October 27, 2022

WEIRENS | Early Bird Gets The Worm

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Bam. My hand slammed onto the 5:45 a.m. phone alarm, silencing it within the second it began blaring. Without waking my roommate, I quickly dressed in the darkness, cleaned up and power-walked to practice. No battling with the snooze button, no sitting on my phone in bed for ten minutes, no lollygagging while choosing the day’s outfit. It was a typical weekday morning. And, I would argue, the ideal time for Cornellians everywhere to start theirs. 

Initially, this early morning wakeup routine was extremely unnatural to implement, as I’m sure the majority of readers would agree with. Throughout high school and my first semester at Cornell, I was as night owl as they get. Two or 3 a.m. bedtimes were the norm, my morning routine consisting of groaning, swaddled in blankets while mindlessly poking at my phone before slouching off to class. It was as unproductive as it sounds. It was easy to trick myself into believing the egregiously late nights were because I was working extra hard or putting in extra hours studying. That was hardly the case. Poor time management and personal habits sat at the heart of the issue, but I didn’t like to see it that way. 

The only thing that jerked me out of what felt like this inescapable cycle was walking onto the women’s crew team in the second semester of first year. The most difficult part of adjusting to the crew lifestyle, but ultimately the most beneficial, was the 6:30 a.m. morning lifts and rows. For the first few weeks, waking up felt like being prematurely yanked from the womb and waterboarded in Cayuga Lake. But, with force of habit and sufficient exhaustion in the evening, the mornings slowly became bearable. 

This beneficial difference is clearly reflected in my early bird peers. Across the board, my teammates are excellent students and holistically successful people who live full lives despite their extensive time commitment to crew. Additionally, a simple comparison of my friends who frequently stay up late into the night vs. those who get up early strongly supports the early bird argument. The night owls that I know tend to complain about their stress and workload, procrastinate and barely make their deadlines. “After sitting there for two and a half hours, I just went back and slept because I realized I had accomplished almost nothing because I was so tired,” Julianne Berry-Stoelzle ‘25 bemoaned after an evening in Olin Library. On the other hand, my early bird friends aptly handle their workload with skill and efficiency while maintaining excellent standards of personal health and balance. 

In my research at Cornell Orchards last summer, I spent time working with a potato lab on Mount Pleasant. In between mass-packing pots of dirt with fellow researchers and farm workers, I overheard scraps of wisdom from the seasoned contributors. A common norm, as they discussed, was to work with the understanding that an afternoon hour, specifically after lunch, was half as productive as a pre-lunch hour. Their efficiency was measured differently based on time of day, with consistent accuracy in performance to match up. Why wouldn’t the same rule apply to mental, not just physical, labor? 

I find this purely anecdotal evidence very convincing, but there’s also extensive scientific evidence to back up the early bird cause as well. After eating a big meal, especially one with lots of carbohydrates and proteins (staples of Cornell dining halls), your body makes tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid from a protein that triggers serotonin production, which is a key neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy. That’s part of the reason I, and many others, feel a strong urge to take a nap after lunch — and not be terribly efficient. The same concept applies to the post-dinner exhaustion, when the evening study grind begins for many Cornellians. Allowing yourself to succumb to sleepiness after a long day may be a good thing, so you can start the next one refreshed and rejuvenated. 

Despite the initial unpleasant transition, I couldn’t recommend the early bird lifestyle more. For hard cases like myself, switching to an early morning routine requires aggressive, consistent accountability for it to be effective. For the more disciplined Cornellians, joining a sports team probably won’t be necessary, but I believe that some form of tangible accountability is essential for success. Either way, as long as you get at least seven or eight hours of sleep you’ll probably be just fine, but to optimize time and life, I champion going early.

Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Northern Light runs alternate Thursdays this semester.