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Rude Awakening

The first day of school is approaching (I know, I’m sorry). But here are some tips for becoming a morning person again.

Illustration by Emma D.

At the start of every school year, I tried to prepare myself for the first day by going to bed early the night before., but every year I would inevitably lapse into that too-excited-to-sleep-but-realllllly-want-to-sleep Christmas Eve mode. I spent most of these nights fighting off “what if” questions about the upcoming year and playing out possible scenarios in my head, and usually ended up with three or four hours of sleep, if I was lucky.

I am not a morning person. The public school system did not care. I had to be in my seat at 7:25 AM. From the time the first bell rang, my brain went running. Unfortunately, my body, spoiled by summer sleep-ins and late, lazy nights, responded with a big, “Yeah, no.”

It took me most of middle school and the first year of high school to realize that my summer schedule–sleep until noon and stay up all night—probably wasn’t ideal. I’d only slacked off for a few weeks–summer jobs kept me busy during the end of June and throughout July—but three weeks of “relaxing” in August did me in. I spent most of my waking hours lazing around on the couch, watching old movies or Saved by the Bell reruns. For that brief period of time, I had no responsibilities, no real place to go, and nothing to do, so the start of the school year was always a rude awakening. You know that disgruntled zombie face everyone wears on the Tuesday after a long weekend? A combination of “I thought vacation would last forever” and “I can’t believe I’m back in this dump, screw this”? That was my face for the first few weeks of school for much of my academic career.

My mental state wasn’t helped by the exhaustion I felt, obviously. My body wasn’t getting the rest it needed, leaving me more vulnerable to heightened anxiety and depression. In desperation, I took to drinking a toxic waste-colored ’90s soda called Surge, which is basically ancient Red Bull, in the mornings to keep me awake, but that only made me crash harder, and if I drank it too late in the day, it interfered with my sleep at night.

A night person forced into a morning person’s world is a miserable person indeed. You have two choices, really: adapt, or drool all over your notes while your English teacher explains that some animals are more equal than others, and then panic later when you realize that all you’ve written is the date and the words “blah blah blah pigs.”

So what’s a night person to do at this time of year? Here are a few things that worked for me:

Get to work.
When I was 16, I took a summer job lifeguarding at a local camp, which meant that I essentially had to keep the same hours I’d kept at school. I was up at 6:30 AM, at work by eight, and home around four. I still went out at night, but between having to wake up early and feeling extra responsible for the lives of others, I forced myself to be in bed before midnight during the week so that I’d get enough rest. On the weekends, I slept in and stayed up all night, but those blips weren’t enough to throw off my routine, and my body became used to being up early and going to bed at a reasonable hour the rest of the time, which was perfect, as it meant that I didn’t have to change much when school rolled around. It’s sort of a secret benefit of a summer job, really. The money, the people you meet, and getting to build your resume are all known perks, but keeping your body on a regular schedule is an added bonus (as is the lifeguard’s right to let everyone know that you don’t swim in their toilet, so they shouldn’t pee in your pool). If you don’t have a summer job, then I recommend the following:

Ease into it.

Everyone who has ever encouraged me to stop biting my nails claims that it takes three weeks to make or break a habit, so I’m just going to present that as fact. Three weeks before school starts, make an effort to get up and go to bed a bit earlier. If you’ve been getting up at noon and going to bed at 2 AM, try doing a week of getting up at 11 and going to bed at one, followed by a week of getting up at 10 and going to bed at midnight, and so on. It won’t be easy, and there will be some nights and mornings where it’s impossible. But that’s OK. As long as you’re preparing your body for earlier mornings and earlier nights, you’ll be in much better shape when the alarm goes off that first day.

Reward yourself.
So, yes, the day will come when you actually have to get out of bed and go to school. My sister and I shared a room growing up, and we both hated waking up and getting ready. But the one benefit of being awake at 6 AM, we found, was that we were up early enough to watch the X-Men cartoon before school. We became slightly obsessed with it and started to look forward to it every morning. Sure, we were still grouchy and half-asleep, but it’s hard not to get psyched for the day when the best cartoon theme ever comes on. What I’m saying is: morning rituals can make the prospect of getting up seem not-so-bad. Maybe keep a dream journal. Have a pen and notebook close to your bed, and force yourself to get up and write down your dreams before you forget them (which you will do by hitting “snooze” repeatedly). Or, if you don’t have a lot of strict uniform codes and enjoy dressing up, have fun and be creative when putting together the day’s outfit. Having something to make the mornings more tolerable–whether it be a television show, a favorite breakfast, a routine chat with a friend, or a mix that you play while you get ready–can make the pain of leaving your warm, cozy bed a little easier to bear.

