different topics: Which Hours You Sleep, Staying Up Late, Sleep Deprivation, and Waking Up Early.
FIRST: WHICH HOURS YOU SLEEP
The first thing I discovered is that the hours that you sleep DO matter.
In fact, sleep is made up of 2 phases: REM sleep, in which memories and thoughts are processed, and non-REM sleep, in which restorative functions occur and hormones are released to help the body recover.
As we sleep, we experience 90-minute cycles of these 2 types of sleep.
The ratio of the types of sleep, however, changes during the night – no matter what time we go to sleep.
Between the hours of 11 pm and 3 am, most of these cycles are non-REM (restorative), and between 3 am and 7 am, most of these cycles are REM (memory processing).
THUS, THOSE WHO GO TO BED LATE MISS OUT ON MANY OF THE RESTORATIVE FUNCTIONS OF NON-REM SLEEP.
SECOND: STAYING UP LATE
A big finding: people with depression often have a reduction of quality of non-REM sleep.
Remember, non-REM sleep is the restorative sleep that occurs between 11 pm–3 am. So those who lack non-REM sleep are most likely staying up.
Why is depression connected to non-REM sleep? It’s related to white matter, which is the brain tissue that speeds up the transmission of nerve signals.
In a breakthrough study, researchers found a reduction in the quality of the white matter of the frontal and temporal lobes, cingulate gyrus and corpus callosum (all parts of the brain) in night owls.
The problem? These areas of the brain are critical for mental health.
And when the quality of the white matter is reduced in these areas, it’s associated with depression.
The researchers believed that this could be caused by the “chronic jet lag” and sleep deprivation experienced by those who stay up late.
So it’s not clear yet if the reduction of white matter is from going to bed late and missing out on restorative sleep–or if it’s related to sleep deprivation.
Another con to staying up late? Negative thoughts.
A study found that those who go to bed very late at night experience more negative thoughts than those who go to bed at normal hours – and that these people are more likely to have repetitive negative thoughts and to dwell on issues in their lives.
Additionally, the researchers found going to bed later is associated with more obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
And, being a night owl is also linked to avoiding tasks that need to be completed.
Another problem with staying up late is late-night snacking.
Researchers working with mice have shown that late night eating affects the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and can hurt the brain’s abilities to both learn new things and store memories.
Among the mice who were fed late at night, the molecules in their brains involved with memory formation were altered.
Yes–the study was with mice–but it’s possible that there is a similar effect in humans.
If you’re a night owl, reading this probably has you discouraged.
But to those who prefer to stay up late, rejoice–there’s science on your side, too.
In fact, night owls have also been found to be more creative, outgoing, and with a better sense of humor than early birds.
AND ANOTHER STUDY FOUND THAT NATURAL NIGHT OWLS WHO SLEEP IN LATE ARE NO LESS EFFICIENT THAN THOSE WHO WAKE UP EARLY–AS LONG AS THEY GET A FULL NIGHT’S SLEEP.
THIRD: THE IMPACT OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
We all know what sleep deprivation feels like.
And if it’s something that you regularly experience, no matter when you go to bed, you’re going to be shocked by what it does to your brain–I know that I was.
It’s scary–scientists have found that people suffering from sleep deprivation more often had cortical shrinkage than people who got the appropriate number of hours. And your cortex is the part of your brain that’s responsible for thought and action!
This reduction in the volume of the cortex increases vulnerability to depression and addiction.
Have you ever pulled an all-nighter? I would in college. It felt terrible, but I did it anyway.
Researchers found that pulling an all-nighter leads to the blood levels of proteins associated with brain injuries like concussions to increase by 20%.
Pulling an all-nighter is like creating a head trauma! That’s terrifying.
Finally, there’s a whole host of negative consequences all associated with reduced sleep–including an increase in inflammation in the body and an increase in the rates of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and obesity.
SO…PRETTY MUCH, NO MATTER WHAT. GET YOUR SLEEP. IT WILL DO YOU WONDERS.
FOURTH: THE IMPACT OF WAKING UP EARLY
And, last, the impact of waking up early. It’s something that I advocate and that has improved my life. Here’s what the research has to say:
Those who wake up early are more proactive and more likely to experience career success.
A study found that a higher proportion of morning people agreed with proactive statements like “I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself” and “I feel in charge of making things happen”–and this is linked to better job performance and higher salaries.
Another study of undergraduates found that the more of a morning person you are, the more likely you are to have a higher GPA – even when taking into account SAT scores.
The study found that the average GPA for early birds was found to be 3.5 and that of night owls was 2.5. The researchers surmised that early birds had an easier time getting to class, studying, and avoiding late night behaviors including partying.
Those who wake up earlier tend to get better grades in school, get into better colleges, and thus have better job opportunities.
After looking at all of the research, my conclusion is that the early bird really does get the worm.
If you’re a night person who wants to stay up late, you should try to arrange your work schedule so that you can sleep late and don’t experience sleep deprivation.