4 Health Benefits of Waking Up Early, According to Doctors
Health & Wellness
These perks will make you think twice about hitting the snooze button.
No matter if you’re a natural early riser or if daily demands call for waking at the crack of dawn, waking up early offers a host of health benefits. From regulated hormones to lower levels of depression, doctors explain why you should consider setting your alarm for an early wake up.
Benefits of Waking up Early
When it comes to the benefits of being an early riser, David Brendel, M.D., Ph.D., said there are two categories to consider: the biological benefits and behavioral benefits. Both can help set you up for better days — and nights.
1.Waking Up Early Helps Regulate Your Circadian Rhythm
The sun is the best alarm clock. And it will help you get into a quality long-term sleep-wake schedule.
“Getting light first thing in the morning helps set our circadian rhythm,” said Annie Miller, L.C.S.W. and behavioral sleep medicine expert. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal 24-hour cycle that responds to changes in light.“Having that light hit your eyes cues your brain that it's time to be awake.”
Kicking off the day with early light also primes your body to settle down for sleep when it’s dark. “Waking up early and having those cues first thing in the morning can also help the nighttime cues, making it easier to fall asleep,” Miller said.
2.You May Boost Productivity
“People generally feel more productive early in the morning,” Miller said.
There could be a few reasons for that, one of which is that early risers get to take advantage of the body’s most naturally alert time. Cortisol, what we know as the “stress hormone,” plays a role in stimulating wakefulness, Brendel explained.
The hormone’s levels naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, with “the peak for most people being somewhere around eight in the morning,” he said. “Cortisol can work to promote wakefulness and alertness, so the healthiest and most productive thing is to try and align your behavioral and work schedule with these biological changes.”
3.Early Risers May Have a Lower Risk of Developing Chronic Disease
An early wake-up call may also impact your metabolic health. A recent study found that people who wake up early utilize more fat during rest and exercise and are more insulin-sensitive than late risers. This may translate to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.
In addition, the study found that people who woke up early also did more physical activity in the morning and midday and were generally less sedentary throughout the day. And moving more can do wonders for your health, reducing the risk of everything from cardiovascular disease, anxiety, some cancers and more.
4.Waking up Early May be a Boon For Your Mental Health
The circadian rhythm-regulating effects of waking up early can benefit more than just how rested you feel. It may also help regulate your mood and improve mental health. Research suggests that disruptions in circadian rhythm may exacerbate symptoms in people who are predisposed to mood disorders like major depressive disorder and anxiety. Though, keep in mind, mood disorders can also cause sleep disruptions — so it works both ways.
On the flipside, “one of the multitude of ways to treat depression is to establish sleep patterns that are more consistent with natural light and dark cycles,” Brendel said.
In fact, he tells his patients that if there's only one thing that they change behaviorally in order to reduce depression, it should be establishing better sleep habits — specifically, getting on a sleep cycle that mimics the body’s natural clock and exposes them to light early in the morning.
“From a clinical standpoint, people who make this change to shifting earlier — early to bed early to rise — tend to do better with their mental health,” Brendel said. And there’s research to back him up: A 2021 study consisting of more than 840,000 people found that a preference for waking up earlier was associated with a 23 percent lower risk of major depressive disorder.
Consistency Is Key
“The most important thing is consistency,” Miller said. “Being consistent with your wake time will also set you up to fall asleep easier at night.”
Waking at the same time each day helps to build what’s called a “sleep drive,” she explained. “Sleep drive is what makes us feel sleepy in the evening. The longer we’re awake, the more sleep drive we have, so getting up earlier will help that.”
Consistency is also key for making healthy habits like exercise and good nutrition a part of your routine. “I emphasize sleep regularity with patients. I see it as the foundation for aligning biological rhythms and building healthy habits,” Brendel said. “If you have a good sleep schedule, it will be easier to build those habits, and if you have those habits, you’ll be more likely to build a sleep schedule.”
Most folks can relate to skipping a workout or making less-than-stellar food choices as a result of exhaustion, right?
Bottom line: “If there’s one thing you’re going to get scheduled and really well regulated in your life, start with sleep,” Brendel said. Waking up earlier in the morning is one way to make it happen.
Words by Amy Marturana Winderl