Take advantage of technology.
There’s an entire industry devoted to helping sleepy people drag themselves out of bed. Perhaps you could invest in one of those lovely alarms that mimic the rising of the sun, filling your room with rays of simulated sunlight, sending your body the signal that it’s time to get up. Or, if you’re like me and your alarm is basically a decoration that beeps five times before someone has to come in and yell, “GET UP,” you might consider Tocky, an alarm clock that rolls off of your nightstand (!) and forces you to get up in order to track it down and turn it off. There are also several apps out there to help you get started, like the Uniqlo Wake Up app, which “allows users to share a record of their awakening–specifically, the time, weather, and temperature at the moment they stopped the alarm–via social media,” if that’s your kind of thing. Making a Wake Up!!!!! mix on iTunes or Spotify or 8tracks can’t hurt, either.

Go to the pros.
If you’re really struggling with your sleep cycle, it may be worth talking to your doctor about it. You might have to alter your diet a little (e.g., no caffeine after a certain time), or they may recommend a natural supplement, over-the-counter treatment, prescription medication, meditation classes, or some type of exercise to get the body ready for sleep. (Basically, they’ll probably tell you what Stephanie already told you.) If you’re still going to stay up late, maybe you need to try and take a nap when you get home from school. On the flip, you could always just embrace your insomnia, like Sady does.

The transition from a summer schedule to the school year can be a rough one, and it requires practice and patience. But you’ll get back into the swing of things in no time. And then just think: it’s not that long until winter break rolls around and totally screws you up again. But if all else fails, buy a pair of these and hope for the best. ♦

45 Comments

  • firstcomestherain August 13th, 2012 7:15 PM

    This was so helful. I’ll definately try it out.

  • ♡ reba ♡ August 13th, 2012 7:35 PM

    this is great, just what i needed to read! (i’m reading this at half 12 in the UK so just what i needed…. probably will end up having to invest in those glasses…) x

  • sweeteelou August 13th, 2012 7:40 PM

    My first day of school was today and I totally took advantage of the ‘Ease into It’ tip.
    I was still sleepy as heck though. School is soooo exhausting even though I just sit around all day and “take notes.”

    Love, Evan
    Sweeteelou

  • Maggie August 13th, 2012 7:55 PM

    Night persons unite! Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against us. Thanks for these cool tips- I am definitely going to start rewarding myself with a cartoon in the morning.

  • bookworm123 August 13th, 2012 8:03 PM

    I just started trying to get back on a schedule in preparation for school, and these tips will definitely help! Thanks for reading my mind again, Rookie!

  • Fortune_Goddess August 13th, 2012 8:04 PM

    I’m so insanely a morning person. I’m basically as awake as I’ll ever be the minutes I wake up. Literally. I might have to send my best friend this article, though. She’s a MONSTER in algebra! I am SOOO freaked out for school to start, either way. It makes me have so much anxiety and I just cry all the time.

  • StarLight August 13th, 2012 8:14 PM

    So helpful. I love the dream journal idea.

  • Ruby A. August 13th, 2012 8:23 PM

    Awesome illustration Emma!!

  • Eryn August 13th, 2012 8:39 PM

    Thank you! I also tried putting my alarm clock across the room so I’d have to get up and turn it off. Though it didn’t work too well it helps a bit.

  • ladyjenna August 13th, 2012 9:45 PM

    I wish I could energize myself in the mornings with willpower alone.

    Pancakes help.

    Yay pancakes.

    P.S. Can we submit photograph-illustrated recipes?

    • unefillecommetoi August 14th, 2012 2:55 PM

      that would be so cool! i have some recipes i’d love to share (:

  • kellyissofab August 13th, 2012 9:49 PM

    I used to do the cartoon thing too. Except it was reruns of Rugrats.

