Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having once said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” While the attribution may be apocryphal, there’s a degree of truth in the statement. Because while making you wiser may be beyond the purview of an earlier wake up time, there are definitely health and career benefits to waking up earlier.
There’s just one problem with it all: if you’re not a morning person, waking up early sucks. The body’s internal clock is not always your friend, and trying to get your circadian rhythm in tune with your life can be a challenge. However, there is good news! Once you get used to it, waking up early can actually be amazing!
To wake up early means you have to fall asleep early
Sleep deprivation is, quite literally, torture. Any parent who remembers raising small children or POW mistreated by the enemy can tell you as much. Excessive daytime sleepiness wreaks havoc on your mind, your health, your happiness – your whole life, in short.
We are not talking necessarily about a life where you are lacking sleep based on a wake time moved earlier, but instead about a life where you feel your best, feel your most energized, alert, productive, and content because you adjust to an entirely new sleep / wake cycle.
In a perfect world, doing that would be easy: you would just decide to change your bedtime routine to earlier in the evening. When you fall asleep earlier, your morning routine would be easier to transition to earlier in the morning, and you’d wake up early every day without issue.
Actually, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter what time you woke up, you could still be a night owl and sleep as late as you like. Ideally, even if you didn’t get to sleep early, you could rise as early as you wanted, with the start of your day dictated entirely by your own personal preferences. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way.
In the real world, things like your work schedule, the kids’ school day, errands and appointments, travel, neighborhood noise, and all the rest of it are going to play a bigger role determining your rise in the morning than will your preference. A good night’s sleep can be elusive!
So let’s accept the hard truth that sometimes in life, you just have to wake up early even if you’re not a morning person. And “sometimes” often means waking up early every weekday for years. In this article we’ll talk through a plethora of ways to make that early waking less of a pain. And hey, who knows, maybe it will even become a pleasure? After all, you can get a lot done in the morning, especially when you are up before most other people. Who needs evening hours anyway?
The benefits of being an early bird
Because waking up early in the morning is saddled with such a stigma of negativity, let’s first talk through some of the benefits of waking up early so we can reframe our thinking here.
A better sleep schedule can lead to increased productivity
The most obvious benefit of waking up early is that it gives you more time in your day, especially if you wake up well before you even need to, based on work, the kids, appointments, and so on. Rising just a half hour earlier each day could give you time to do all those things that you probably bemoan never having time to do.
That extra half hour in the morning is a little gift you can give to yourself. You won’t miss a bit of evening time where you were likely zonked out and not doing much anyway, but when you’re crisp and alert in that extra morning block, you’ll feel and appreciate it.
The early morning hours can also be immensely productive, whether for your work, your hobbies, time spent on a side project, or what have you. This is for two reasons: first, you will be as well rested and clear headed (as soon as you’re fully awake) in the morning as you will at any time during the day. And second, when you wake up early, most other people are still asleep, thus there will be no calls, emails, texts, or partners or children to rob you of your time and attention.
A more pleasant morning commute, and an easier time doing errands
Then you have a few logistical reasons to rise early in the morning. If you can dictate your own working hours, getting to work early usually means a much shorter, more efficient commute due to less traffic on the streets or smaller crowds on the subway platform.
Errands that can be run early – most grocery stores open early, for example – mean breezing through the store and less time at checkout. And when you can schedule the first appointment of the day for your dentist, doctor, haircut, and so on, you need not interrupt the flow of your day later.
A better bedtime routine can lead to a happier life
And finally, there is an undeniable emotional and psychological component to waking early in the morning. Simply put, you will feel better about yourself when you start getting out of bed and getting on with your day earlier.
Aspire to be the early riser and soon enough you will be.
With better sleep quality comes better wake ups
This isn’t some groundbreaking, “stop the presses!” level of announcement, but just for the record, the better you sleep at night, the easier it will be to wake up early in the morning.
As entire books can be (and have been) written about how to get a good night of sleep, we’re just going to hit a few key points. If you have trouble sleeping at night, do yourself the great favor of addressing that as an entire issue, not just a component of how to wake up early.
So, in a few broad strokes, to fall asleep fast and get a better night of sleep…
Be consistent in your bedtime. Have you ever noticed how many nights you will find yourself so tired you nearly nod off only to get a second wind and then stay up much longer?
Stop doing that. Your body will tell you when it’s time to rest, bringing on that fatigue. If you push through, your body will realize you’re fighting back and give you the energy to stay awake, but that comes at the expense of proper sleep and feeling well rested the next day.
Let yourself fall asleep each night at the same time, and if you’re having trouble figuring out the perfect time, try an app that tracks your natural circadian rhythm and sleep habits. It can help you pinpoint the ideal bedtime.
Create the conditions for success
Create the conditions for a good night of sleep – your bedroom needs a few things to promote ideal sleep. These are a mattress and bedding (sheets, blankets, and pillows), consistent quiet or consistent white noise, as from a fan or noisemaker, a cool temperature, and a dark space with a lack of light sources.
Also, according to research, those that take a warm bath or shower one to two hours before bedtime can fall asleep faster, and experience a much better quality of sleep.
Avoid certain sleep-killers
Cut out the “bad stuff” in the couple of hours leading up to bed, and you’ll be one of those mythical early risers before you know it! Avoid coffee (and all caffeine, in fact), booze, sugar, and if possible even any calories.
