ECO Article: Becoming a Morning Person Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sleep and productivity experts weigh in on how to get your morning mojo back; ‘Whatever you do, don’t log on to your work email’

*From the ECO: Although this article intends an audience of working parents, this applies to anyone who is working on modifying their schedule to rise earlier, post-Covid.

For the Wall Street Journal
by Rachel Feintzeig

First I was waiting until the kids went back to daycare. Then the deadline was the return to the office, which never came.
Here I still was: avoiding my alarm clock, stumbling out to walk the dog in my pajamas, ignoring judgmental looks from my husband as he sipped his green smoothie, 6 a.m. workout complete. Had I even brushed my teeth?
I had to face it. My mornings were a mess.
It began as a small indulgence in a strange time, the delicious pandemic sleep-in. Virtual school meant no frenzied dropoffs; remote workers ditched the commute. What else was there to do, stuck at home? A Nielsen survey from June 2020 found 54% of those working remotely were getting up later than before, compared with 12% rising earlier.
Now, on the cusp of a new season, it’s time to take back our mornings. Many kids are returning to in-person learning. Some workers are being called to the office. And even if you don’t have something making you get out of bed, now might still be the moment.
“We kind of have to just do it ourselves, because we don’t know what’s coming next,” says Eric Komo, a manager with software company Leadpages, who lives in Roseville, Minn.

In the early days of the pandemic, he took advantage of the freedom, ditching his early-morning bike ride in favor of snoozing. It took a pandemic puppy to shock him and his husband back to a better routine. Boba, the 10-pound Shih Tzu the couple got in August last year, wakes up at 6 a.m. No exceptions.
Now the couple keeps a strict 10 p.m. bedtime, and they spend their mornings sharing coffee, reading newsletters and running outside together. Mr. Komo says he feels more energized.
“Secretly we were very grateful,” he says. “It got our day started and kind of opened up time in the morning that we didn’t know we needed.”
One of Mr. Komo’s colleagues at Leadpages, Bob Sparkins, seems a little less convinced. He has loved sleeping in until 8 a.m. during the pandemic.

“I know it’s healthier,” he says of shifting to earlier mornings, as his two kids transfer from their at-home pandemic learning pod back to school. Then he recalls how packing daily lunches feels. “Sisyphean.”
Mr. Sparkins has been prepping for the transition by setting a timer on his television so it automatically turns off by 10:30 p.m.—the effectiveness of the cue varies depending on how good the show is—and filling the freezer with home-cooked, easy-to-grab food, like pancakes for quick breakfasts. He has also talked to his boss about coming in a little late. The pandemic showed flexibility doesn’t have to impact productivity, he says.
How to get going
The sleep researchers I talked to would approve. They made me feel infinitely better about my own habits—so much so that I considered sharing some of their findings with my husband, in hopes of tempering all those loving but slightly condescending looks.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, you’re just lazy because you get up late,’ ” says Elise Facer-Childs, a research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who has studied 
night owls. “But there’s actually really clear scientific evidence behind these differences.”
Still, she acknowledges we’re living in a morning person’s world. To shift earlier, start by getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than usual, says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Cut out screen time at least 30 minutes before bed, and quit with the snooze button, which just interrupts the flow of natural sleep, she says.
Once you’re up, head outside. Exposure to light will help reset your circadian rhythm. After two weeks, you’ll feel good, Dr. Robbins says.
Being awake is only half the battle. You also need a solid morning routine, says Wendy Ellin, a workplace productivity consultant based in Atlanta.
“Do you want to live accidentally or do you want to live intentionally?” she asks. “Accidentally makes me nervous.”
Her own morning routine is a 45-minute eye-opener that includes meditating, sipping hot water with lemon, writing in a gratitude journal and stretching (a regimen I find both awe-inspiring and terrifying). She promises a mere 7 minutes is enough—just think about what motivates and focuses you. Do three yoga poses, turn on your coffee machine, pet your dog. Whatever you do, don’t log on to your work email, she advises.
“It’s more people needing your attention,” she says. “That stuff just starts to swirl in your head.” Save it for when you’ve had a little time to adjust to the waking world.

Add a buffer
Earlier in the pandemic, Edwin Akrong fell into the habit of rolling out of bed and heading straight to video calls on his computer. The “cold start” was jarring, says the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, a co-founder and chief product officer at communication startup Katch.
“You’re not in the flow,” he says.
He realized he needed a buffer between sleep and work. These days, he wakes as early as 5:30 to fit in a run before meetings with colleagues in India..