If you’re a night owl and you’ve tried waking up early, you know it’s one of the hardest habits to master.
You want to get up early and be productive but your mind is foggier than the Golden Gate bridge. And your body feels like it’s been run over by an 18 wheeler.
Also, so far you’ve probably read a ton of tips on how to wake up early. In those, you see the usual advice:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
- Don’t sleep in on weekends.
- Don’t use electronics late at night.
- Eliminate blue light from screens.
- Don’t eat dinner too late.
- Create a bedtime routine.
- Change the wake-up/bedtime gradually.
All these are important but they’ve already been discussed to death.
Instead, let’s look at a few more advanced, “ninja” tips, that will make you an early riser faster…
1. Do NOT Jump Out of Bed Immediately
The usual advice about alarms is to keep it far away and immediately jump out of bed when it goes off.
That approach works well in the military.
But what if you don’t want to start every day with so much stress?
What if you want to enjoy your morning and spend some quiet time in bed before jumping into something productive?
If you want to make a habit stick long-term, it has to feel good. You’re not going to make it very far if it feels horrible, and that’s exactly how it feels when you’re groggy and jump out of bed immediately.
But what usually happens if you turn off the alarm and stay in bed? —You fall back asleep.
Or even worse, snooze the alarm, which is a habit that you definitely don’t want to reinforce. If you’re struggling with that one, here’s a great technique for how to stop hitting the snooze button.
So how can you enjoy a few extra minutes in bed without falling back asleep? Here’s a great solution…
Have a two-alarm setup:
- Alarm #1 is to wake you up.
- Alarm #2 is your cue to get out of bed.
It’s best to set those up on two different devices. #1 should be within arm’s reach so you can turn it off easily and stay in bed. #2 should be on the other side of the room so that you’re forced to get out of bed when it goes off.
A 10-minute difference between the first and second alarm works pretty well.
It gives your body a chance to gently wake up and enjoy some quiet time in bed. And you won’t accidentally fall back asleep or perpetuate the bad snoozing habit.
Here’s the setup that works best for me:
- #1 Alarm—Fitbit wristband (silent vibrating alarm) that wakes me up, without waking up my partner or anyone else in the house.
- #2 Alarm—My phone, charging on the other side of the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.
If you tend to get distracted by messages and notifications in the morning, you might wanna use an old school alarm clock instead of your phone.
2. Do NOT Start with A Morning Routine
Waking up early is all about being in control of your life and becoming more productive.
So the logical thing to do is invest that extra morning time into productive habits—things like exercise, meditation, a healthy breakfast, planning your day, etc.
The problem is that all these habits require discipline.
And if you’re groggy when the alarm goes off, you’re not exactly looking forward to being disciplined. Knowing that you have to exercise or do productive work right away makes getting out of bed that much harder.
You can make it much easier by starting your day with something that you love doing.
Something that gives you joy.
It doesn’t have to be long or complicated. It works even if it’s something you do for 5-10 minutes. Here are a few ideas:
- Getting a cup of coffee.
- Talking to your partner/roommate.
- Reading a book that you love.
- Listening to a podcast.
- Watching an inspirational video.
It doesn’t matter exactly what it is as long as it excites you and you’re looking forward to it.
And make sure you ONLY allow yourself to do it once you’re out of bed. Think of it as the reward for getting up early.
Starting with joy will not only make it easier to get up, but it will improve your mood. It will set the tone for the rest of the day, and therefore, make everything else afterward easier and more enjoyable.
3. Plan Your Mornings with Excruciating Detail
The more specific you are with your morning routine, the easier it’s going to be to execute it.
And by a morning routine, I mean the really small details.
- Do you get dressed before going to the bathroom?
- Do you shave first or brush your teeth first?
- Do you brush your teeth before breakfast or after?
- Do you take a shower in the morning or in the evening?
The more details you figure out in advance, the more efficient the routine is going to be.
You’ll get it done faster.
And since we’re doing it every single day, just 5-10 minutes faster makes a huge difference long-term.
Those 5-10 minutes are going to accumulate to hundreds of hours saved over the years.
For example, when I wrote down my routine I noticed how many unnecessary trips I was making back and forth to different rooms. First, because I didn’t do the habits in the right order. And second, because I would forget something and then have to go back.
Just fixing the sequence in which I did the habits saved me at least 10 minutes every day.
Here’s an example of my morning routine.
Again, this is just for optimizing the really small details—not including other habits like exercise, meditation, breakfast, etc.
- Cuddle with my girlfriend (or visualize my day if I sleep alone) [10 min.]
- Turn off the alarm (phone stays in the living room) [1 min.]
- Go to the bathroom [1 min.]
- Wash my face [1 min.]
- Take of the retainer and put on contact lenses [1 min.]
- Brush teeth, tongue scrape, mouthwash [3 min.]
- Fix hair [1 min.]
- Play a song from my favorite playlist (my “starting with Joy” activity) and do one set of push-ups [1 min.]
- Weigh-in [1 min.]
- Drink a glass of water and supplements [1 min.]
- Get food from the fridge to take to the office (prepped on the night before) [1 min.]
- Get dressed (clothes prepped on the night before) [1 min.]
- Get my phone and check Todoist (agenda for the day prepped on the night before) [1 min.]
- Get all my gear—wristwatch, keys, wallet, earbuds (kept in a box so I don’t have to search every morning) [1 min.]
- Ready to go!
It might seem like a big list, but now that it’s optimized it takes me less than 15 minutes to get it all done. Before it could easily take more than half an hour.
