Many of us have desperately envied our friends who seem to have this mystical, unattainable power — they spring forth from their beds before their alarm even has a chance to chirp; they’re bright-eyed, radiant, energized, and ready for a 5:30 a.m. workout before the sun’s up. “They must be a unicorn,” you marvel in amazement. “I wish I could be a unicorn.”
Your morning scenario is different; even when you tuck yourself into the covers hours earlier than your usual bedtime, lay out your gym clothes, set your alarm, set your backup alarm, and set your snooze-proof alarm . . . that time to rise comes around and your eyelids feel like cement. Your existence screams, “I NEED COFFEE!” Your body is achy and you’re bleary, delirious, foggy-minded, and essentially the diametric opposite of energized (you’re technically alive, but you’re basically the walking dead). You don’t even know what the word “energized” means, but you may have read it in a book once.
So you try to condition yourself, right? “If I just try harder, I can be like my unicorn friend and really seize the day!” You try to plan early workouts all week long, forcing you to go to bed earlier, get up before the sun, and start your day on the right foot. But it’s not working.
The good news? It’s not your fault. It has nothing to do with your drive, how hard you’re working, or your commitment to an ungodly schedule of rooster classes. There’s nothing wrong with you, and your friend is no more a unicorn than you are a zombie, because it all comes down to your genes — your PER3 gene, specifically.
It makes sense, if you think about it; no two bodies are alike. Diets work differently for different people, and styles of exercise can have a completely different effect on your body than your friend’s body. Why would we expect our sleep patterns and circadian rhythm to be any different?
We learned more about this through reading some works from Dr. Michael J Breus, PhD, sleep expert, and mastermind behind The Power of When and the chronotype quiz — this quiz will actually help you determine what your circadian rhythm is like compared to the other “chronotypes.”
Dr. Breus says, “No chronotype is ‘better’ than any other.” So this means your early-a.m. friend who is probably a “Lion” has their own challenges that you might not deal with as a “Bear.” You’ll have different optimal times for energy, different times you naturally like to go to sleep, etc. (and you’ll have to take the quiz to find out what you are).
As aforementioned, Dr. Breus notes that your circadian rhythm and sleep drive are “determined specifically by the PER3 gene.” David Hinds, a statistical geneticist at 23andMe, agrees that it comes down to DNA. “Genetics influences our preferences and behaviors,” he said in an article from Live Science.
The site cites Hinds’s study at 23andMe, where “researchers at the company found 15 regions of the human genome that are linked to being a morning person, including seven regions associated with genes regulating circadian rhythm.” The University of Leicester also attributed morning habits and alertness to genetics.
So there you have it, folks. Just live your truth! Science says so. While you can still by all means strive for that “at dawn we ride” lifestyle, don’t beat yourself up if you find your body rejecting it. It’s more than likely the way that you’re genetically programmed, and no one is going to think less of you if you’re not riding front row at SoulCycle at 6 a.m. with bells on.