How I Wake Up Before 6 A.M.
11 tips for early bird aspirants.
The sound of heavy metal music crashes against my ears. As I gain consciousness, the sound gradually gets louder.
Half asleep, I stumble out of bed to my desk, where my phone lies. I switch off the alarm and stare, bleary-eyed, at my phone screen.
I check the time.
It’s 5:45 a.m.
My bed beckons from the corner, but I resist the temptation to curl under its covers.
Instead, I turn off my phone, grab my work, and begin my day.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking.
She’s gone absolutely bonkers.
But hear me out.
I’ve been doing this for about two months or so. Before, I was waking up at 8:00 a.m. It was pretty normal for me to get out of bed at 9:00 a.m.
But in early March, I started to wonder: Can I train my body to wake up earlier?
Now, I regularly wake up at 5:30 a.m. every morning.
And over these past two months, here are a few things I’ve experienced:
- I got a solid 7–8 hours of sleep every night.
- I had time to eat a good breakfast.
- I had time to get work done, resulting in less stress.
- I had a lot more energy to channel into my life.
- I witnessed an amazing sunrise every morning.
It isn’t all so great or simple for everyone, but I’ll get to that later.
First, let’s break down the strategies I used to get here.
Note: If you’re reading this in winter, you might have to wait about 30min more for that sunrise :)
#1: Do Your Research
If you’re reading this, you’ve already started this step. Bravo!
Understand why you want to wake up earlier and what you can do to ease into the process. To do that, you need to ask yourself some questions. Here are the ones I asked myself, but you can come up with your own as well:
- What time will you go to bed and wake up every day? Try to make it as consistent as possible.
- How long will you sleep each night?
- What will your bedtime routine look like?
- What will your morning routine look like?
- What projects or goals are you working on that can motivate you to get out of bed?
- What resources can you use to help you understand your sleep?
- What resources can you use to help you implement that understanding?
Don’t worry — you don’t have to answer all these questions at once. To start, focus on the first two points, write them down, and then go from there.
I also advise you to check out this and this. Both lead to helpful resources if you want to learn more about healthy sleep habits. Here I’ve outlined strategies to wake up earlier, but it’s also essential to get good quality sleep.
Waking up early may be your goal, but don’t let that come at the cost of your health.
#2: Limit Your Phone Use Before Sleeping
Everyone’s got to have some wind-down time, and for a lot of people, that time is right before they go to bed. So I won’t discourage you from using your phone.
But, there are always things you can do to help you sleep better.
My first suggestion is to get a blue light filter. It took me only a couple of minutes to find and download a free one from the Google Play store. It makes a giant difference if you’re someone who likes to use your phone at night.
You can also limit your screen time so that you switch all devices off at least half an hour before you’d like to fall asleep. (E.g. If you want to fall asleep at 10:00 p.m., set an alarm, so you know to shut off your phone at around 9:30 p.m.).
#3: Put Your Alarm Far Away From Your Bed
If your alarm is on your bedside table, it’s tempting just to reach over and hit snooze. But, put your alarm on the other side of the room, and you’ll have to get out of bed to hit the snooze button. And by then (hopefully), you’ll be half-awake.
This trick isn’t foolproof, though. Eventually, you get used to the alarm’s new position, and it can become habitual to switch it off and go back to bed.
To solve this, you could try to find a new place for your alarm, a different sound for it to play, or even another device to play it. Mix up things a bit, so each morning is different.
I learned this through sound. When I messed with my phone alarm settings, I realized I could change my alarm every day.
One day, I’d wake up to the sound of Mozart’s Lacrimosa. The next, it’d be the radio with the latest pop song. Perhaps a few weeks later, it was a monotone newscaster telling me depressing news. I also used tools like Google Assistant to wake me up with a poem or an interesting fact.
I started to notice that novelty can provide a basis for excitement and motivation. When we make small adjustments and changes to our day-to-day lives, we can also spark inspiration within ourselves to move forward.
