Want To Become A Morning Person? You Can With This Swedish Lifestyle Practice
Not everyone is a morning person. However, a certain lifestyle trend has gone global and is getting more people up at the crack of dawn. The Swedish practice of gökotta (pronounced “go-kah-tuh” or “zyohh-koh-tah”) comes from a Swedish custom that begins on Ascension Day (40 days after Easter, which was May 18 this year) and runs to Midsummer’s Day (which is June 21, the first day of summer).
Gökotta is a Swedish word that some translate as “hear the morning birdsong.” Basically, gökotta calls for getting up early, going outside, and listening to birds singing.
Nichola Henderson, a holistic life coach in Glasgow, Scotland, believes the practice was popular in the past and even now in “our modern high-tech era” because the natural rhythm of humans is to be in tune with the natural world.
“As human beings, we are innately drawn to nature and we love the rhythm of reoccurring natural wonders,” Henderson told Stylist. “It’s why we love a sunrise and a sunset and why we are sometimes subconsciously drawn to green spaces.”
Scientists say that getting some morning sunshine is an extra benefit to getting up early and enjoying nature. Studies have found that exposure to early morning sunlight helps the body produce melatonin earlier which can potentially make it easier to get to sleep at night. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced from serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone that regulates mood, appetite, and the body’s circadian rhythm (also called the body’s “biological clock”). Serotonin is normally produced during the day and converts to melatonin in darkness.
Morning sunshine is the “most powerful stimulus for wakefulness throughout the day,” and it helps us to fall asleep at night, according to Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Researchers have also found that bright morning sunlight can be effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder.
What’s more, early morning sunlight helps to increase the body’s vitamin D levels. While vitamin D is found in some foods, exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways of getting this essential nutrient. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, one of the most important building blocks for healthy bones. Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps prevents the development of osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones thinner, weaker, and more likely to break. Vitamin D has also been found to lower the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Sunshine is important to the morning routine, but what happens when it’s cloudy? Huberman suggests staying outside longer. After all, birds will sing regardless of whether it’s sunny or cloudy. Beyond that, being outside on a cloudy day is still better than being indoors.
“The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” Russel J. Reiter, a melatonin researcher, and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Centre explains in the report, Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.” The report was published in the National Institute of Health’s Environmental Health Perspectives journal.
Yale University has presented studies that found as long as people feel safe where they are, spending time in nature can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, enhance immune system function, improve mood, and increase self-esteem.
Although gökotta is only practiced for a matter of weeks, studies are ongoing into the benefits of exposure to morning sunshine and reconnecting with nature—and how both affect physical and mental health.
How To Practice Gökotta
The traditional practice of gökotta involves getting up around dawn (anytime between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.) during the summer months. It’s not necessary to do it everyday, but a few days a week is sufficient to experience the benefits.
Along with listening to the birdsong, the following are activities you may want to include in your practice:
- Go for a walk. Unlike a morning jog, a leisurely walk makes you feel calmer and more likely to focus your attention on the birds rather than the number of miles you are running. It’s all about mental health rather than physical health. There are no time limits for your walk. It can be a long walk or simply a walk around your yard or block.
- Drink a cup of coffee, tea or juice. Listening to birdsong is even better when you’re sipping your favorite morning beverage and feeling the warmth of the sun or looking at cloud patterns. By the way, health experts say to put on sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun for some time.
- Tend To Your Garden. If you have a garden, check out your plants and flowers. Water them, if needed. But resist doing “serious gardening” with a shovel, rake, and hoe. This is a time to relax, not do hard work.
- Focus on the Moment. Whether you want to do yoga or close your eyes and meditate, calm down and focus your attention totally on your environment, especially the birdsong.
If there is a thunderstorm or you have to leave for work early or another reason why you cannot go outside at dawn, there are birdsong and mindfulness apps that you can download on your phone. In this way, you will not miss this early morning practice.
According to Denise Kenny Byrne, a life and wellness coach in Dublin, Ireland, establishing an early morning practice can help you manage a busy schedule. Besides feeling in control, Byrne said “you’ll go through your day with a sense of achievement, clarity and control.”
“The way you start your morning sets the tone for the rest of the day,” Byrne, who’s also a certified meditation teacher and the co-founder of “The Head Plan” brand of journals, told Stylist. “By starting the day in a relaxed, fulfilling and positive way, you’re more likely to carry those feelings into the afternoon, and feel more equipped to handle any challenges that come your way.”