How to Wake Up Earlier (And Not Hate Yourself for It)

I used to try to squeeze in as much sleep as possible before frantically waking up, getting ready for work, and running out the door. The problem was that by the time I reached work I still hadn’t mentally prepared myself for the day. So I decided to start waking up a little earlier in order to have some personal time and to re-calibrate before heading to the office.

I have no children, no dog to take out in the mornings, but now I wake up around 6 a.m. by choice most days. (On the weekends I sleep in, and that’s part of my strategy: work and reward). Here’s what has worked for me and what might work for you if you’re looking for a way to make your mornings less stressful.

Start gradually.

Waking up 1-1.5 hours earlier takes some getting used to. Jumping in head first and just dialing your alarm clock back that amount of time might work for some people, but it definitely didn’t work for me.

Instead, try starting by dialing back the alarm clock 15 minutes at a time so your body can adjust. Also, don’t feel like you need to immediately start rising early every day. Maybe every other day you set your alarm earlier, while you stick to your old schedule in between.

As earlier wake-up times become more routine, adjust accordingly. Wake up earlier more frequently, and roll that alarm back even further. Soon, sleeping in until 7:30 a.m. will feel like much too late.

Don’t be too rigid with your wake-up time.

One of the problems I experienced when I was sleeping in as late as I could was that each morning I reached a point where if I didn’t get up immediately I was going to be late for work. The joy of waking up early is that you get to reclaim your schedule and allow for some flexibility.

Every once in awhile, especially when you’re just starting to get up earlier, you’re going to want to hit the snooze button. That’s fine. Limit yourself to one snooze each morning, but then make yourself get up.

An alarm app that does more than buzz you at a certain time can be helpful, too. I use Sleep Cycle, which uses your phone’s microphone to track your sleep patterns and then triggers the alarm at the optimal time. Instead of setting an exact time for your alarm, you set a time range in which you’d like to wake up. The idea is that the alarm goes off when your body is coming out of deep sleep, so you’re waking up as close to when you’d naturally wake up as possible.

The app has worked well for me and reduces my tendency to hit the snooze button. I tend to be already waking up right when the alarm goes off.

Shower in the morning.

This one’s tricky. Because like the bed, the shower can draw you in and keep you there. Resist the urge to stand in the shower soaking for half an hour. Instead limit shower time to five minutes. It’s good for your morning routine, and it’s good for the planet.

Also, you can ignore those self-help “gurus” who suggest cold showers. Unless you really like cold showers. But that sounds awful and you don’t need it.

Once you’re out of the shower, go straight into grooming and dressing for your day. After that, the battle is all but won.

Make breakfast at home.

You’re up early—might as well reward yourself for it. I like making eggs, toast and sometimes potatoes with some coffee. It’s easy; protein wakes you up and keeps you from snacking; and mixing it up with vegetables or meats is simple.

I’m not one to suggest half a grapefruit and a glass of water for breakfast. That’s no way to start your day.

Do things you like in the morning.

Depending on when you leave for work, school, or whatever, you might have some free time when you start waking up earlier. Some people will feel compelled to check email or otherwise get a head start on work with this spare time, but you’ll probably be more productive throughout the day if you reserve this time for personal time.

Think of it this way: if you do something that makes you happy before you go to tackle your tasks for the day, aren’t you more likely to approach those responsibilities with a better attitude and clearer mind? At least that’s how it works for me. With whatever time you have in the morning, do something to increase those dopamine levels. I like to read, catch up on podcasts or write. Even 15-20 minutes of a leisure activity before I head out the door tends to make me feel better generally throughout the day.

I am not a fan of one-size-fits-all self-improvement articles, and I’m definitely not a self-help professional or anything like that. But the above is what works for me, and I’ve been doing it this way for a few years. Take from it what works for you, and adjust as needed. Good luck!

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