Not-A-Morning-Person Detox

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I suck at mornings. I always have. It’s genetic (just ask my dad).

My past efforts at transforming myself into a morning person have all failed miserably.  There were occasionally times where there was a burst of morning joy (yes, I even made a top 10 list about why I should do this yet still failed) but inevitably the joy turned to despair and I returned to my usual ways of barely waking up on time for the latest I could possibly be where I needed to be. My mornings are typically a flurry of being in a rush and arriving at wherever I need to be totally cranky. People in my current job have seriously asked me when they first see me in the morning why I am so angry.

In college my worst grades were in the classes that started at 8:30 or 9:00am.  Luckily by junior year such classes could be avoided. My choice of medicine was quite a challenge in this regard as medical education is decidely not 9-5. Thankfully the labs were you had to be present were all after lunch and the rest…well I will leave that to my lab partners to divulge (this was before ever class was recorded and notes available online thus precluding any necessity to be present for didactic portions of medical education). And residency/fellowship…. oh well, I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was for me to show up at 5:45 every day but I had a spouse who has since the day we married (and is a morning person) been able to supply me with the requisite amount of caffeine in hand and boot my ass out the door in time to make it to rounds (but I did deliberately place at #1 on my rank list a general surgery program that did not require its interns to preround; yes, I am such a bad morning person that I chose a pivotal part of my surgical training to get out of that extra 30-60 minutes of work before 6am rounds).

While I have chosen a career where being on your A-game in the middle of the night is perfectly fine (in-house overnight call as an acute care surgeon; most grants, manuscripts, and data analytics can be done when my second wind hits in the evenings or overnight), figuring out how to fit working out into the mix of a busy surgical career and life as a wife/mother has been a challenge. Excluding mornings from this has made the challenge that much harder. Every day I say to myself, “No problem, I will just exercise after work.” Turns out I am great at lying to myself. Most days, I am just to tired or cranky or hungry after 11 or more hours at work (yes, even when not taking care of patients, it is a rare day that I am working fewer than 11 hours; I have tried to fix this and I am convinced that it is just not possible with a surgeon’s schedule) and find myself crawling to bed, face half-covered in drool, after having fallen asleep on the couch at some point with just 4-5 hours to spare until I have to be back a work.

A few weeks ago, emerging from a long, snowy winter some 7lbs heavier than the fall, I knew I needed to change my behaviors once and for all since saving workouts for the evening has not been successful was clearly not the solution when morning workouts failed to stick in the past.

Somehow though, when I travel for work (or for vacations for that matter) I am able to fit in morning workouts even on very little sleep. So with this current effort at conquering my not-a-morning-personitis, I analyzed my successes while away from home to try to make a major change in my at home routine.

  • First, travel requires forethought and organization that I don’t typically apply in every day life since every day life just happens whether or not I am trying. Part of that forethought is making sure I have my workout gear and that I set my alarm clock to be able to fit in a 30-60 minute workout.
  • Second, when I travel, there typically isn’t a couch to accidentally fall asleep on (note: stay away from suites for this reason) in a big heap due to physical or mental exhaustion the night before. So, on my pre-workout evenings while traveling I get under the covers, read or blog for a bit (I do more pleasure reading or blogging on a trip than ever at home), and let myself fall asleep in the proper place.
  • Third, away work meetings, though still painfully early, usually start an hour later than any of my work obligations while at home. (Bonus: west coast meetings give this east coaster’s not-a-morning-person ass the illusion of extra time in the morning no matter what time the clock says that meeting starts. Yah!)
  • Fourth, because I am a totally technological loser, I can never figure out hotel alarm clocks so I just set my iPhone to wake me when I travel. For some reason being able to wake up to a fake choo choo train sound works better for me than the shrill of a typical alarm clock.
  • Fifth, I typically don’t have the patience to find the local NPR station when I travel (yes, I know there’s an app but remember this is still the morning and we’re still talking about me conquering said morning so finding the screen with that app is an almost insurmountable challenge). Without a great NPR news story followed by another (since this is commercial free radio) and so on and so forth, without the familiar voices of NPR’s Morning Edition emanating from the clock radio, it’s just easier for me to abandon the hotel bed.
  • Finally, when morning arrives (even if it is at 5am),  I am able to rise, brush my teeth, have my caffeine, and get dressed to workout over the leisurely course of 30 minutes or so before heading out to workout.

