Up and at ‘em: 9 Strategies to Wake Up Earlier

“All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!”

- Excerpt from “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”
by William Wordsworth (1802)

Yeah. I’m opening this piece about waking up earlier with a sunrise poem. Deal with it.

Sunsets get all the glory (and most of the poems, too, I suspect), but I much prefer sunrises. Sunsets are public affairs; they belong to everyone with eyes and five minutes to spare. Sunrises are private affairs; in the grey quiet of the morning, they belong only to me.

I absolutely cannot wait to wake up. Right now, as I write this, it’s a little before noon and all I can think about is waking up tomorrow at 4:30 a.m.

This may sound bizarre to you, to be that excited about waking up earlier, but I was not born a morning person. There’s nothing in my DNA that makes me different than anyone else. I don’t come from a long line of morning people. I chose to become a morning person. I continue to choose it each morning. It is an act of the will.

You can choose to be a morning person, too. It’ll take some grit, but you can do it. If you want to enjoy the majesty of a silent morning, here are nine ways to start waking up earlier.

1. Take Baby Steps

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Rome was built by people who could wake up early!

If you’re waking up foggy-headed and bleary-eyed at 6:45 a.m. right now, I would advise against trying to change that to a 4:30 a.m. rise-and-shine time. Instead, wake up fifteen minutes earlier than you’re used to for one whole week. If you’re still really, really struggling by the end of the week, keep that wakeup time for another week. Then, when you’re feeling comfortable, keep waking up fifteen minutes earlier than the week before and—voila!—in a matter of months, you’ll be waking up a few hours earlier than you did before, and the morning shall be yours!

The best thing about doing something once is that you know you can do it again.

2. Fall in Love with Feeling Tired

It’s still dark. Most everyone in your hemisphere is still asleep. It’s early! When that alarm clock sounds at 4:30 a.m., you’re going to feel tired. This will never go away. Expect it, accept it, fall in love with it, and know this: you’ll feel awake and energized fairly quickly as long as you get up and get after it!

I’ve been waking up at 4:30 (almost) every day for the last three years, and I am still tired every single morning. Many mornings, my first thought is, “Go back to sleep, ya doofus!” Even on mornings that I feel especially inspired to get up and get after it, it’s not like I wake up whistling “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” while cartoon squirrels and birds dress me. It’s hard. But I’ve done it.

You know the best thing about doing something once? You know you can do it again.

3. Go to Bed Earlier

Obvious? Yes. Easy? No.

Being committed to waking up earlier without being committed to going to bed earlier is like being committed to losing weight without being committed to not eating McDonald’s Big Macs for every meal.

If you’re following the baby steps idea in the first point above, then you should also be walking your bedtime back more and more as well.

The only thing standing in the way is yourself. There is only you and your desire to get the most out of your life.

If you’re struggling with falling asleep early, try a few of these tips:

  • No caffeinated drinks after 3:00 p.m. (coffee, sodas, energy drinks)
  • No TV or video games right before bed
  • No working out before bed
  • Try taking a warm shower before bed
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach while in bed—better yet, leave it in another room
  • Drink one small glass of wine before bed; if you don’t like alcohol, try a warm glass of milk
  • Try playing white noise (get a white noise machine instead of using your phone, which is in another room, right? Right?)

4. Absolutely No Snoozing

Admittedly, this one is easy for me. If my alarm went off more than once at the wee hours of the morning, my wife would not be very pleased with me. I don’t want to sleep on the couch, so I don’t hit snooze. Easy.

It might not be that easy for you. So as far as you’re concerned, there is no such thing as the “snooze” feature. It doesn’t exist. It’s science fiction. Or, if it helps, pretend that every time you hit the snooze button a kitten dies. Whatever you need to do to understand that you never hit the snooze button for any reason.

Not just this once. Not every once in a while. Not every blue moon. Never.

Got it? Good!

5. Drink Coffee First Thing

Mmmmmmm, wakey juice.

If you don’t already have a coffee maker with a scheduled brew feature, then do yourself a favor and get one. Knowing that there is a hot, fresh carafe of coffee waiting for me downstairs helps me pop out of bed so much easier. And coffee does more than just wake you up. It actually helps your brain function better.

Waking up early is a war. It is a battle against the self. You are your enemy. And there is only one way to win the war: Discipline.

If you don’t like coffee, take a shower right away or do a quick workout to get your blood flowing. The routine here is just as important as the wakeup technique.

6. Get an Accountability Buddy

Find a coworker or friend who is also struggling to wake up early (from my experience, this won’t be hard). Your buddy can help keep you honest. Agree to a quick phone call first thing in the morning (after you pour your coffee, of course). If you sleep alone and your phone isn’t on silent, your buddy’s call can also be a backup wakeup call.

If nothing else, it’s always easier to struggle through a habit change with someone else going through the same thing!

7. Wake Up at the Same Time Each Day (Yes, Even Weekends)

Imagine a person addicted to nicotine trying to quit smoking, but they still smoked on weekends. Imagine an alcoholic giving up the bottle . . . except on Saturday and Sunday.

It wouldn’t work.

If you spend the week waking up early, then relapse into bad sleeping habits on the weekends, your new habit won’t stick. I promise you. Now, if unforeseen circumstances keep me up later than I was expecting, I will occasionally sleep in. But remember, I’ve been doing this nearly three years. When you are establishing your habit, it is imperative that you wake up early each day, for at least a month.

You’ve got to have a reason to get up early. You need a Why. You need something that excites you.

You’ll see some research showing that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit, but that’s not entirely true. Maybe for something simple like flossing or taking a walk during your lunch break. But the more difficult the habit is for you, the longer it will take to establish. If waking up early is really, really hard for you, I would suggest trying ninety days of waking up early (still adhering to the baby steps outlined above).

8. Fast

Wait. What?

You read that right. Fast!

Waking up early is a war. It is a battle against the self. You are your enemy. And there is only one way to win the war: Discipline.

Discipline is a skill, just like drawing or singing or playing the piano. The more you practice discipline, the more disciplined you will be. So if you’re struggling with the discipline necessary to wake up early, try practicing discipline in other parts of your life. This is why fasting can be so effective. Fast from sugar in your coffee. Fast by not snacking between meals. Fast by not eating desserts. Get your will into the weight room and beef up your discipline.

9. Have a Reason

This is the big one. You’ve got to have a reason to get up early. You need a Why.
The reason I wake up every day is for my wife and kids. The reason I wake up early is for myself.

I write. I love writing. When I am writing, I am incredibly happy. When I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. I can’t wait to wake up at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow to write some more. When the alarm goes off, I know the keyboard is downstairs waiting for me to start creating—worlds and characters and stories. Writing is my thing.

So what’s your thing? It might be reading or cooking or creating a board game or developing a new app or drawing or praying or journaling or learning a new language or working on that awesome business idea or writing letters to your family or just reading the paper as the sun crests the horizon. Find something that excites you. Search for that thing you find yourself daydreaming about all day. That thing you always say, “I’d love to do _______ if only I had more time.” The morning is your time. Claim it.

Find your Why, then wake up early and do it.

You can do this. The only thing standing in the way is yourself. There is no boogeyman who sneaks into your room and makes sure you stay asleep. There are no laws about waking up early. There is no secret organization of sandmen working to make sure you skip the mornings. There is only you and your desire to get the most out of your life.

Good luck! And if ever we meet, let me know what you think of the sunrise.

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