News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 5, 2014

MARK BENNETT: How you approach the day will influence if you are a ‘morning person’

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — I can still see the stacks of coins, 40 cents in each, arranged on the dining room table.

My dad was a “morning person.”

Long before the sun, or any of us kids, had risen, he was awake, dressed and ready for the day. By the time I finally answered my mom’s reveille for me to “rise and shine,” Dad had retrieved the morning newspaper and started reading it as he drank coffee and ate breakfast made by Mom. And he’d set our school-lunch money on the table. A busy work day at a power plant awaited him, but he looked content and prepared. Every day.

Eventually, I started getting up early, too, shadowing Dad, curiously exploring life before dawn, all those years ago.

I’m a morning person, too.

The advantages of being a morning person occurred to me this week as the Vigo County School Corp. unveiled its schedule to make up classroom time lost to snow days this cold, icy, snowy winter. With six days to make up by the June 8 graduation day — two education days missed because of the polar vortex were waived by the state — the district will use its built-in snow-day makeups on three open days in May, and account for the remaining three days through early starts and later ends to school days from April 7 to May 2. Elementary youngsters will begin classes at 7:55 a.m. Middle-schoolers and high school students will begin at 7:40. Daily routines will change for 15,000 kids and their families.

Morning people may fare better than snooze-button-manipulators (or SBMs). Converting isn’t as easy as reciting a pledge or submitting to an initiation ceremony. We all function on “circadian rhythms.” Those aren’t dancing insects. Instead, the rhythms amount to an internal body clock that tells us when to eat, sleep, awaken and reach full coherence (an accomplishment in itself, some days). Resetting that circadian clock is possible for many people through a variety of tactics, such as moving up their wake-up time a few minutes a day until reaching the desired hour; immediately exposing themselves to light upon rising, and maintaining their regimen on weekends, according to Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania researchers cited in a 2011 New York Times Magazine report.

“Common sense” strategies can help folks successfully cope with early morning life, explained Mark Trusler, a Terre Haute licensed mental health counselor.

He suggests going to bed earlier, “waking up to what works for you” (soft music or blaring tunes); setting a coffee-maker to begin brewing java 15 minutes before wake-up time; turning on the kids’ favorite video to activate their minds; splashing cool water on the face; or doing a set of jumping jacks. And, “always a tall glass of water or juice to hydrate,” Trusler added, “since we all wake up dehydrated, which slows the brain function and causes us to process slower.”

Indeed, sleep, diet and exercise represent the tickets for slower-starters to coexist in morning-people land.

Personally, I’m a strong advocate of ingesting coffee. My only expertise is that I drink coffee, like coffee, and read about the virtues of coffee (lots of antioxidants, lowers risk of some diseases, minimal calories), and, in fact, I’m drinking coffee as I write this column. (Did we mention coffee?) I do know that coffee tastes good and, of course, contains caffeine. Still, coffee isn’t a magic potion to ignite and sustain a seize-the-day fire in us.

“A lot of people tend to wake up and go right for the coffee which, yes, can wake up you, but where are the nutrients to get you through the day?” stated Stacey Faith, foods and nutrition educator for the Purdue University Extension Office in Terre Haute.

She recommends a “healthy, nutritious breakfast” comprised of oatmeal, yogurt with granola, fruit, or cereals, toast or waffles made from whole grains. Kids should avoid sugary or greasy foods, Faith added. Such energizing breakfasts should follow a full night’s sleep. “We don’t feel as sluggish when we get an adequate amount of rest along with a healthy breakfast,” she explained. Ideally, 30 minutes of exercise happens, too.

If all that sounds like an enormous a.m. checklist for late-risers accustomed to a furious, last-minute race to clean up, get dressed and hustle out into a hectic world, it might be time to think differently of mornings. Its early hours offer few interruptions. They represent unclaimed territory.

Boo Lloyd knows mornings. She runs the popular Boo’s Crossroads Cafe and Corner Grind in downtown Terre Haute, where she arrives by 6 a.m. daily and serves a mix of sharp-eyed morning people, night-shifters just off work, and those who respond to “Hi, how are ya?” with only a one-word plea, “Coffee.”

As a young girl, Lloyd learned to see mornings in a unique light — namely, the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the sight she’d find her mother gazing at every day at 5 a.m. The scene unfolded outside the window of their New Jersey house on Long Beach Island. Before the household and much of the world began moving, her mom savored coffee and the New York Times crossword puzzle. “That was her time,” Lloyd recalled.

Hundreds of miles west, in small-town Indiana, my dad was showing me how to read the baseball box scores in the Terre Haute Star. The day, for us, had already begun.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or