So here is how the detox happened. It started three weeks ago chosen deliberately due to an odd stretch of time where I was neither traveling nor on call (because being up all night tends to ruin multiple subsequent mornings for me).

First, I had to make my body understand that it was okay to be up much earlier than I need to be anywhere officially. So I started setting my iPhone to wake me up in the mornings since clearly I have no capacity to respond to my actually alarm clock. I just woke up, maybe had my coffee, and then stayed in bed while awake. This was it. Five mornings in a row I just got up early and did pretty much nothing. I just needed to get my body to get used to being up early and not rushing anywhere.

The following week, I actually got out of bed when the iPhone rang, brushed my teeth, had a cup of coffee, and got ready to work out (all without rushing). And then, I actually did work out. That week I focused on indoors in the home gym. No travel time. No pressure. No one to impress. I also conned my husband into joining me (I mean, I needed the coffee after all) and made sure there was something totally sinful to keep up with on the DVR. And you know what, it worked. Each morning for 7 consecutive days we worked out in the basement (and we blew through Newsroom, which I high recommend and moved on to Bloodline, equally compelling to get one up in the morning to see what happens next). On days that we did not time the alarms perfectly or pressed snooze a few too many times, we adjusted our run times to 30 or 45 minutes but 4 of those days we got in an hour long workout.

Each of those seven days was a great day for me. More energy when I got to work. No one asking why I was in a venomous rage when are arrived at my place of employment since I had worked all of that “I would rather be in bed” anger out of my body already. The evenings without pressure to try to work out only to be angry at myself for having not done it were so much easier. And, no more messing up my back by falling asleep on the couch in a contorted position. I would get myself upstairs and to my proper sleep location because I knew I had a morning workout I needed to be up for. I slept so much better. (It’s not that I didn’t know all of this already but transforming such knowledge into action was always the hard part.)

After two weeks of not-a-morning-person detox, I was feeling pretty good. The following week, however, had a few challenges. On Monday of that week, we were nervous for a family member and needed to be at a far away hospital pretty early and we blew it. But we got back on track the next day and it was getting to the point when I really wanted to work out in the mornings. But alas, some mornings are rough, especially those that require me to be at work before 7am. However, I was determined not to slide back to my old ways. So, on the days when even a quick 25 minute jaunt on a machine in my own home was out of the question we turned to the 7 minute workout. Yes, I am partial to the New York Times version of it. My husband turned me onto it. It’s what he did at the hotel when, during his last trip, every treadmill and elliptical in the crappy gym was taken by 5am. Sure, the workout can be repeated over and over for a great cross-training workout but even just seven minutes will get the muscles sore and the heart pumping so on the morning when the alarms just weren’t timed right to be at work for 6:30 and on the day that I had to leave at 5:45 to get my kid to her field hockey tournament on time, I worked out for exactly 7 minutes. But, hey it was better than no workout and it allowed me to stay on the wagon of morning workouts.

So, is this it? Is my detox process complete? Am I finally cured of my not-a-morning-personitis? Will I relapse? I am not sure.

But, this morning was the start of the fourth week and I got up and out for a quick 3 mile run and it felt good. I am hoping that my slow, calculated effort this time based on analysis past successes (as opposed to taking advantage of jetlag after a bout of traveling) will be the secret of life-long success in the days, months, years to follow. I give you permission as followers of the blog to hold me accountable. And please share your stories on how you make mornings work. I need all the help I can get to keep this up.

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10 Reasons To Cure Myself of Not-A-Morning-Personitis and Conquer Morning Workouts

I am decidedly NOT a morning person. I have often thought that this was a key factor in my career choice since trauma and acute care surgeons are often expected to be on their A-game in the middle of the night. I am a pretty amazing middle of the night person and, if that night stretches into chronological morning, I can keep the A-game going. But, if allowed to put head to pillow, dawn will yield a very cranky person.

