Does the Early Bird Really Catch the Worm?
I’ve always been a morning person. I used to practically leap out of bed in the morning. I’d throw the covers off, swing my legs over the edge and hit the ground running.
Ayurveda suggests that, to optimize energy, waking just before sunrise is ideal for Pitta types; waking well before sunrise is best for Kapha but Vata can sleep later due to their hypermobile nature. They need more rest and stillness, since they are so mentally and physically active when awake.
I’m Pitta predominant and I’ve always enjoyed waking early after about 7 hours of sleep. This is exactly what Ayurveda suggests is a good amount of sleep for my type so, lucky me! I seem to be right on track.
Waking really early does have its cons, though. I’m often negotiating earlier dinner dates with friends so that I can be finished dinner by 7pm and home and in bed by 10:30pm. In the summer, when the days are longer, I sometimes wake as early as 4:30 or 5am and then find myself ready to be done the day by 5pm, when many friends are just getting off work and wanting to go out and do something active after sitting at a desk all day.
Since my early-riser lifestyle occasionally puts me out of sync with others, I started to wonder if this schedule really does work best for me or if it’s just a habit I’ve gotten into. Would I actually function worse (or better) if I went to bed later and/or slept longer?
So, I did an experiment and started staying up later. This would normally be really difficult but my partner’s on a later schedule, so I began staying up with him until he went to bed, around 1 or 1:30am. On this schedule, I was waking up at around 8am, so I was still sleeping only about 7 hours. Well, I have to say, I was pretty shocked to notice the difference in my energy and motivation just from waking later (even though I had the same amount of sleep). It was huge. I really did not feel like getting out of bed, my body felt more heavy and stiff and my mind felt slow and foggy.
So, I tried another experiment. I decided to wake up early – just before or during sunrise – even if I went to bed late. Eureka! I had so much energy even with fewer hours of sleep.
I’ll reiterate: Ayurveda suggests that for all but Vata-predominant (thin, cold, dry, hypermobile) types, waking before sunrise will result in feeling more energetic, mentally and physically. Now, I know my experiment did not adhere to a rigid scientific model and I am a sample size of only 1. But for my purposes, the results were clear: I really do feel more mentally refreshed and physically light and energetic when I wake early, even if I’ve had fewer hours of sleep than my preferred 7.
I was curious about the scientific perspective on this, so I did some reading on the science behind being a morning person or a night owl and there’s not a lot of definitive conclusions out there. It seems that our circadian rhythms are complex. But what was clear in the articles I read was that exposure to (or lack of) light was a major factor in triggering our body’s waking and sleeping cycle. I often say, “I’m light-activated,” so I wasn’t surprised to read this and this perspective is confirmed in Ayurveda which tells us that Pitta types are very sensitive to light (and often need complete darkness in order to sleep well). Once again, I seem pretty true to my type.
The bottom line is, each one of us is a unique individual – this is the message Ayurveda has for us. So, stay curious and if what you’re doing now isn’t working to optimize your energy, try something else. While it doesn’t work for everyone, I highly recommend experimenting with waking just before or during sunrise. For me it’s the key to starting the day with a feeling of clarity, vitality and enthusiasm.
When do you need to wake up to feel energetic?
Doing a job I love has been one of the main aims of my life. I’m equal parts philosopher, artist and teacher. But above all, I’m a student; a student of life. I’ve been an academic, an actor, a singer and songwriter; a health advocate, social justice activist, ayurvedic practitioner, yoga teacher, curriculum developer and a writer. Outside of sharing my yoga passion with you, I am currently enrolled in Massage Therapy training in beautiful Victoria, Canada.