I am a night owl, and I spent years trying to wake up early. Every once in a while, I was successful – and I loved it. On these rare occasions, I’d be up at the crack of dawn – before anybody else in the neighborhood was awake. I’d make myself a coffee, sit at my desk and get more done in that first hour of the day than I would have in the first four hours at my distraction-ridden office.

3675340841_76ecfd026d_oIt was on these days that I’d swear to wake up early ‘from here on out!’ Then, I would snooze over and over again for another 6 months until I happened to get up early again.

I’m going to share with you the secrets I’ve learned to waking up early and get a head start on your day – and on your peers. But first…

Why should I wake up early? I need my sleep!

“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.”

– Richard Whately

This is one of the most common responses to a wake-up-early-evangelist: I function better on a full night of sleep, so why even try to get up earlier?

1) Time to achieve the goals that you never get around to

3969203250_17c808598f_oYou will have uninterrupted time to work on whatever you want to achieve in life. You might want to exercise more, write a blog (like me), meditate or rebuild the engine on your 1964 Mustang.

“But I’m a night-owl, so it’s better for me to stay up an hour later than to try to wake up early.”

No, it isn’t. You are far more likely to actually achieve what you want to achieve in the early hours of the morning than in the evening – when distractions are everywhere. Maybe you are an exception, but it’s very unlikely.

2) A head-start on your day, and a fresh feeling for your morning

When I used to set my alarm to wake up as late as possible, only to inevitably snooze for 15 minutes, I was starting my day already behind schedule.

For the rest of the day, I would feel like I was in a hurried rush to catch up on everything. I’d be late for meetings, because I was trying to catch up on emails with every last minute available.

7007117179_e775b316bc_oWhen you wake up early, you can start the day with a big, deep breath. I start every morning looking out the window, watching the sun on the horizon with my coffee in hand… and just relax for a few minutes. Then, I start working. I get ready early, and to work early. I also have time for a nice breakfast.

If my story doesn’t inspire you, check out this post at The Guardian for interviews with successful CEOs about what time they rise in the morning. Hint: Most of them are up in the 5–6 AM range.

If you still aren’t entirely convinced, than try it yourself a few times to find out if waking up early is right for you. Everybody is unique, and not everything applies to us all. However, in order to find out what works for you, self experimentation is essential. You might not think you are a morning person – but that might just be your brain rationalizing its existing behavior.1 If you wake up early after a full night of restful sleep and you feel like crap and don’t get anything done, then you’ve proven me wrong in your case. Otherwise…

How to be an early riser

1) Don’t try to wake up early every morning

If you try to wake up early every morning ‘from here on out,’ you are tackling a massive undertaking. The combined effort of waking up early for, say, the next 10 years is enormous – and daunting. If you try to take on a task of this

Don't take on too much at once

Don’t take on too much at once

scale, you will be overwhelmed by the dedication required and you won’t even start. Fortunately, you don’t have to make such a long-term commitment.

Instead, aim to wake up early just tomorrow morning. Don’t try to look past tomorrow- take it one step at a time. You may not be able to wake up every morning for the rest of your life, but you can wake up early tomorrow.

It helps if you have one specific thing you need to do in the morning. Think about this: If you had a report that was due first thing in the morning, or a flight to catch, you could force yourself to wake up – just that once. Apply this same principle: Plan one specific task that you want to get done tomorrow morning, and get up early for it.

2) Give yourself rewards to getting up on time

Small rewards can go a long way towards helping you achieve your goals, including waking up on time. Plan a reward in advance, it can be anything you enjoy doing (but doesn’t require the entire morning- which would defeat the whole purpose of this exercise).

11870269814_4f67c95315_oCoffee can be an incredible motivator. If you can get yourself out of bed and to the coffee machine, you’ve already won half the battle. Try a coffee machine with a timer, so that the aroma of fresh coffee can seduce you out of the sheets. A single cup maker, such as the KRUPS KM9008, has the added benefit that it doesn’t keep your coffee warm after you pour it – so you need to drink it quick!

Personally, I’m a gadget geek. I love to browse gadget websites and see which new smart alarm clocks (see below) or video drones have hit the market. Typically, I don’t have time to do this throughout the day- but if I wake up early I can reward myself to some Gizmodo time.

Alternatively, my wife and I have made some reward arrangements for when I wake up early… But I’m going to leave out the details to keep this post G-Rated…

3) Use a smart alarm clock

We sleep in sets of 90 minute cycles, gradually moving from REM (rapid eye movement) to NREM (non-REM) sleep. If you wake up in the middle of REM, you’re going to feel groggy and you may not be able to shake it for the rest of the day. Fortunately, there are a number of smartphone apps and smart alarm clocks that will monitor your sleep and wake you up at the opportune time. To use these, you first set a ‘wake-up window’ – such as “I want to wake up between 5:45 and 6:15 AM.” Then, that device will monitor your sleep during that window of time and wake you up when you are in the lightest segment of your sleep cycle.

  • Sleep Time Alarm App (iOS and Android): There are many apps for your phone that will monitor your sleep and wake you up at the right time. To use these apps, you simply place your phone face-down between your bedsheets and your mattress and it tracks your sleep with your movement. This one has been around for a very long time, and packs a wide range of features into an easy-to-use interface. Personally, however, I’m a little wary of placing my expensive phone under the sheet – I tend to roll around when I sleep and worry I might break it.10-Sensor-Smart-Alarm
  • Sense: If you don’t feel like accidentally sleeping on top of your phone, the Sense is a great option for you. It uses a ‘pill’ device that attaches to your pillow and measures your sleep patterns. As an added bonus, the bedside portion of the device measures noise, ambient light, particles in the air, temperature and humidity to provide you with a well-rounded view of your sleep patterns (and how they are affected by your environment).
  • FitBit: The FitBit line of bracelets (FitBit One and higher) offer sleep tracking and silent, vibrating alarms. The silent alarms are quite useful, particularly if you and your spouse wake up at different time. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t a ‘true’ smart alarm. It doesn’t wake you up at an optimal segment of your sleep cycle- it is just a simple alarm the tracks your sleep.