In college I avoided classes that started before 11am. I am pretty sure I showed up at that one 8:30a Tu/Th class only for exams (physics 1a/b anyone?). Med school started every day at 8am during pre-clinicals and I often struggled with that arrival time choosing to put forward my best effort for labs later in the day (thank you lab mates who were excellent note-takers!). On clinical rotations I figured out how to show up for 4:45a pre-rounds, but I am pretty sure that only worked because it was still technically the middle of the night so my body was okay with that.

Even now, as in every day during residency and fellowship, when there are patients waiting at the other end, I can make early am arrivals happen albeit with a fair bit of crankiness as my poor husband kicks me out the door with coffee in hand. Honestly, it’s a miracle I ever chose a career where 5:30a rounds, 6a meetings, and 7a pre-op times are the norm. And on the days when there are no patients waiting at the other end, I continue to struggle with human functions in the morning. People at work often ask me why I am angry as they pass me in the halls at 6, 7, 8am…. I’m not angry. I’m just a cranky Not-A-Morning-Person.

Unlike my college and early med school days, these days an 8:30a start of anything (signout rounds, soccer games, flights…) would be welcome. Eleven am is shockingly late to me now; so in that regard my Not-A-Morning-Personitis has abated somewhat over the years.

But here I am. It’s the life I have chosen. Most of my work days start well before 8am and last well over twelve hours. Typically, I work 26 such days a month. And the Not-A-Morning-Personitis is still severe enough that I have been unable to incorporate pre-work early morning exercise into my daily regimen. Interestingly, when I travel (both with and without family) I am somehow able to swing pre-dawn jaunts at the hotel gym or outdoor runs. Perhaps this is due to the unfamiliar bed causing less restful sleep or the fact that even most surgery meetings don’t start until 8a or the allure of a new venue to run or the proximity of a Pure Barre studio or the late nights at the bar with colleagues (remember Vegas friends? I still got my money’s worth from the $15 gym fee)…

But, in the past I have not been able to recreate this early morning motivation in my home environment. Until last week, I could count the number of my non-weekend off morning workouts on the fingers of ONE hand.

Last week I was jet lagged; and since the current me is actively trying to dispel excuses to not exercise I channeled my wide awakeness at 3:30a into several morning workouts in a row. The jet lag dissipated eventually, but then I found myself angling for a morning workout anyway. This was, in fact, a miracle.

I could hardly recognize myself. Six morning workouts in a row including a post-call workout on my first week back in the country. They weren’t always hard workouts but I was up and I was moving. And my Fitbit was congratulating me for all the extra steps squeezed into my day. I have now exercised in the morning on 9 of the last 10 days with an evening workout on the off-day.

Here’s why I think I have to make this work and rid myself of my chronic Not-A-Morning-Personitis for good.

1) I don’t spend the rest of my day with my inner voice badgering me about how I have to swing an evening workout only to feel bad when I don’t make it happen.

2) I save my hair and the environment by cutting down to a shower a day since the post workout rinse doubles as the morning rinse.

3) I get to catch up on DVR’d episodes of House Hunters because, let’s face it, the 10p weeknight airings of new episodes are just too late for someone who is as tired and as cranky as I am.

4) I don’t have to have the difficult inner debate between choosing ME and my workout to be healthy vs choosing being available for the kids’ bedtime routines to be a good mom.

5) My morning crankiness dissipates during the workout so fewer people are frightened by me when I finally get to work.

6) Post-workout endorphins, which propel me into a happier rest-of-the-morning after am workouts, tend to result in undesired sleeplessness after pm workouts.

7) However, sometimes I still feel like working out again in the evenings and I like 2-a-day workout me much better than Not-A-Morning-Person me.

8) It propels a cycle of positive self re-enforcement; I find myself more likely to engage in healthy work day behaviors like taking the stairs or skipping the bowl of Twix in the ICU when I already feel good about having conquered a morning workout.

9) Who wouldn’t want to see Fitbit’s crazy happy face before dawn; it is one of the few positive digital messages I ever get these days.

10) I will occasionally catch a pretty sunrise.