I Tried to Become a Morning Person, and Here’s What I Learned
For years, I loved sleeping in more than anything else. Then two things happened: I had a baby, and I started freelance writing outside of my day job.
I soon realized that first, kids don’t really care if you’re tired or not, and second, I needed to find extra pockets of time to stay on top of assignments and deadlines.
So I decided to become a morning person.
Even though I knew it would be incredibly hard, I wanted to wake up centered and refreshed, be somewhat productive or have a bit of “me” time, and then sail out the door on time for once — versus rising to the sound of a screaming child, rushing around to get ready, forgetting to eat breakfast and arriving late to a meeting.
Here are ten lessons I learned from waking up earlier, and how you, too, can reset your habits to make the most of those early hours.
Ease Into It
Initially, my goal involved waking up around 5:30 a.m. every day, about an hour and a half earlier than my usual 7 a.m.
But the first few days I attempted to set my alarm, I either slept through it entirely or woke up wondering why the heck anyone would ever get up this early. Basically, it backfired. When I told my sister about my experiment, and how it wasn’t working, she said, “Well, if five thirty is too early, why not just wake up at six?”
Instead of immediately trying to implement a huge change, I eased into it. I spent a week waking up at 6:30 a.m., then 6 a.m., then 5:30 a.m. This approach worked well, because it gave my body a change to get accustomed to a new wake-up time, and my mind the opportunity to make sense of a new habit.
Adjust Your Bedtime
Research says that getting at least eight hours of sleep leads to improved memory, better weight management, a more positive mindset and lower stress levels.
It makes sense. When I’m tired, things like motivation and productivity go out the window, along with my ability to eat healthy. So if I wanted to wake up early without being exhausted every day, then I needed to … go to bed early.
Rather than falling asleep around 11 p.m., I set an alarm on my phone that reminded me to start getting ready for bed around 9:30. I used this as my cue to power down electronics, brush my teeth, wash my face and hop in bed with a good book.
Create a Morning Routine
Another mistake I made? Waking up without any sense of why.
It was significantly harder to roll out of bed in a dark room without a plan of action, so I soon started incorporating different “me” time activities into those early hours. Some days, I read part of a new book and journaled. Other mornings, I hit up a yoga class and made a healthy breakfast.
Over time, it felt really nice to have at least an hour or so every morning before obligations and to-do lists — time where I could be extra productive or simply look out the window with a hot cup of coffee.
These little habits soon provided the incentive to wake up early in the first place. I knew if I didn’t rise, I would miss my chance, so to speak. And the days I didn’t wake up earlier become noticeably different, in a negative way, than the ones where I did make time for myself first and foremost.
When Your Alarm Goes Off, Stay Upright
Three big takeaways from trying to wake up earlier than usual for a month:
1. Don’t hit snooze a thousand times.
2. Don’t shut off your alarm and roll over, quietly whispering, “Just five more minutes...”
3. Don’t snuggle up with your dog or your partner while you check Twitter on your phone.
The second you give yourself the opportunity to lay back down, it’s probably all over because it’s much, much harder to get up a second time. I even used the “put your alarm across the room” trick, and found that if I didn’t stay upright after shutting it off, I would almost automatically crawl back under the covers for a second that turned into an hour.
Whatever you do, once you get up, stay up.
Turn a Light On or Open the Blinds for Natural Light
To help you sleep, your body produces a hormone called melatonin — and when you wake up, natural or artificial light can trigger your brain to stop.
That’s why opening the window blinds, turning on the bathroom light or walking outside for a moment can be so helpful within the first couple minutes of waking up.
Take a Shower
When it comes to showering in the morning versus the evening, I’ve typically been in the second camp. But in order to wake up more fully at the crack of dawn, hopping into the shower actually helped me quite a bit.
I like that I can still be technically half asleep with my eyes closed, but doing something productive to start the day. For an extra boost, some studies suggest turning the water temperature to cold for the last few minutes of a shower, so that you feel more alert all day long.
Before Bed, Look at Something That’s Not a Screen
By now, I’ve learned it is incredibly easy to peer at my phone screen and then realize I’ve read five articles and looked at 25 Instagram stories and it’s midnight.
Or, my husband and I will put an episode of a favorite show, only to realize in a flash that three hours have gone by. These habits are certainly entertaining and fun, of course, but they’re also not very good for your health.
Here’s why: screens put out a blue light, which suppresses melatonin — remember, the hormone that cues your body to wind down for sleep. When you’re looking at a screen and using technology before bed, your brain receives a message to stay active and alert, making it hard to fall asleep later on.
To switch gears, I tried to build a couple evening habits sans technology, like taking a bath and listening to an audiobook, reading a magazine in bed or listening to a short guided meditation.
It was difficult at first, because I was so accustomed to relying on the television to chill out before bed, but I eventually loved giving my brain, and eyes, a break.
Find Your Wake-up Time Sweet Spot
Sleep experts say that your sleeping patterns generally run in 90-minute cycles, and it’s valuable to figure out how to wake up at the end of one while you’re in a lighter stage of sleep, versus those deep sleep periods. Meaning, if I wanted to be up at 5:30 a.m. and feel rested, then I needed to crash by 10 p.m. to get an appropriate amount of sleep.
You don’t have to plan this perfectly, but it was nice to know how to set myself up for success whenever possible, as well as know when waking up early probably wasn’t going to happen.
Give Yourself a Cheat Day
One of the best pieces of advice I have for those interested in waking up earlier? Cut yourself some slack.
In hindsight, the most challenging weeks occurred when I made myself get up every single day no matter what. However, the weeks where I let myself off the hook on Saturdays and Sundays felt much more manageable.
Giving myself a “cheat day” or two helped me stay committed to waking up early 80 percent of the time, and also helped me recognize when I truly was low on sleep and needed to play catch-up.
Trust That Your Body Will Eventually Adjust
After a few months of intentionally working on waking up earlier, I started to reap the benefits. I got more done, and felt happier, more patient and less burned out overall — a result backed by research.
I may not leap out of bed with enthusiasm each day, but I’m much more inclined to take advantage of quiet, peaceful morning hours.
As it turns out, this recovering night owl really could shift into a morning person, and if I can do it, so can you.