There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or beer or bourbon now and then (and in fact there are even benefits to moderated drinking), but if you have more than a couple of drinks in a given night, you can pretty much count on a worse night of sleep.
Drinking coffee is actually great for you in moderation, but caffeine in the late afternoon or evening could wreck your sleep. So too will processed sugars throw off bedtime, while even that nighttime snack can be deleterious to good rest, healthy or not.
Give yourself a checkup
Make sure you have no medical issues affecting sleep – things like obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, or a specified insomnia, as these and other medical issues may well be the cause of your poor sleep at night and the reason you find it hard to wake up early and are often drowsy during the day.
Consider seeing a sleep specialist and getting yourself assessed if you think you may have such an issue, as there are often interventions that can help.
How to wake up early: The devices to consider
OK, so you cut out the afternoon caffeine and sugar, you moderated the booze, you created an ideal sleeping environment, and you let yourself nod off when you were tired instead of staying up scrolling on your phone?
Good job! Sounds like you are headed for a smooth bedtime and a good night of sleep. Now, how to make sure you wake up early and eat breakfast with the rest of the early rising population?
Set an alarm
Well, the simplest way is to set an alarm. You can use your phone, a classic clock radio, a dedicated alarm, whatever works for you – if it’s noisy enough to rouse you from your rest, it’s an alarm clock that works.
When it comes to said noise, there are essentially two schools of thought: one is to program the alarm to engage music, a podcast or news show, or other aural content you find pleasing so you can wake up more slowly and peacefully. The other is to use a noise unpleasant enough to get you up and after it fast. Do whatever works for you, or do a hybrid: calmer sounds come on first, things get loud and jarring a few minutes later, if still needed.
Another option is to have a white noise machine set to shut off an appointed time and allow the absence of noise to help rouse you. And of course don’t forget the old trick of placing your alarm clock well out of reach of your bed. Yes, it will feel cruel the first few times, but it forces you out of bed and makes it much less likely you will hit the snooze then hit the sack again.
Another common device people use to help them wake up early is a light that switches on and mimics the sunrise by starting from a soft glow and slowly getting brighter and with a changing color temperature. Your brain will detect the changing light, perceive it as sunrise, and bring you from slumber to wakefulness more naturally and peacefully.
Then there is always the coffee maker. You can get a programmable coffee maker and set it to switch on and start brewing at a dedicated time and, if you’re like most people who love coffee, you will tend to wake up when the rich aroma of your morning joe starts to fill the house.
There is something of a Pavlovian effect to the scent of coffee, given that your body knows it will provide a dose of energy and a sensation of heightened mental clarity. It can make falling asleep easier, knowing that you have a nice cup of Joe waiting for you in the A.M.
Waking up early: The more natural approach
If you have the desire to wake up earlier but the luxury of not necessarily needing to – no early morning meetings to make but a desire to get in more hours of the day, for example – then you may be able to change your sleep schedule and waking time without the blare of the clock, a glowing sun lamp, or even the call of the coffee pot.
First things first, just go to bed earlier. Having an earlier sleep time will allow your body to wake itself up once it has gotten enough rest. Simply start the night of sleep earlier and as a result an earlier morning will usually follow.
Next, monitor your hydrating. Drinking too many fluids before bed can make you need to wake up to relieve yourself in the middle of the night which can throw off your plans to sleep soundly and get up early.
On the other hand, you can also use the ancient trick warriors employed to help rouse themselves quite early for pre dawn raids and drink an extra amount of water right before bed. This will all but ensure an early wakeup as your bladder hits capacity. It may not be the most pleasant natural alarm clock, and maybe not a “trick” to use every night, but it works.
Sunlight (or fake sunlight)
While you’re awake during the daytime, make sure you expose yourself to sufficient sunlight (or if need be to artificial lighting designed to mimic sunlight), albeit safely, using covering clothing and sunblock as needed, because your brain will register the daylight hours and later know that they have passed and that it will be time to rest. More exposure to sunlight during the day can lead to better sleep at night, which in turn means earlier, better mornings.
Another approach to changing your wake up time to an earlier hour of the day is to wait to make the change until there is an extrinsic change in your life. For example, if you go on a vacation for a few days, start waking up earlier while in a new environment and then keep on getting up early when you get home – making a change to your morning routine while in an entirely new environment makes it easier to break old habits. (Just note that this may not be the best approach if your travel involves different time zones and the resulting jet lag, of course.)
And finally, give yourself things to look forward to in the morning that you would not otherwise find the time to enjoy. Because actually, it’s not about finding time, it’s about making time. If you love soaking in the tub and reading a magazine, get up 45 minutes earlier than usual even though you only need a half hour and take those 15 minutes of me time in the bath. Or go through a slower, fuller, relaxed morning hygiene routine. Or go for a long walk. Make time then “waste” a bit of it in the best of possible ways. Time well enjoyed is time very well spent.
Don’t stress over waking up early: It will come naturally in time
Like almost everything else in life, learning how to wake up early can take some time and practice and some getting used to. But with the time and effort put in, it’ll get a whole lot easier.
And after those first few potentially unpleasant days (maybe a couple of weeks, but probably not even) you will slowly start to wonder how you ever slept so late before – who knew everything you could get done from six a.m. to eight a.m. before you even started your workday, a day that will be all the more productive and focused for the new schedule?
Just don’t brag about being an early bird to all the sleepy-eyed snooze alarmers at the office – late sleepers just hate that.