Thursday, July 7, 2011

Not a Morning Person? Rise With the Sun!

The view out one bedroom window.
This is not particularly a nice photo, but there's a point to it! 

Who gets up at 5 a.m. to bake cookies? Meee! And does this help keep the kitchen cool before the heat of the day arrives? Nooo! (It just heats up the house earlier, but it’s not too bad, really. I’ll have to try early morning cookie baking in frigid winter.) I want cookies for a road trip I’m taking tomorrow, and I think, on warm summer days in a home without air conditioning, early morning is the best time to bake them.

I also got up before 5 a.m. to water the grass and plants. Since I am a renter and not an owner, I’m not willing to invest a lot of water $$$ to keep this yard perfect. I’ll keep it green enough and alive enough but not impeccable. Plus, the landscaping here is not a water-wise, eco-friendly setup, so it seems a huge waste of water and money to keep the place well-irrigated. More native plants (though there are quite a few here already) and some mulch would help, but it’s not my yard. . .  And I have to say that, moving sprinklers between all of these plants and trees, I have never walked through so many spider webs in my life, and face-first at that! I’m sure there must be spiders crawling through my hair. Ew!)

I also (and mostly) got up because the sun did, and it turns out—perhaps—this is why I am a cheerful morning person. Or part of the reason anyway, with another reason being that my mom took great pains to train us to be pleasant in the morning: “There is no excuse for being grumpy in the morning!”

I was reading in the book I mentioned recently, A Pattern Language, about waking to morning light. This is an “architecture” book, but it’s sort of a “living” architecture book, dealing with all of the factors and characteristics of a city, community, or home that draw people to its spaces or affect them positively. You can actually design and set up a place so that it is—or isn’t—warm, inviting, and conducive to the development of cooperation and good relationships. Interesting stuff!

Anyway, the pattern that discusses the idea of waking to morning light is Pattern #138—Sleeping to the East. The book encourages placing bedrooms on the east side of the house so that a person wakes gently when the sun comes up, and it discourages our determined control of time and nature where we sleep in darkened rooms and set jolting alarm clocks to disturb our slumber. The reasoning behind this thinking is that “when we behave in a way which is not in tune with our natural rhythms and cycles, we run a very good chance of disturbing our natural physiological and emotional functioning.” (Does this sound like an architecture and city-planning book to you?)

The authors go on to say that the cycle of the sun governs our physiology so much that it isn’t wise to resist it. They cite research done by Dr. London at San Francisco Medical School indicating that our entire day is critically impacted by the conditions under which we waken. “If we wake up immediately after a period of dreaming (REM) sleep, we will feel ebullient, energetic, and refreshed for the whole day, because certain critical hormones are injected into the bloodstream immediately after REM sleep. . . The sun warms you, increases the light, gently nudges you to wake up at the moment which serves you best. . .”

Obviously, it’s possible for an alarm to rouse a person at just the right time, after the REM sleep, but the only way to make sure this happens is to wake naturally.

The authors of A Pattern Language admit that this is the pattern in the book that gets the most disagreement or resistance, and, admittedly, in our modern day and age, where Clock is king (or tyrant), waking naturally doesn’t work for everyone. And what about dead winter (especially in Alaska or places far-north), when the sun rises after we need (or want) to be up? And what about summer in these northern places, when the sun brightens the sky practically all night? Well, I don’t know, but I do believe that rising naturally makes sense (doing almost anything according to natural ways and rhythms makes sense, if you ask me), and, thankfully, I’ve most often been able to choose my waking and sleeping times.

I wonder if those Moonbeam alarm clocks—the ones that start gently flashing a light to wake a sleeper and flash increasingly faster and brighter until a person wakens (sound can be added to the end of this alarm cycle if a person wants or needs it)—works more like the sun. I wonder if those happy hormones are released by this sort of “alarm.”

Out the other bedroom window.

What I see upon waking. 

Regarding the placement of bedrooms to the east of a home, the authors let us know that sunlight shouldn’t fall so directly on the bed that it makes us uncomfortably warm or shines in our faces. And the pattern also encourages placement of the bed so that there is a view out the window of what the day will be like:

“A good morning window looks out on some kind of constant object or growing thing, which reflects the changes of the season and the weather, and allows a person to establish the mood of the day as soon as he wakes up.”

I think this is true! I’ve always looked immediately out the bedroom window upon waking to see the sky, the weather, the birds, the flowers, or whatever is out there, and that’s precisely when I begin to thank the Lord for His gifts. It’s really a lovely way to start a day.

According to A Pattern Language, if bedrooms are not situated to the east, they should at least have some kind of terrace, courtyard, or natural view outside. In an already established house, we don’t have much control over where our bedrooms are or what we see out our windows, but most of us can add something natural to the view, even if it’s a window box full of flowers or a birdfeeder. Whatever we believe about sleep and light and views out bedroom windows, doing this can only add to the cheerfulness of a room.

My own bedroom is on the southwest corner of the house, but I have two nice windows in the room, looking out at patio, plants, and sky. It’s a warmly-lit room. Through the bedroom door, I can see light from the living room windows, and the sun comes up at the very angle I am looking, so, in an oblique way, I do wake to morning sunlight.

And I do wake feeling cheery. I love morning. How about you?

I don’t think I can end this without saying that there are, obviously, a lot of factors that convene to impact our daily mood, and like my mother insisted, there really is no excuse for being grumpy in the morning. Can you imagine saying something like this to your children: “Oh, poor you—your mood has been knocked askew because you woke in the middle of delta sleep rather than after REM sleep.” Not me. It’s always going to be: “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and needs to go back to their room and climb out on the right side.”

But gentle, natural waking rhythms surely must make it a bit easier to rise with a smile.


  1. This is very interesting! I want to think more about it (and read that architecture book!).

  2. Laurel, the book really is fun to read. If you thumb through it, there are patterns related to all sorts of interesting things. I look at the book all the time, and I've actually changed the setup of rooms based on what I've read. It really makes sense!

  3. I just reread this, Susan. I think what you spoke of is so true. I know for a fact that light affects me. Throughout the day, I find myself naturally drawn to the rooms in my home that are the most brightly lit. Thankfully, my bedroom has a bank of windows all along the southeast wall and I've taken to leaving the blinds open at night to allow the sun to pour through in the morning. Looking out those windows is the very first thing I do every morning. And then, when the kids and I are working on schoolish things in the morning, it just so happens that the "schoolroom" is also flooded with sunshine.

    My best friend was building a home recently and my single piece of advice to her was, "DON'T skimp on the # of windows you put in!"

    Your cheery and consistent morning routines have always been one of my favorite things you write about!