  • caro nation August 13th, 2012 10:10 PM

    I started school on AUGUST FIRST.

  • Adrienne August 13th, 2012 10:25 PM

    I need this so much! I am such a night person… getting up at 6:30 is impossible for me :P And I can totally relate to the night before the first day of school ritual… trying to sleep but you just can’t, asking yourself all these questions, being excited one second and then totally nervous the next!

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • runningfilm August 13th, 2012 10:26 PM

    Luckily (well, sort of), I have summer running (which is just basically a precursor to cross country season) every weekday morning at 8 AM, meaning I have to get up around 7:30 every day in the summer… starting the day after school gets out. It’s a pain, but while it’s not as early as school, it keeps a regular scheduled pattern in my brain.

    We don’t start school here in Michigan until the 4th of September… so PLEASE NO MORE REMINDERS OF SCHOOL OF MY GOSH.

  • Jes August 13th, 2012 10:44 PM

    Anyone who has time to do something other than run around their house frantically gathering their things before school, let alone watch an entire tv show, amazes me. I’ve never understood the people that have time to do things in the morning.

    • music_is_love August 14th, 2012 10:50 AM

      hahahaha exactly what I was thinking!

  • Carolineeeee August 13th, 2012 11:10 PM

    I start school August 20th. ugh. This helps a lot though! Thanks!

    • NotReallyChristian August 14th, 2012 5:59 AM

      That’s my birthday! Luckily I don’t go back to college until, um, October (my university has a weird system).

  • Harley August 13th, 2012 11:54 PM

    Thank you for this, I actually started school today and I felt like a vampire, like I should have been sleeping and not be awake until after sunset. I need to work on this using your tips. Or I can move to a nocturnal community.

  • Blythe August 14th, 2012 12:08 AM

    MELATONIN YOU GUYS.
    You can buy it in pretty much any drugstore, as a supplement (it’s not JUST for insomnia). It’s a natural hormone that your body makes to tell you to go to sleep. Take 3-10mg (I think that’s the right measurement?) half an hour to an hour before bedtime, and it really helps you sleep.
    Also, it’s physically impossible to overdose on melatonin, although if you take too much you feel incredibly gross in the morning.

  • Cruicked August 14th, 2012 1:12 AM

    This is really helpful! I’ll have to make sure to read it next year instead of at 6am after staying up all night on the last night that isn’t a school night!

  • LeatherStuddedFae August 14th, 2012 2:07 AM

    I think I need that Tocky alarm clock! :O I have problems waking up in the morning and I don’t know what’s wrong. I have an alarm clock and I set them up early enough but I always end up not hearing it (yes, no matter how loud) or waking up and turning it off then go back to sleep. I also tried setting it up in a place where I have to get out of bed and turn it off. Still, half asleep, I end up going back to bed.

    http://stylestuddedfairy.blogspot.com/

  • larvaa_ August 14th, 2012 2:15 AM

    hehe the day before school i always create silly scenarios in my head too, and im always like super excited for some reason, the it dies down a couple of days later lol im gonna def read this the day before school! :)

  • NotReallyChristian August 14th, 2012 6:10 AM

    Wait till you get to university, it gets so much better! Well OK, I go to college in the UK, and at my uni we focus much more on individual learning rather than taught classes. I’ve never had more than two lectures a day, and never had one before 10am! That means I can work on my cycle (get up late, go to lectures, hang out with friends and study at night!).
    Also, I don’t go back till October 2nd, and finish on November 30th … we have really short terms, I think it’s a historic thing.

  • eliza dolittle August 14th, 2012 7:25 AM

    oh man, it’s like you’re peering into my soul. through out high school i’d get about 5 hours of sleep a night, and the worst of my notes consisted of a few words which gradually because larger and more scrawled until my page was filled with real, if sparse notes, in an impenetrable font.

    also in our first year 12 prefect meeting, our prim and proper principal informed us that we were “first among equals”. luckily i was the library and toilet monitor #RESPECT other i would have gone mad with power.

  • Rea August 14th, 2012 8:35 AM

    Ahh the perfect article. Though we are already in the middle of semester here in the Philippines, all classes were suspended the whole week last week due to heavy rains and floods. Everyone was not excited to go back to school since a lot of exams were postponed. And the cold non-stop rain was just so relaxing, it made studying difficult. It’s either you sleep, or you surf ~ the internet ~.