4) Use a painful or pain-in-the-ass alarm clock

If the smart alarm clock isn’t quite enough to get you up, you can try out one of these alarm clocks instead. You may wake up groggy, but at least you’ll be up. Each is designed to cause either mental pain or frustration:

  • SNŪZNLŪZ – Wifi Donation Alarm Clock: If you hit the snooze button on this alarm clock, it will donate real money from your bank account to a charity that you hate. Use at your own risk…
  • Clocky_almond_panorama1680

    The Clocky Alarm

    Wakie Social Alarm: This app, for iOS, Windows Mobile and Android, adds a social aspect to waking up. Every morning, at your set alarm time, you will receive a call from another, random ‘Wakie’ member that disconnects after exactly 60 seconds! This adds an element of guilt to your morning if you don’t answer that nice stranger’s phone call…

  • Clocky: This alarm clock is literally on wheels. When it is time for you to wake up, it drives off of your bedside table and you need to chase it. I’m still not sure whether this is fun, infuriating, or dangerous, but it has received good feedback from heavy sleepers.
  • Sonic Bomb® with Super Shaker™: While this alarm clock won’t run away from you, it makes up for it with pure volume – and lots of it. At 113db, this is about as loud as sandblasting, or a loud rock concert.2
  • Carrot Alarm Clock: This iOS app has woken me up more than any other alarm app I’ve tried. When the alarm goes off, you are required to complete a series of quick challenges (which are quite simple, but difficult when you’ve just woken up). If you snooze, the endearingly human ‘Carrot’ robot gets angry… And when Carrot is angry, there is hell to pay!

5) Get better sleep

If you can achieve more restful sleep, it will be much easier for you to wake up early in the morning. It isn’t only

The Nest Thermostat

The Nest Thermostat

about the number of hours that you sleep, it’s about the quality of the sleep itself. Studies have shown that if you wake up four times during an 8-hour sleep, you’ll experience the same negative side effects as somebody who only slept for four hours in the first place.3

Many factors, such as drinking coffee too late at night, can affect how well you sleep. I previously felt like I slept just fine after coffee in the evening, and that this didn’t apply to me. Then, I used the Zeo Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock to track my cycles and found that I was getting hardly any REM when I drank coffee late in the evening. So be cautious if you think any of the following doesn’t apply to you:

  1. Stay away from late night stimulus’s, including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and late meals With the Nest Thermostat, you can set your house to cool at night, then gradually warm up in the morning – simulating the environment our bodies evolved in.
  2. Keep noise and light levels to a minimum4 With the Nest Thermostat, you can set your house to cool at night, then gradually warm up in the morning – simulating the environment our bodies evolved in.
  3. Keep it cool: Studies have shown that the ideal sleeping temperature is between 60–68 degrees Fahrenheit (16–19 degrees Celsius).5 
  4. 4250623021_771e5b6b2a_oDon’t work too late, and avoid any Blue Light (particularly the screens of electronic devices). This Blue Light can negatively affect your circadian rhythm and the quality of your sleep.6
  5. Make a list of your priorities for the following day, so that, while you are sleeping, you don’t worry about what you are going to do first. This is a tip I picked up from Zig Ziglar.
  6. Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. If you spend large portions of the day in bed doing something else, such as working on your laptop, you lessen the mental association that should be made between ‘bed’ and ‘sleep time.’
  7. Avoid anxiety and stress, see this article for some tips that can help certain kinds of stress, anxiety and negative thoughts.

6) Go to bed on time

I’m hesitant to even include this, given how obvious it is. However, no early-bird strategy is complete without going to bed on time. Sleep is critical to not only feeling refreshed in the morning, but also to basically every aspect of You Kissed Me In My Dream Last Nightyour health and productivity. Without a full night of sleep, all of your efforts will be in vain.

The recommended sleep time is 7–9 hours, but differs from person to person. It’s important to identify the correct amount of sleep for you, and stick to it. Once you know how much sleep you need, plan to go to bed early enough to allow for your new early-riser routine. I use an app called To Bed for iOS that sends me a push notification when it is time to go to sleep.

Lastly, keeping a regular sleep schedule will help your body get accustomed to waking up early. If your wake up time on weekend differs substantially from the weekdays, it’s going to be hard to stick with an early morning schedule.

Like any habit, waking up early takes more effort initially than it will later. For more on habit formation, I strongly recommend the book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg.

If you want to wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the world with confidence, than push yourself to start forming this habit… Starting with tomorrow morning.

Keith Parker

Author Keith Parker

I have a passion for research into both happiness and the human race's tendency to make decisions that aren't in their own interest. As it turns out, the two areas of research are undeniably linked. Over the past decade, I've discovered a significant number of methods to achieve happiness. Unfortunately, there is a lot of information to digest (sorry, there is no simple 'one-step to a happy life'). For this reason, I launched this blog, A Happy Life, to share a combination of what I've learned through research and through experience. That experience, through over 20 countries and ending in Dubai, UAE, covers some pretty wild territory. I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

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