Centuries before we turned to wristwatches and cell phone screens it was sundials and the ancient obelisks of Greece and Rome that told us the time of day. There was no electricity to mediate the day, hour, or minute. Light did it all.
If we want to discuss metaphors light, perhaps more than any other word, is all: creation, beginnings, vision and visibility, enlightenment, warmth. In both literal and figurative meanings, is there anything else that brings us closer back to the wonder of childhood?
The struggle to become a “morning person,” and all the virtue that supposedly entails, is a quest for light in its most radiant, fulsome glory. Dare it be said it is the search for what is best about every day given to us?
Once you get in the habit, you soon discover that 7 am simply will not do. The 8 am hour is the stuff of horror, and 9 am is for louts with the blood pressure of a year-old marshmallow. Only 5:30 or earlier will suffice, when the gray light of dawn verges on the cusp of its full spectrum. It is then that time becomes visible, because the gradations of light are in full, slow blossom. Light is in process.
Reaching this point of habit, you almost want to weep for all the dawns you missed before. Those indifferent mornings when, unbelievably, you were content to have the early daylight pry your eyelids toward wakefulness like a crowbar.
There ought to be a crusade for the cause of waking up early enough to see the sunrise. And with the simple, emergent slogan “Watch More Sunrises,” penned by Bugsy Sailor of Marquette, Michigan, indeed there is.
“To watch the sunrise is more than to see the sunrise,” Sailor writes on his site. “Most of the sunrises we experience are by happenstance, something we see on our way to work, from the kitchen window during breakfast, or peeking through the bedroom blinds. To watch the sunrise, is to seek and feel the sunrise with intention.”
Intention, a subset of consciousness very much in vogue these days, counts for a lot. But in my evolving goal to become a morning person, I have discovered that waking up earlier makes a person feel better as well.
Back in the first years of the twenty-first century, when “farm-to-table” restaurants and “healthy fats” were still emerging buzzwords, journalist Michael Pollan arguably sealed his fame with just seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Now that sleep is the new food, as a spate of recent studies on the vital role of sleep to good health attest, surely there must be a way to apply Pollan’s way with words on the sweet, deep, state of slumber most of crave, but struggle to find.
Get sleep. Not too much. Mostly at night.
If that sounds about right, do not be too sure. For as we all know, this dog-eat-dog world is divided into “morning people” and “night owls.” And very much like obese and slender physiques, the hours a person keeps in bed invoke all manner of judgments about a person’s sense of responsibility, industry, and overall productivity. We should be thankful that, aside from spouse or partner, no one else is in the bedroom to judge us while we partake.
Darkness alone is sufficient to give night owls a bad reputation. It ruffles the virtue invoked in Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism, and it is largely true that few billionaires and business success stories start anywhere past 10 am. The famous “5 am club”—or even 3:45 am if you are Apple CEO Tim Cook—is replete with movers and shakers who get an early start. Good for them. But this is more about the best practices of business people. To change the start of your day is to recalibrate, reorient, and rejuvenate your consciousness.
Most children begin as early risers. When you have no responsibilities beyond the duties of attending school, mowing the lawn, or shoveling the driveway, why not start early?
Adolescence and the early twenties, by contrast, is where sleep struggles with itself. Homework, all-nighters before exams and—in my case—restaurant jobs, all conspire to scramble the still-maturing senses. Circadian rhythms become a war zone of irregular sleep hours stitched together in haphazard attempts to rejuvenate the body and soul.
Becoming a morning person in adulthood ends that struggle once and for all. Life is a rhythm, with light as the full measure of its daily tempo. Rising early enough to see the day’s light returns us to a childhood most of us have long forgotten. Our adult responsibilities are still just around the corner. Rise early enough, however, and you can travel back through time on rays of light, while looking forward to another day.