Over 60? It’s Time to Be a Morning Person

Monday Sep 15 | BY |
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Morning Person

A recent study reports that older people do best tackling their hardest projects in the morning.

I’ve always been a night owl. Even as a kid I was begging my folks to let me stay up late at night, but the next morning it was a different story—I hoped everyone would forget I existed so I could stay comfy under the covers.

I figured I’d be a night owl the rest of my life, but according to a recent study, that may not be such a good idea.

Researchers from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences and University of Toronto recently discovered that older adults perform best on mental tasks in the morning. May seem like common sense, but for folks like me who are used to burning the midnight oil, it may mean that we’ll need to think about making a change sometime in the future.

Study Shows Older Adults More Distracted in the Afternoon

For the study, researchers compared 16 adults aged 19–30 with 16 adults aged 60–82. They gave all participants a series of tests between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. The tests included things like studying and recalling a series of picture and word combinations. During the test, another screen attempted to distract the test-taker by flashing irrelevant words and pictures.

Meanwhile, researchers scanned the participants’ brains to see which areas became activated. Results showed:

  • Older adults were more likely to be distracted, and to pay attention to the second screen.
  • Younger adults were more able to block out the irrelevant information.
  • MRI scans showed that older adults had less engagement of the attention and control areas of the brain compared to younger adults.
  • Older adults also had brains that activated in areas showing they were resting or thinking about nothing special.

After gathering these results, the researchers conducted a second part of the study. This time, they tested 18 older adults in the morning, between 8:30 and 10:30 in the morning (the same tests). Results showed:

  • The participants performed a lot better on the tests.
  • They were less likely to be distracted.
  • Their overall performance was closer to that of the younger adults.
  • Their brains showed activation in the same areas as the younger brains did.
  • Researchers concluded that when older adults were tested was important in how they would perform.

Lead author Dr. Lynn Hasher recommended that older adults schedule their most mentally difficult tasks in the morning.

Healthy Ways to Wake Yourself Up

What if you’ve noticed that you’re sharper in the morning, but you’re still fighting the schedule? What if every time you get up it takes you two hours to feel awake?

We have some tips for you. Try these, and let us know how they work!

  1. Back up slowly: Pick a time when you want to wake up and work your way back to it. Say you want to get up two hours earlier than you have been. Move backwards by about 15 minutes at a time. When you get used to the new time, set it back about 15 minutes again until you reach your goal.
  2. Don’t lie in bed: When the alarm goes off, get up. Do whatever you can to make this happen. Set the alarm across the room. Leave a reward for yourself in the kitchen (a small treat or cup of your favorite morning beverage pre-prepared if possible in a timed pot). Program your favorite music to come on at the same time your alarm goes off. Program a light to come on. Set up something the night before that you’ll look forward to, like a new book or a new yoga routine. Anything that gets you up and going.
  3. Eat something good: A good breakfast gets your metabolism and energy going. Try your favorite green smoothie, a warm bowl of oatmeal, and good sources of protein like beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, yogurt, salmon, and dark green leafy veggies. Grapefruit is a great option for waking you up, and a little coconut will keep you going. Don’t forget to drink a nice tall glass of water.
  4. Get outside: Sunlight is the natural signal for us to wake up. If you can get even 5-10 minutes exposure in the morning, you’ll wake up faster.
  5. Try something mint: Mint naturally wakes up your brain. Try some mint tea first thing in the morning, or a piece of mint candy. A mint facial cleanser is also a great idea! Lemon provides a similar benefit—add some to your morning water or tea.
  6. Move: Even if you’re dead on your feet, moving will wake you up. If you’re not up for a morning work out, just take a short walk. Even 5-10 minutes will get your blood pumping.
  7. Cut back: If you’re used to being a night owl, you probably have a lot of tasks you do in the evening. It’s time to cut back a bit. See what you can shift to the morning, or what you can let go altogether. Change your schedule so you have time to wind down and go to bed a bit earlier.

Are you a night owl? Have you tried to get up earlier? Please share any tips you may have.

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Anderson, John A., et al., “Timing Is Everything: Age Differences in the Cognitive Control Network Are Modulated by Time of Day,” Psychology and Aging, July 7, 2014; http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0037243.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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