Are you a lark who wakes up early, chipper and raring to go? Or are you an owl who awakens a little later, starts off sluggish and takes time to come up to speed? Many of us belong to one flock or the other – scientists call this characteristic a “chronotype.”

Some scientists now believe that a chronotype is dictated by genes. Stimulated by hours of daylight and dark, our internal “human clocks,” which govern our circadian rhythms or sleep/wake cycles, more or less match the 24-hour cycle of Earth days, but some people’s circadian rhythms fall outside this 24-hour cycle, either on the shorter or longer side, while about half of us fall in between. For the in-betweens and the larks, the conventional daytime schedules for school, work and socializing suit us just fine. Night owls, though, are always slightly out of sync with the rest of the world. Our chronotype follow a similar arc of change over our lifetimes, with many lark children becoming night owls as teenagers. During our young-adult years, those of us who veer from the in-between fall into either a morning- or night-person circadian rhythm, then, after about age 60, most of us become larks again. For older adults, many of whom are freer to set their own timetables for activities and sleep, their chronotype presents few problems. For young to middle-aged adults who work during the day, however, being night owls can be a challenge. If you’re an owl who can’t shift your start time and schedule at school or work, you can try the following strategies to get you in step with the rest of the world.

Once you’ve determined your chronotype and optimal hours of sleep each night, set a target for your ideal wake-up time and work backward. Gradually start moving your getting-into-bed time forward, by about 10 or 15 minutes for a few nights at a time, to ease into a sleep schedule that gets you the right number of sleep hours and leaves you refreshed and ready for your ideal wake-up time. Resist the temptation to hit the snooze button, and get up right away. Open the drapes and do a series of stretches to get your blood moving, then get outside for a short walk before work. If it’s sunny, the light will help elevate your level of cortisol, a hormone that boosts your alertness. It’s well worth a try. University of Toronto researchers Renée K. Biss and Lynn Hasher say the research suggests that “early sleep/wake times may have positive emotional effects” and that “shifts toward morningness can improve one’s levels of positive affect and subjective health.”

More tips for night owls? Write up your to-do lists, make your brown-bag lunches and ready your clothing and gear in the evening. If possible, schedule your most-important work meetings, creative tasks and decision making for the afternoons. And don’t forget to eat a healthy breakfast to kick-start your energy and promote your ability to concentrate and focus. To ease your waking-up woes, you can also turn to technology. Philips, for example, manufactures an alarm which combines sound with a slowly intensifying light that mimics sunrise. Given the darkness of winter mornings in Canada, this might be a great way to rise and shine for both night owls and larks.

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