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I Tried to Become a Morning Person and Totally Failed

...but gained a whole new appreciation for my night owl identity.

The soothing, melodic intro to Aaron Burr's Hamilton ballad, "Wait for It," has been the first thing I hear every morning for five years. I have yet to get sick of it, but over the past two months, when it goes off at 7:15 AM, it's started to represent something I've always considered a personal flaw: I'm physically incapable of becoming a morning person.

Each day, I frantically reach for my phone, snoozing for 30 to 45 minutes until I finally wake, disappointed at another failed attempt to get up on the earlier side. I tap through Instagram stories and see morning workouts, cups of matcha, and breakfast spreads, all finished before my feet hit the floor. And every night, I tell myself that tomorrow will finally be the day that I jump out of bed, spritely, and accomplish more in the early morning hours than I do the remainder of the day. And then the cycle begins again.

I've always been nocturnal. My family jokes that I got it from my mom, who would simply ask to get to sleep in for every Mother's Day and birthday gift (and who claims that Daylight Saving in November is her favorite day of the year). An early bedtime has never been plausible, and my high school homework was regularly finished around midnight. In college, I'd find myself awake in my dorm past three in the morning, texting with friends two hours behind me on the West Coast, and avoiding classes that started anytime before 10 AM at all costs. Post-grad life brought binge-watching sessions until what is closer to sunrise than sunset, and even now, you might catch me responding to a Shop DM well after 1 AM. Talk to me again in a few years when I (hopefully) have children, but attempting to wake up before eight in the morning, with or without an alarm, has always been my Everest.

It makes it tougher that I'm surrounded by morning people. On vacation, my dad returns from a six-mile run, eats breakfast, and attacks his inbox before I even open my eyes. As a baker, my sister gets up at 3 AM and has nearly a full work day before I even brush my teeth. Emily knocks out 50 pages of a book, feeds Sloan, and brews a pour over before the day really begins. Kelly walks Alexa, takes a Peloton class, and edits batches of photos before our first daily check-in. Leslie cooks a full breakfast and reads and writes for hours before I've taken a sip of coffee. They inspire me, but also represent all the things I could be doing, and the accomplishments I could get done but never do. For so many years, I felt that all their successes highlighted my failures. 

During the first week of quarantine, I was determined to change my habits. Instead of succumbing to the dread and melancholy I was seeing on the news, I wanted to be productive and distract myself with what I thought to be an achievable goal. I even asked our cupcakes and cashmere community for advice on how to become a morning person, and followed some of my favorite tips. But no matter how many hours earlier I went to sleep, fun things I planned for the morning (Dutch babies helped for a minute), walks I went on, cups of coffee I drank, new spots I left my alarm, or early morning workouts I scheduled, nothing clicked. My experiment began to feel hopeless.

I spent a few weeks punishing myself with negative self-talk, disappointment, and palpable frustration. After all, I knew I had to document the process and write this very blog post about it, and was hoping to provide the magic solution I found to transform me into "Jess The Morning Person," for the dozens of you who asked for tips. And then, I finally saw the (non-morning) light.

Quite a few of you recommended that I do a bit of reading on Dr. Matthew Walker and his book Why We Sleep. In it, he states: “Night owls are not owls by choice. They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”

Do I expect to be able to see 20/20 without glasses or contacts with my comically horrible eyesight? No way. Do I get frustrated that I can't dunk because I'm not tall enough to reach the basket? Of course not. These are all inherent characteristics I can't change about myself, and I've fully accepted them. Why was it so tough to acknowledge that becoming a morning person just isn't in my DNA?

Maybe it's because society is designed around the early bird. Maybe it's because I'm goal-oriented, and after a few weeks, this goal felt completely and utterly unattainable. Maybe it's because during those times when I do manage to get my butt out of bed before 8 AM, I feel a sense of accomplishment from that simple act alone. But I realized I was battling an invisible enemy that was really an ally: my circadian rhythm. 

Each night, I spend hours nuzzled in one of the nooks of my couch, slowly overheating by a combination of the Macbook on my lap and a fuzzy blanket over my body. The glow of the computer is the sole source of illumination, and the only sounds are the click-clacking of the keyboard and SVU, which has become white noise to me at this point. I tackle my to-do list, crossing off more items between 9 PM and midnight than I have the rest of the day. I've accomplished as much as the people whose stories I watched earlier that day–just in less Instagrammable lighting.

Being a night owl has allowed me to read books cover to cover in a single sitting. Being a night owl has given me the opportunity to get ahead of work when I know my inbox will be dormant. Being a night owl has provided me hours of extra time to go down Etsy rabbit holes, organize my house, search for social media inspiration, rearrange furniture, and watch more TV shows than I'm willing to admit. I've come to the conclusion that I'm most creative at night, so I no longer see it as a weakness, but rather as one of my greatest strengths. Quickly, I began to feel empowered by this reclaimed identity.

The idea that I could override my wiring with will power (and some very generous recommendations from readers) was misguided. Instead of trying to fundamentally change the way I work, I should be taking advantage of the time I'm most productive. I've started to embrace my night owl-ship, and hat-tip all you morning people out there. Neither is better or more desirable than the other; each has its own advantages.

After all this, I finally came to a (oh so rational) realization I should have known all along: If Hamilton of all things couldn't get me up when the sun rises, nothing can (...except maybe a child someday). And I'm very okay with that.

P.S. While I also encourage fellow night owls to just lean into it, so many of you sent in helpful and thoughtful suggestions on how to transition to become an early riser. Sharing the most common ones below!

  • Invest in your morning routine (fancy coffee, mugs, reading, podcasts, etc.
  • Go to sleep and get up 15 to 30 minutes earlier each week until you're at your goal
  • Plan an exciting breakfast to look forward to
  • Commit to workouts that start at a certain time (even Zoom/IG Live classes work!)
  • Sleep with your windows unobstructed, the natural light will help you wake up gently
  • Continue to set your alarms for the same times on the weekend
  • Quit the snooze button altogether and move your alarm clock across the room
  • Open your windows first thing for some fresh air
  • Get outside as early as possible (go for a walk, sit on your porch to drink your coffee, etc.)
  • Make a morning playlist that's just music that makes you happy
  • Create an obligation that you can't miss, like a conference call, paid workout (once those are allowed again!), or a virtual meeting.
  • Save your favorite TV shows for the morning only
  • Use a sunrise alarm clock
  • And the most popular of all: Get a puppy...or have a kid

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