#4: Don’t Go Back to Bed
I fall for this one all the time. My alarm rings, I wake up, I even get out of bed to turn off the alarm…
And then I go right back to sleep.
But as soon as you get back in bed, it’s game over. The chances of you convincing yourself to get out are infinitesimally small.
The best trick I can give you is to look outside. Or, better yet, physically go outside. The natural light will provide you with the dose of energy you need to stay alert. Even if it’s dark, opening a window and letting in a cool breeze can work wonders.
If you still find it difficult and you’re feeling unnaturally groggy, perhaps it’s because you went to bed too late. Are you getting enough sleep? Is it good quality sleep? Revise your plan in step #1.
You can also work on a morning routine, which I will emphasize later.
#5: Drink Water and Eat Breakfast
Ah, yes. Those things. Those things that we probably should be doing more often.
Drinking water. Not coffee, tea, orange juice, or the last drops of smoothie from that half-expired carton.
And eating breakfast. Not a cookie, a bag of chips, or the crusty Pop-Tart lying in the abandoned corner of your snack cupboard.
You know the Pop-Tart I’m talking about.
Trust me, keeping your body functioning pays off. It helps you stay awake, focused, and productive.
You don’t have to hold a feast. If you’re running late, try grabbing a yogurt or a granola bar before you zip out the door. Something healthy that your future self will appreciate.
#6: Wash Your Face
Or at least splash it with water. As soon as that water hits your face, you’ll feel rejuvenated. You could blast yourself with cold water, but lukewarm water seems to have the best effects for all skin types.
Also, if you notice certain water temperatures work better with your skin or a dermatologist recommends a specific water temperature, make sure to adjust it.
But whatever temperature you decide, make sure you rinse the muck from your face. We shed around 15 million skin cells during the night, which end up going all over your sheets and pillows. This attracts dust mites and other tiny, nasty creatures.
So washing your face helps you wake up. But it also keeps your skin clean.
#7: Keep Your Goals Nearby
Know what you want to do. Write it down in a list. And then use that list to bring you back from the dead —
Ahem. Sorry. I mean, use that list to help you wake up.
With the list, as soon as you roll out of bed, you’ll have clear goals. You may still feel unmotivated, but it’s much better than forgetting your tasks for the day.
Note: Okay, small tangent. I forget my tasks for the day all the time. I have no idea why or how, but my brain just doesn’t like remembering things. I’m not sure if that’s a widespread phenomenon or if it’s just me. But it’s a rare occasion when I can remember my entire to-do list and don’t have to refer to it every 5 seconds like a goldfish.
Make your list specific, as well. Don’t just write what you’re going to do; write when you’ll do it. Prioritize certain tasks. Dismiss others. Highlight important notes.
What I’m saying is, your list shouldn’t look like this:
Today’s To-Do List:
- Do work
Instead, aim for something like this:
To-Do List: May 17th, 2021 — Monday:
- Write 500 words of this article by 12:00 p.m.
- Eat an apple as a snack at 3:00 p.m.
- Get to bed by 11:00 p.m., turn off phone half an hour before (10:30 p.m.)
- Do a guided meditation or breathing exercise video before bed
See? I even timed myself while writing this list — it took me less than 2 minutes. The list doesn’t have to be chronologically sound. It doesn’t even have to be in complete sentences. As long as the main points are down, you’re good as gold.
And if I can do it, trust me, you can too.
I’m a big fan of this tip. It’s simple and so satisfying.
You don’t even need to get out of bed to stretch. These six stretches give you a full range of stretch, all done in bed.
I prefer getting out of bed to do my stretches, though. Some of my favorite ones include:
- Reaching for the ceiling
- Reaching for my toes
- Standing quad stretch
- Shoulder rolls
- Cross arm stretch
- Wide-legged standing forward bend
And voila! That’s it.
Start with just one or two easy stretches, and go from there. Make sure not to push yourself too hard, or you might get injured!
#9: Get into a Routine
Or maybe I should say, get into a different routine.
