How to Switch from a Night Owl to a Chirpy Morning Bird (if Possible)

by on September 17, 2013

morning birdBeing a night owl is certainly not evil, but it can come with some detrimental side effects, especially if the tendency is brought on by habit rather than genetics. We outlined a number of those effects in our post on Psychopathy, Narcissism, Heart Woes: How Being a Night Owl Can Hurt You. While not all these potential horrors will come to pass, you may still want to switch up your body clock to transform yourself from a night owl to a chirpy morning bird if you can. 

Before we jump into ways to fine-tune your body clock and adjust your habits, it can be helpful to understand what’s going on in your body through all this and why you’d want to help out your body clock in the first place.

Body Clock Explained

Our body clocks, also known as biological clocks or “circadian clocks” are what help our body time many biological functions, such as our moods, blood pressure, levels of alertness, physical strength and sleep patterns. Your metabolism revs up when you wake up, for example, and your body temperature and blood pressure drop when it’s time to go to bed.

Just FYI for those into Latin, the term circadian comes from the root words of:

  • Circa: about
  • Diem: day 

Why You Have a Body Clock in the First Place

The reason you have a body clock in the first place is due to your suprachiasmatic nuclei, or SCN, circadian neuroscience professor Russell Foster explains in his Guardian article. These SCN are made up of some 50,000 neurons nestled at the base of your brain in its anterior hypothalamus. About 14 to 20 genes and their protein products are associated with your SCN clock, and slight changes in the genes are what can give you night owl or chirpy morning bird tendencies.

While researchers originally thought your SCN was the end-all of body clock control, new evidence suggests each organ instead has its own set of clock genes and your SCN acts as the master controller that helps to keep all the other clocks in sync.

Add in the 1 percent of cells in your optic nerve that is directly sensitive to light, and your body then has the ability to send information on the dawn-to-dusk cycle to your good ole SCN to force your biological clock to match the 24-hour cycle of the day. Cool, huh?

Why You Care if Your Body Clock Adapts to the 24-Hour Clock

The process is very cool when it works, but the whole thing can become decidedly less than cool if the optic nerve cells fail to function properly or the part of your brain that holds your SCN is injured or disrupted, resulting in the loss of your body clock’s ability to adapt to the 24-hour clock. This state is called “sleep and circadian rhythm disruption,” or SCRD, and it can create a whole host of problems. 

Problems linked to SCRD include: 

  • Various illnesses
  • Disrupted metabolism
  • Decreased immunity
  • Increased stress
  • Abnormal information processing in the brain
  • Mental illness 

These traits are often seen in shift workers, who have a tendency to develop heart disease, cancer, infection and diabetes. They are also highly prone to accidents and mental illness. See what can happen when your body cycle doesn’t match the cycle of the day?

Those suffering from various forms of mental illness have also been shown to have SCRD, particularly conditions such as:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder 

Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Body Clock  

Psychology Today blogger Susan Krauss Whitbourne offers several tips for fine-tuning your body clock and thereby transforming yourself from a night owl to morning bird. 

Don’t flock with the night owls. Hanging around night owls who chide your for going to bed before 2 a.m. can be a killer for transforming into a chirpy morning bird. The same holds true for being constantly disrupted by night owl neighbors, family members or dorm mates who mill about making loud noises throughout the entire night. Don’t fall prey to their chiding; go to sleep when you’re tired. And invest in a quality sleep mask and pair of ear plugs.

Get organized. Staying awake into the wee hours of the night is often the result of disorganization and poor scheduling, or not giving yourself enough time to get everything done. Cramming in last-minute duties at the bewitching hour only serves to deprive you of sleep and throw off your body clock even further, making it tougher to get into a chirpy morning bird rhythm – or even get up on time. Effective time management can come to your rescue.

Get to sleep and wake up earlier. Hitting the sack at 10 p.m. when you’re used to staying up past midnight may result in you lying there restless and unable to sleep. Rather than trying to make a massive switch, try a slow and gradual change. Start by going to bed and waking up 10 minutes earlier than usual. Once your body adjusts to that schedule, repeat the process until, after a few weeks, you may find yourself automatically getting sleepy long before midnight chimes start tolling.

Don’t force what can’t happen. If all tactics and attempts at adjusting your body clock to better match that of a morning person have failed, your best bet may be to accept it: you’re a night owl and that’s the end of it. This is likely to be the case if the night owl tendencies are in your genes, which means there’s really nothing you can do to change them. As long as you make sure you get adequate sleep and don’t disturb any nearby morning birds, you can leave the woes behind and just enjoy it.

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Photo Credit: pam’s pics- via Compfight cc

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