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CHASE THE SUNRISE

Why it’s actually better to go to bed early on New Year’s Eve

An orange sky over the Washington Monument and the Capitol building in Washington, DC
Reuters/Kevin Kamarque
The start of a new day.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Washington DCPublished

I am a sucker for the idea of New Year’s. I love new beginnings and any opportunity to take on a fresh set of goals. Even though catastrophes tend to rudely ignore our Gregorian calendar, I like to pretend, at least for a little bit, that we actually have a clean slate ahead of us. And it helps that there’s usually a bang-up celebration with loved ones.

This year, however, parties aren’t possible. Bars will be empty, and many people will be spending the night at home…again. The evening will be unremarkable at best and disappointing at worst; it’s tempting to ignore the whole thing. I say, please do. Instead of dwelling on the winding down of a dismal year, here’s how to actually focus on the year ahead: Catch the sunrise.

I inverted New Year’s for myself at the start of this year, departing a small gathering of friends at 9pm on New Year’s Eve, and waking up at 5:30am the following day. It was still dark outside, which made it feel a bit like the remnants of the night before.

On most New Year’s days past, I found myself waking up groggily at 9am or later, regretting the last glass of champagne (or two) from the night before. I’d spend the day trying to organize myself for work after the holidays. Maybe I’d set a goal or two and try to make plans for them. But it always came from a place of feeling like I was playing catch-up, and was significantly less thoughtful than I had romanticized just 24 hours earlier.

On Jan. 1, 2020, though, I hopped on my bike around 6:10am, hangover-free. I needed my lights to illuminate the road ahead of me. There were no cars out, no early-morning construction. It was just me and the silence, which provided me with a chance to reflect in peace about what the preceding year had brought, and the intentions I wanted to set for the one ahead.

When I reached Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, I greeted my usual running group. We had gathered for Wednesday workout, as we always did, regardless of the weather or holidays. While we ran up and down the Lincoln steps chit-chatting, the sun peeped out from behind the US Capitol building, bathing everything in pinks, purples, and oranges. I found myself grateful for all the choices in my life that had led me to that moment, for my body for carrying me there, and for the beauty of the sunrise, which felt like an early-morning secret. When I came back to my apartment in the full light of day, I felt refreshed and ready to take on the year.

My running group hasn’t met for a Wednesday workout since March, so I won’t be meeting them for the new year. But I’m still going to get up early, because even in a pandemic, the sun still rises.

You don’t have to go for a run to enjoy the beauty of a sunrise; I just happen to like running. You can enjoy a sneak peak of the day’s first rays from the comfort of your home, maybe with a cup of coffee. Perhaps it will inspire you to reflect on the past year, during which you have surely done a lot, even if it wasn’t what you originally planned.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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