How and Why I Became a Morning Person

I live in Seattle but I work for Duolingo, a company headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of meetings on “East Coast Time” — jumping on Zoom meetings as early as 6:30 AM. Every time I’ve had to reassure my coworkers: “No, really, it’s not a big deal! I’m a morning person. I’m up at 5:30 every day.”1 So in case any of them read this blog, I’m going to record for posterity how and why I became a morning person. This is a life hack I’ve shared with other parents of young kids.

I didn’t start as a morning person. When I was younger, I was a combination of “night owl” and “moderate morning person” (usually up and alert around 7am), and absolutely not an “afternoon person.” I think I would have thrived well in cultures with a siesta culture — stay up late, wake up at a normal time, crash in the afternoon for a bit to recharge. This was my life for years.

Then came kids. For those who’ve lived through it, you know that having infants in the house destroys whatever sleep routine you think you have. Common advice to new parents is “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Those are wise words, but it means that you spend a few years just in a fog.

Then a miracle happens! Sooner or later, your infant or toddler will start sleeping soundly through the night, and at least with my kids they could sleep a lot on a good night — 10, 11 hours at a stretch.

Suddenly, after a few years of being in a fog, you have these glorious few hours after the kids have gone to bed when you can do adult things again, like catch up on work or relax or read a book or whatever. Reclaiming that adult time feels magical. I loved it.

And what I wound up doing, for a few months after my kids started sleeping regularly through the night, was I extended my adult time by staying up later and later. The problem with that plan? The kids still woke up at the same time in the morning. (7-ish? It’s so long ago that I no longer remember exactly.) I kept staying up later, they woke up at the same time… my sleep started suffering again.

The problem is once I started being in “adult time” mode at night, I couldn’t muster the willpower to stop and go to bed. So I kept cheating myself out of sleep.

Then one day I had a thought: Since the hard part is “stopping adult time”, why don’t I rearrange things so I have a hard boundary at the end of “adult time” that I can’t move? Thus began my shift to being a morning person. My new plan: I went to bed shortly after the kids went to bed, and set my alarm clock for 5am. When I woke up, a solid two hours of adult time in the morning. That time block had a really clear ending that I couldn’t control. The kids wake up when the kids are going to wake up. This system let me control how much time I was devoting to sleep and how much time I was giving myself to be awake-without-kids without relying a lot on willpower. (Other than the willpower to wake up when my alarm clock went off — but that’s always been easy for me.)

So that’s how I became a morning person. I’m long past the stage of life when I need to organize my sleep schedule around the sleep schedule of my children, but once established, I saw no need to change the pattern. I did allow my luxury a few years ago of changing my morning alarm to 5:30am from 5:00am, but that’s it. Now that I have a dog who’s gotten used to my early-morning ways, I don’t think I’ll be able to change this sleep pattern any time soon.

This isn’t a lifestyle for many people, but I do think that any parents of young kids should at least consider it. If you find yourself cheating yourself out of sleep because you want to stay up late and to enjoy time without kids, try taking that time-without-kids in the morning instead when you’ll have clearer boundaries!

  1. This doesn’t really belong in the “Today I Learned” section of this website, but it turns out it’s a pain to maintain separate categorized streams of content.