As you read this, chances are you already have a morning routine. It may not be one primed for your health and wellness, but it’s a routine nevertheless.
Getting dressed, brushing teeth, and reading the newspapers (although let’s be honest, who reads the newspapers anymore?) are all components of a routine.
What’s the first thing you do every morning? The second? The third? Assess whether it’s the best for you. But don’t be too harsh on yourself, either.
Okay, maybe you don’t need to watch a gazillion YouTube videos first thing in the morning, every morning.
But, maybe it’s an activity that you enjoy. Instead of just removing it right off the bat, why not modify it? Say, I’ll only watch one short video, and I’ll do that while eating breakfast instead of in bed.
What are some healthy, enjoyable activities you can add to your routine? Perhaps you enjoy meditating or jogging. Maybe you like to start your day with a good book.
To get into a healthy routine, you need to make a compromise between the “homo sapien” side of your brain and the “functional human being who just so happens to be a part of modern-day society” side of your brain.
#10: Don’t Change Everything At Once
If you wake up tomorrow and change every aspect of your morning routine, it won’t last long, even if they’re all amazing, positive changes.
There’s a slim chance you may succeed at everything at once, and in that case, I applaud you.
But for the rest of us, splitting your attention to achieve many different goals at once is difficult. It creates barriers, rather than removing them, between you and your goals.
Add things slowly to your morning routine. If you want to stretch, add stretching.
But unless you’re superhuman, don’t add stretching, reading non-fiction, playing chess, learning to code in Python, adjusting for a healthier diet, studying university-level biology, frying Gordon-Ramsay-level churros, and learning advanced Mandarin grammar all at once.
You get the point.
#11: Keep Track of Your Progress
It could be in a notebook, the back of a newspaper, or the cardboard of some random Amazon package. As long as it’s recorded and easily accessible to you, it should be fine.
You don’t need to put in anything fancy — just the date and the time you woke up is good for a start. Eventually, you can get a bit more specific. When I write down my progress, I add the time I went to sleep, the hours I slept, and the quality of my sleep. I note if I woke up in the middle of the night or if it was a struggle to fall asleep. I also mention strategies that helped me get better sleep (e.g., listening to relaxing music before bed) and experiment with different strategies.
Just make sure it’s there so that you can look back on your progress with pride.
Alright, that all sounds great.
But surely, it’s too good to be true. It can’t be so simple to start waking up in the morning. And all that awesome stuff about sunrises… I mean, come on, there’s got to be some downsides.
Well, yes, unfortunately, there are.
Downsides of Waking Up Early
- Commitments to friends and family may prevent good quality sleep.
- If you end up training your body to jerk awake at 5:00 a.m. every morning, it sucks. A lot. Especially if you went to bed late after binge-watching bad Netflix shows.
- It may not be suitable for your individual situation, preferences, and physiology. (E.g. Ethnicity and socioeconomic status can play a role in your sleep schedule).
That third point is big. If you’re struggling and you can’t find the energy in you to wake up in the morning, don’t force yourself. Especially when you’re overworked or have inconvenient work hours, changing your sleep schedule may not be the best. It takes time that not everyone has.
So don’t feel pressured to wake up early if it doesn’t work for you.
The truth is, it doesn’t always work for me either. I’m still a person just like any other. Some days I want to sleep in and laze around and eat Pop-Tarts.
And that’s okay.
The thing is, being an early bird doesn’t mean anything.
You can be an amazing, smart, and productive person without waking up at the break of dawn. Waking up early doesn’t make you a “better” person. Genetics, stress levels, and family and work commitments affect our sleep patterns. Everyone is different.
But, we must acknowledge that the world we live in today is full of early risers. Our work schedules tend to follow the sun. And if it makes you feel healthier, happier, and more productive, why not try getting up an hour or two earlier?
If it does work for you, keep at it!
If it doesn’t work for you, that’s alright. At least now you know.
Whatever your decision may be, I wish you the best of luck.