I haven’t always been a morning person, but now I look forward to getting up early. Waking up early used to be a way to squeeze in more work, more productivity, and more waking hours to attack my to-do list.
Now, a pre-dawn wake up is usually for my morning routine. It’s for meditating, reading, writing, and working out. My morning routine has grown from 5 minutes a day to hours of quieting my mind, fueling creativity and strengthening my body.
Because I’ve been so impressed with the benefits of carving out this time, I’ve encouraged others to start a meaningful morning routine. I teach people how to create a morning routine, but forgot to help with one important step; waking up early. If you consider yourself a night owl, or you’re a slave to your snooze button, waking up early can be painful.
I am not naturally an early riser. I used to love to sleep in and felt grouchy when I had to wake up early. Now I feel cheated when I don’t wake up early. If you want time for yourself before the kids go to school, before work, or before the day takes over, use this gentle guide to help you wake up early.
1. Create a reason to wake up early.
Why do you want to wake up early? Choose one activity like finishing a good book with coffee or tea, or taking a walk before the neighborhood wakes up. Maybe it’s an activity like painting or writing that you haven’t made time for in a long, long time. Identify a specific reason. When you have something to look forward to, waking earlier is easier.
2. Identify how much sleep you really need.
Everyone requires sleep to function, but how much varies from person to person. I used to think I needed 8 or more hours a night, but after experimenting, I learned that I feel most rested and awake after 7 hours. Even if you feel sluggish when you wake up after 8 hours of sleep, try 7 hours. It might be the extra sleep that is making you tired.
If you wish you could sleep for 7 or 8 hours, and feel like you are running on empty, cut a few activities so you can go to sleep earlier.
3. Eliminate the things that get in the way of sleeping through the night.
What disrupts your sleep on a regular basis? Food, drink, medication, stress, television, and digital devices are just a few of the things that can contribute to tossing and turning. What else keeps you up? The temperature? Light? Noise? Work to create an optimal sleeping environment by eliminating the things that are getting in the way.
If children or pets are keeping you up at night, remember that it’s a temporary occurrence. Sleep well on the nights you can, so you can be better equipped to handle a midnight wake-up that is out of your control.
4. Move your body.
Encourage a good night of sleep by taking a walk or going for a hike during the day.
5. Get in bed earlier.
If you are used to staying up late, and think you could never fall asleep earlier, don’t force it. Instead of worrying about falling asleep, just get in bed early. Read a book or write down anything that is on your mind so you don’t chew on it overnight. You might miss your favorite TV show, ironing, or other late night chores, but you’ll remind your body that it’s time to settle down and get ready for sleep.
In addition to creating time for my morning routine, waking up earlier has allowed me to see so many things that would have gone unnoticed. This is just some of the early morning magic I’ve experienced recently …
21 day plan to waking up earlier
While you could change your wake up time in 5 minute increments over the next few months, with this approach, you can wake up an hour earlier in 21 days or less.
Day 1-3: Become aware of your sleep patterns.
Wake up and go to sleep at your regular time, but write down everything about how you sleep. Keep track of:
- What time you wake up
- What time you fall asleep
- What you do when you wake up
- What you do before you fall asleep
- How you sleep
- How long you sleep
- What woke you up in the night
- What you ate or drank before you fell asleep
- What you are worried about
Day 4 – 10: Sleepy time rules.
Keep up the journaling while you incorporate some new sleepy time rules. Experiment and see what works for you, but I recommend starting with: no alcohol, caffeine, sugar or vigorous exercise 3-5 hours before bedtime. Try limiting your screen time too.
Day 11 – 21: Wake up an hour earlier.
Stick with the journaling and sleepy time rules, and wake up an hour earlier. Pay attention to how you feel when you first wake up and throughout the day and decide if you need more or less sleep. Need more? Go to bed earlier. Need less? Wake up earlier. Stick with your new routine for ten days and then make adjustments as needed.
If you sleep with someone else, ask them to join you so you can try the 21 day plan together.
I have tried a more gradual method by waking up a few minutes earlier over the course of a few months, but just recently decided to jump right in to waking up an hour earlier. I did feel a little sleepier in the first few afternoons, but only a few weeks later, I’m waking up most mornings without an alarm clock around 5am, and sometimes earlier, and not experiencing an afternoon crash.
If you want more clarity, creativity and energy, trade your late nights for early mornings with this 21 day plan for waking up early.