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How to Wake Up Early & Feel Great (Ready to Set Your Alarm for 5 AM?)

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Have you ever wondered how some people seem to accomplish it all? These hyper-productive people can handle multiple responsibilities at a time and seem to get most of their work done by noon. Their secret: They know how to wake up early.

Waking Up Early
Waking up early has many benefits. (Image source: Envato Elements)

There are many top performers in their field who use an early start to gain an advantage: 

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook is known for waking up at 3:45 a.m. each day (USA Today). As a result, he’s able to respond to around 800 emails per day, exercise, run a successful company, and still get 7 hours of sleep daily. 
  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wakes up at 4:30 a.m. (Independent). and is able to walk his dogs and have coffee with his wife every morning as a result. 
  • Even actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets up at 4:00 a.m. to start working out according to his Facebook account, giving him an advantage over competitors.

You don't need to be a CEO or an action star to gain this competitive edge. This guide will show you how you can benefit from the simple habit of waking up early, and how to get started—even if you think you're a night owl.

The Benefits of Waking Up Early

Here are some of the science-backed benefits you can expect when you become an early-riser:

1. You’ll Be More Productive & Proactive

Research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that people who find it easier to wake up in the morning tend to be more proactive. They feel more in charge of situations and plan more for long term goals. They also anticipate obstacles and can mitigate them.

For example, entrepreneur Chris Winfield found that waking up early allowed him to quiet the negative voices that stress him out about the upcoming day’s events. “By waking up early, intentionally and immediately taking action—I was able to quiet and eventually defeat these morning demons,” he wrote

Morning people also tend to be more productive, as research from The Journal of General Psychology found. Compared to people who stay up late, morning people are less prone to avoiding tasks.

2. You'll Be Healthier

Being an early riser can also lead to better health, especially if you pair it with enough sleep. Adults need around seven hours of sleep per night according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This “promotes optimum health among adults.” Also, if you get too little or too much sleep, it can negatively affect your immune system (Mayo Clinic).

Waking up early can also help you follow through on healthier habits. The mornings are usually the easiest part of the day to schedule an exercise, especially if you work a lot during the day. Author Leo Babauta found that by waking up at 4:30 a.m. he was able to find the time to train for a marathon.

3. You'll Be Happier

If being more productive, proactive, and healthier aren’t enough reasons to wake up early, remember that your happiness is also relevant to the time you wake up. A study conducted by the University of Toronto found that morning people, whether young adults or older adults, have a tendency to experience more positive emotions than night owls. This is backed by a more recent study, which found that being a morning person led to better mental health.

How to Wake Up Early

Now that you know about the benefits of rising earlier, it's time to make the change and turn it into a habit. Here's some tips to wake up early:

1. Get Enough Sleep to Wake Up Early

First, you need to plan your sleep schedule in such a way that you get enough sleep. It's unrealistic to aim to wake up at 4:00 a.m. if you go to sleep at 11:00 p.m. As mentioned earlier, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends around seven hours of sleep. Pick your target time for waking up and work backwards from there to find out when you should be sleeping.

2. Make Gradual Changes to the Time You Wake Up

Remember: don't force yourself to make a big change in waking up early. If you're used to waking up at 8:00 a.m., don't pressure yourself into suddenly waking up at 4:00 a.m. Instead, try to wake up 15 to 30 minutes earlier than you're used to. Then, work your way to your ideal rising time over two weeks.

For example, if you typically wake up at 8:00 a.m., wake up at 7:45 a.m. for two to three days. Once you've adjusted to this, start waking up at 7:30 a.m.

Author Leo Babauta recommends this method. According to him, "That might seem too slow to most people... However, in my many experimentations, the most enjoyable and long-lasting change in sleeping schedules have been slow and gradual."

3. Establish an Evening Routine

Waking up early actually starts the night before. You'll need to set your alarm, prepare yourself for sleep, and create the conditions that'll allow you to get up at the right time the following day. Here are some things you can do to make this happen:

Step 1. Plan the Next Day

It's possible that you have a hard time sleeping because you're thinking about the events of the following day, especially if it's going to be a workday. Put your concerns to rest by setting up your task list, packing your work bags, or preparing your clothes at least two hours before bed. By preparing yourself for the following morning, you no longer have to worry about your morning preparations. You'll also be in less of a rush when you wake up.

Step 2. Place Your Alarm Out of Reach From the Bed

One common sense tip you should try is to keep your alarm out of reach from the bed. In fact, the nearer it is to your bedroom or bathroom door, the better. This is so that turning off the alarm will lead you a few steps closer to your next activities—leaving the bedroom or going to the bathroom—instead of keeping you in bed.

Step 3. Eliminate Screen Time an Hour Before You Sleep

To ease your way into sleep, avoid screen time at least an hour or so before you need to sleep. Research from the Salk Institute found that looking at screens late at night disrupts our internal clocks, preventing sleep. Using your devices before you go to bed also gives you a lot of unnecessary stimulation, according to the National Sleep Foundation. These devices keep up your alertness at a time when you should be resting.

If your alarm is on your mobile device and you put it out of reach as suggested earlier, this also prevents you from spending time looking at a screen. This tip doesn't just apply to mobile devices however, it applies to your television and computer as well.

Step 4. Remind Yourself Why You Need to Wake Up Early

It'll also help to use this time to remind yourself of why you’re trying to wake up early in the first place. According to magazine editor Caroline Picard, she hated waking up early for work. Then, she changed the narrative. “My solution: Stop waking up for work and start waking up for myself… Rethinking mornings as time for myself made getting up so much easier and, yep, now I count myself firmly in the morning person camp,” she said.

If you need additional ideas on how to establish evening routines, the following guides can help:

4. Meditate

Learning some mindfulness meditation techniques can also help you reduce sleep problems that prevent you from getting up early. A study from JAMA Internal Medicine showed that the group of participants that used mindfulness meditation techniques experienced less insomnia and fatigue than the group that took sleep education classes. In other words, tips and techniques might not be enough—you might need to try and quiet your mind a few minutes each day.

Here are some mindfulness meditation guides to help you get started:

You can also practice mindfulness at work, like this guide suggests:

5. Wake Up Early During Weekends

It can be tempting to break your habit during the weekends. After a long work week, most of us just want to "make up for lost sleep." But this can break the new habit you're trying to create.

Sleep experts Dr. Roy Raymann of SleepScore Labs and Dr. Catherine Darley of Sleep Cycle Institute told Elite Daily that sleeping late during the weekends doesn't really make up our shortage of sleep during the week. It can also break our sleep cycle. According to Dr. Raymann, “Don’t wake up earlier nor later then you do during weekdays... Find the right amount of sleep for you, so that you don’t feel the need to sleep in during the weekend.”

6. Review the Changes You Made

After a few days of trying the above techniques, review what's happened so far. Did any of these techniques work for you? Which ones proved to be more difficult? What other tips can you try? By regularly evaluating your progress, you'll be able to find a routine that'll help you wake up at the right time and give you enough sleep.

Start Waking Up Early

Now that you know how to wake up early, you can start implementing these techniques and harness the advantages of early mornings for yourself. Remember: you don’t have to wait for perfect conditions to get started. You can start by following just one of the above tips for waking up early and make improvements as you go along.

Once you’ve made a habit of being an early riser, you’ll not only perform better at work, but you’ll also improve your health and have a happier outlook.

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