If you want to know how to wake up early, well, you clicked on the right article. We asked sleep experts for advice on shifting your wake-up time forward in a way that’s healthy and sustainable—and trust us, it is doable.
Despite the fact that CEOs obsess over it, countless people add it to their list of New Year’s resolutions, and we talk about waking up early like there’s something fundamentally moral about it, there is nothing inherently better about waking up at, say, 5 a.m. as opposed to 7 a.m., according to Claire Kenneally, M.D., board-certified sleep specialist at the Chicago Sleep Center. “I think societally we always have this idea of ‘the early bird gets the worm,’ but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone,” she explains. “It’s a matter of knowing what works for your body.”
Dianne M. Augelli, M.D., board-certified sleep medicine physician at Weill Cornell Medical Center, puts it this way: Some of us just function best in the morning—our energy levels are higher and we’re more productive during that time—whereas others thrive at night. So what determines whether you’re a morning lark, a night owl, or some bird in between? It’s all about your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), which is influenced by genetics, age, environmental factors, and individual biological differences.
You can determine your circadian rhythm by noticing what time you naturally go to bed and what time you naturally wake up when there aren’t any outside factors influencing your routine (like alarm clocks or work schedules), says Augelli. Your circadian rhythm is “a little mutable,” she says (meaning, you can change it slightly), but making drastic changes—like bumping up your wake time three or four hours—is going to be pretty challenging. Still, with patience and dedication, it can be done. (And in some cases, it might be necessary, depending on your work schedule, desired lifestyle, and demands at home.) Here are the tips that can help you finally figure out how to wake up early.
1. Understand your motivation.
If you’re naturally more of a night owl, waking up early is not going to be easy, so you have to be committed to make it a long-term habit. The first few days will probably be hard, warns Kenneally. Generally, though, most people do fine once they establish a new, healthy sleep pattern.
Augelli asks her patients to be honest with themselves about why they’re trying to shift their routine to wake up early. If it’s simply because of societal pressure to be an early bird, that might not cut it. Instead, make sure your rationale is strong enough to pull you out of bed at a consistent time each day, even on those mornings when you’d really rather hit the snooze button.
2. Change your sleep schedule gradually.
It’s much easier to cement a new habit of waking up early if you give your body time to gradually adapt. Augelli recommends moving up your wake time 15 to 30 minutes every week until you reach your goal. “Thirty minutes is fairly easy for our body to acclimate to versus big shifts, like an hour or two hours,” she says.
3. Don’t force an early bedtime.
If you want to wake up earlier, you should just go to bed earlier so you can get more hours of sleep, right? Not exactly. Trying to go to bed before you feel sleepy can actually induce insomnia, says Augelli. Instead, she urges people to establish a relaxing bedtime routine (more on that in a minute) and to go to bed only when you are truly tired. The hope, she explains, is that as your body gradually gets accustomed to your earlier wake time, you’ll gradually start falling asleep earlier at night.
4. Strive for consistency.
Many of us wake up at drastically different times on weekdays versus weekends. This yo-yoing can shift our internal clocks and cause a phenomenon known as “social jet lag,” says Augelli. Social jet lag can negatively impact your health and make your goal of getting up early more difficult. Say, for example, you slept in until 10 a.m. on the weekend, but it’s now Monday and you want to get up at 6 a.m. That four hour difference is probably going to feel horrible because you’re essentially plucking your body out of prime sleep, Augelli says. What would feel less horrible is waking up at 7 a.m. on Monday after a weekend of rising at 8 a.m. Kenneally generally advises people to have no more than a 30-minute difference in wake time between weekdays and weekends and to avoid napping during the day. Keep this in mind when setting your wake-time goal. Getting up at 5 a.m. might be completely feasible on the weekdays, but if you’re not going to be able to stick with that on the weekends, you should reevaluate.