    I had a 10:45 AM class today and I woke up 10:39. So much for my 8 AM class tomorrow :|

  • Libby August 14th, 2012 8:43 AM

    America confuses me. (for a lot a reasons)
    But seriously what is up with your school system? YOU START SCHOOL AT 7:25? That’s evil. You must finish school really early in the day as well.
    And you start the new school year in mid-August? I don’t go back until September, and my brother doesn’t start his second year of uni until October.
    And you have a really long summer holiday but no half terms. How cruel!

    • unefillecommetoi August 14th, 2012 2:56 PM

      I live in Mexico and my first year of high school (which here goes from 10th to 12th grade) I had to start school at 7!!! SEVEN in the morning! The worse part was that sometimes teachers didn’t arrive until 8, 9, even 11. So I started homeschooling :)

  • pygmypuffs August 14th, 2012 10:52 AM

    As a confirmed night owl, my high school’s schedule was pure torture for me. Now that I’m in college, I can build my schedule to suit myself. All my classes this semester are after 2 PM, so I can sleep in and chill while all my roommates are out at work/school/whatever.

  • Alissa August 14th, 2012 11:38 AM

    This is perfectly on time, and that picture is pretty rad. All hail Comrade Napoleon.

  • wallflower152 August 14th, 2012 11:45 AM

    I hated waking up for school. When I started college I built my schedule to where my first class was at 12:30. Any job I had I worked evenings. It was great, I think my body is programmed to be a night owl/late sleeper. I feel at my best when I sleep between 2-3 am and wake up between 10 and 11 am. But now I have an adult job from 8-5 and waking up is sooo hard. It’s been about three months and I’m still having trouble adjusting. I wouldn’t have taken the job cuz the earliness if it wasn’t such a sweet deal. Sad day.

  • no_aloha August 14th, 2012 12:14 PM

    Great article! As a teacher, I’m trying to get back into my crack-of-dawn routine this week, but it’s just not happening.

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini August 14th, 2012 2:55 PM

    I’m starting school next monday, and the past two weeks I have been waking up 5-10 minutes earlier, starting at like 11.30 am. Much more gentle than doing an hour at once.

  • azultardis August 14th, 2012 3:00 PM

    waking up early is so hard for me,but nly the first 2 weeks then my body gets used to it,and I usually try not to take naps around the day so at night I can go to bed early.

    http://dollmouth-dollparts.tumblr.com/

    • lelelikeukulele August 24th, 2012 4:51 AM

      unrelated but your username is FANTASTIC

  • youngfridays August 14th, 2012 8:45 PM

    I am a total morning person (I usually get up at about 06:00am to go for a jog and and do some yoga), but since I live in Australia school high school doesn’t start until 08:30-ish? Do all schools in the US start at about 7:30?

    faithmrljak.wordpress.com.au

    • lelelikeukulele August 24th, 2012 4:52 AM

      I think most high schools start at 8….but a lot of 0 period classes start earlier. wooo choir at 7:15 in the morning!

  • connie. August 16th, 2012 2:18 AM

    During the school year I become totally immune to the alarm on my phone. I just can’t hear it and it’s so hard to wake me. But somehow I still think I can get up early to finish leftover homework from the previous night and that obviously never works out. Ugh, the WORST.

    • lelelikeukulele August 24th, 2012 4:50 AM

      i got to be immune to my phone alarm as well! although actually methinks i just turned it off in my half-asleep haze every morning and then forgot about it.

  • lelelikeukulele August 24th, 2012 4:49 AM

    one word of advice: if you have an iPhone or other phone that can play snippets of songs for an alarm, never choose a song that you actually like to wake you up in the morning! because you will hate it after it robs you of your sleep every morning. you will hate the song.

  • beck950 August 27th, 2012 3:04 PM

    The thought of getting back up for school! Vair depressing! At least this will help that little bit more! Thanks Rookie :)

    http://theimportanceofbeingawkward.wordpress.com/

  • eliselbv August 29th, 2012 12:47 PM

    I think that running one afternoon out of three, two weeks before the first day of school can be helpful. You’ll inevitably be tired at 10 p.m and you will sleep better.