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posted: 2/18/2013 6:00 AM

How to become a morning person

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  • Some people have a harder time than others waking up early.

    Some people have a harder time than others waking up early.

  • Morning isn't the best part of the day for some people.

    Morning isn't the best part of the day for some people.

By Ann Sharpsteen
Scripps Howard News Service

Chip Colonna of Collierville, Tenn., is a morning person. Awake and out of bed by 4:15 a.m. Workout at 4:30. Out the door by 6, and arrives to his office at 6:30 a.m. As director of marketing at Terminix, he's a firm believer in the adage: the early bird gets the worm. "Getting up allows me time to get organized and that translates into a more efficient, productive day," he explains. And that makes Colonna a happy man.

Indeed, according to new research conducted at the University of Toronto, morning people are not only markedly happier than their non-morning counterparts, but are also healthier and more positive in attitude. Other studies show that early risers are also more proactive, and as a result enjoy more success in life.

Self-help author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who has mentored millions on the how-tos of achieving success in life, however, begs to differ. He sees no correlation between being a morning person and success. "I know people who are late-night people that are brilliant and incredibly successful, and I know morning people who are, too. I'm a nighttime person," says Robbins, adding that he routinely goes to bed as late as 3 or 4 a.m.

Still other studies claim that a person's tendency to "morning-ness" or "evening-ness" (i.e., whether one is a morning person or not) is genetically predetermined by a person's chronotype and therefore difficult to change. Again, Robbins cries foul. "This idea that you have a genetic structure that provides this unalterable blueprint," he says, "is totally antiquated. It's just not true."

Instead, he points to cutting-edge research in the field of epigenetics that claims a person's environment, not genetic makeup, determines one's behavior. "If you think you were born to be a morning person or born to be a night person, you might have a pattern, but that pattern can be changed by conditioning, by changing your environment long enough," says Robbins.

In simple terms: If you're not a morning person and you want to be one, there's hope.

Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of "What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast," says the secret to change is simple. "The difference in being a morning person boils down to habits," she explains. "And we can all train ourselves to have better morning habits." If you want to wake up early -- and enjoy it -- Vanderkam says you first need a good reason to get up in the morning.

"You want morning rituals that make you excited. Do something you love. Maybe you love to paint," she explains. "Or read a book or the newspaper." The point, she says, is to find something you want to do in the morning.

Having a positive attitude about changing routines is also key, according to Grant Jenkins, physical-performance coach at National Academy Queensland in Australia who trains and advises Olympic-level athletes to achieve top performance, including in areas of sleep and daily habits. "Your mindset will determine your success. It's all in the attitude." Jenkins says he has seen "lazy" athletes go to win Olympic medals after successfully making changes to daily habits, and he is specific in his advice to clients about evening and morning routines.

First, Perkins suggests working out a new bedtime, keeping in mind that we sleep in cycles of 90 minutes. Assuming your desired new wake-up time is 6 a.m., Jenkins explains, "allow 15 minutes to wake up (5:45 a.m.), subtract at least five cycles of 90 minutes (10:15 p.m.) and allow 15 minutes to fall asleep. Your new bedtime should be 10 p.m."

Jenkins advises turning laptops off an hour before going to bed. And turn off TVs and other electronics, as well. It's not the distraction of the electronics that's the problem. There is a growing concern over the high concentration of blue light emitted from the screens of TVs, laptops, iPads and other LCD screens.

Sleep masks that block out practically all light are something Robbins personally recommends. "There's a product called Mindfold (eye mask) which is quite simple and extraordinary." And while he says he is not a fan of sleep aids such as Ambien, Robbins says he does recommend a natural product: elemental magnesium. "Your body needs magnesium anyway. It allows the muscles in you to relax and it allows you to drop off to sleep pretty easily."

Robbins also suggests creating a list at bedtime of what you wish to accomplish the following day. "I like to lay out what I think are going to be my top three to five things for the next day before I go to sleep. What are the three to five most importance outcomes you want to create?"

Does Robbins think it's possible for new habits to stick?

"I think the real question is, can people really change? If you have strong enough reasons, you'll find a way to get up in the morning. And if you do that consistently enough, you'll develop a new pattern."

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