An old boss of mine was the most morning-y morning person that ever did morning. Her preferred bedtime was 8 p.m. sharp. She rose before newspaper delivery people and coffee cart operators and, also, the sun. By the time I got to the office each morning, she’d already lived an entire day, and I would spend the entirety of mine trying to catch up.
It was, as you can probably imagine, terrible — especially because I’d always preferred to stay awake late into the night, doing nothing in particular. My mornings were stuffed to the brim with things that needed tackling, overseen by someone who was cheerily baffled as to why anyone would need some time to sip their coffee and let their brain wake up. Soon after I started this job, it became painfully clear that if I wanted to keep up with my boss without dropping from exhaustion, I’d have to make a change.
I tried every trick I could find to turn myself into an early riser. I took melatonin pills. I quit drinking coffee in the afternoon. I forced myself to get into bed every night at 10, turn off my phone, and read for half an hour. I bought an alarm clock that woke me up with a gradually increasing light each morning, like a sunrise.
Luckily for my employment status, I made some headway. Eventually, turning off the lights at 10:30 — and not spending the next few hours mindlessly browsing the internet from bed — no longer seemed like such a struggle. But then, spurred on by my own progress, I got greedy. Could I go further? Could I ever get to a place where it felt utterly natural to bounce out of bed in the predawn dark — not just a tolerable schedule, but a preferred one?
It turns out I was a little overeager in what I could reasonably achieve. Each of us has a chronotype, a natural sleep-and-wake schedule that the body likes to follow, and no amount of lifestyle tweaks can completely erase that hardwired preference. “These are genetic,” explains clinical psychologist Michael Breus, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “They aren’t things you choose.” Still, he says, it’s possible to work around what nature’s dealt you with concerted, sustained effort. A self-avowed night owl might never…