And once I’m done with the list I know all my basics are covered—starting with joy, hygiene, clothes, drinking enough water, quick physical activity, and tracking weight.
Afterward, I might go into other productive habits as a part of my morning routine—meditation, breakfast, gym, etc.
Or go to the office right away.
But that changes every month depending on what I’m focusing on.
What doesn’t change are those tiny—seemingly insignificant—habits that are really the foundation. That’s what you have to master first before working on a more sophisticated morning routine.
4. Do You Have an Unstoppable Reason to Wake Up Early?
“Early risers are happier and more productive,” is not a good enough reason to wake up early.
It’s too general and will not inspire you to get out of bed when you’re groggy.
Becoming an early riser long-term is hard. And if you want to make it stick long-term, you need a good reason for it. You need motivation that is more powerful than the pain of grogginess in the morning.
Be really clear about what you want to get out of the extra morning time.
What are you going to do?
- Work on your side business?
- Go to the gym?
- Have time for a healthy breakfast?
- Learn and read more?
If you don’t come up with a good way to spend your mornings in advance, they will automatically be allocated to sleeping in.
Trying to figure out the right thing to do at 5 AM isn’t going to work. At that time your mind will always come up with the same priority—sleep more.
Also, think about the “why?” behind the new habit.
Why are you going to the gym more? Why do you want to work on your side business more?
The motivation is in the “why”.
5. How to Master Your Weekend Mornings?
The regularity of your wake-up time is crucial to making this habit stick long-term. If you sleep in on Saturday and Sunday it will make the wake-up much more difficult on workdays.
But most of us don’t work on weekends and our schedules and routines change completely.
The motivation to wake up early to get everything done before work is gone. Since you’re not working you have plenty of time to do it later, so your subconscious mind says, “What’s the point of getting up early?”
And we usually go back to sleep and mess up our sleep regularity.
That’s going to keep happening if you don’t come up with a good reason to be up early on weekends as well.
The solution is to pre-plan quality time off.
Taking a day or two off every week is great. It’s going to help you stay productive on the workdays and not get burnt out long term.
But oversleeping, watching Netflix in bed, or mindlessly browsing the web isn’t really quality time off.
It’s not recharging your batteries as well as something that you truly enjoy.
So plan your leisure time the same way you would plan your work:
- Sign up for an early exercise class on weekends.
- Set aside time for your favorite hobby.
- Plan an early morning hike with friends.
- Use the time for something that’s been on your bucket list for years.
It might seem weird to plan for your leisure time.
But if you don’t do it, in most cases, that time ends up being wasted doing something that isn’t truly rejuvenating.
Whatever the plan is, it’s going to be better than, “I’ll get up on Saturday and figure it out.”
6. How to Stay Awake After Getting Out of Bed
Maybe you already have a good alarm setup. Maybe you’ve gotten rid of the snoozing habit and you can get out of bed despite the grogginess.
What comes next?
The grogginess doesn’t magically disappear when you get up. You still have to fight the battle of staying awake and not going back to bed.
Changing your wake-up time is hard, especially if it’s a big change like 2-3 hours earlier.
While your body gets used to the new timing, you will feel sleepy and going back to bed will be tempting. Especially if you’re still at home.
Even coffee doesn’t help in that case.
So what’s the solution?
Go outdoors as soon as possible. Do a quick hygiene routine to refresh yourself and hit the door immediately.
Something about being outdoors makes it much easier to stay awake. Feeling the cool air on your skin, sun on your face, smelling the grass and flowers, hearing the rustling leaves. Nature tends to melt away the grogginess.
It’s a great opportunity to do some exercise too, like a brisk walk or jogging. Which is one of the best ways to start your day—get your heart rate up.
7. Trying to Wake Up Early Alone Is a Mistake
You’ve probably already successfully done many hard things in your life.
Maybe it was a hard project at work. Maybe it was a skill you learned.
If you think about those things you’ve mastered in the past, did you do it alone? Or did you have help along the way?
At work, was there a boss or a manager to hold you accountable? Did you learn a new skill by doing it alone? Or did you sign up for a class, online course, or hire a teacher?
Regardless of whether you’ve done it alone or not, there is no doubt that having external help is going to make it easier.
And what’s the best kind of help? It’s accountability.
It’s having somebody to not only show you the ropes but to actually make sure you show up every day. Somebody that will lend you a hand when you fall off track.
So why are you trying to become an early riser on your own? Why not involve somebody else and make it much easier?
Luckily nowadays it’s easy to find help. Here are some options:
- Involve your friends and family—tell them about your commitment and ask them to hold you accountable.
- Use social media to make your commitment public—This is one case in which Facebook and Twitter might be productive instead of a distraction.
- Find an accountability buddy that does it with you—even if you don’t have a reliable friend you can easily find somebody through FocusMate.
- Put your money where your mouth is—sign up for stickK.com and make a commitment that, if you fail, is going to lose you money.
- Hire a professional coach—Using coach.me you can hire a professional coach to hold you accountable every day for as little as $87/month.
If nothing else works, get a cat. There is no better early wake-up accountability than a hungry cat in the morning.
The downside to that approach is that it might also decide it wants some playtime at 3 AM, but oh well… cats will be cats.
8. Use Sleeping Cycles to Your Advantage
Have you had one of those days where you wake up early and you don’t feel sleepy or groggy? You can fall back asleep easily but you can also get up and start your day.
Feels great, doesn’t it? Of course, you also know about the other mornings…
Mornings where getting out of bed feels terrible. So why do we experience both on different days?
The answer is sleeping cycles.
When we sleep at night our bodies go through different sleeping cycles. Each cycle goes through different stages, illustrated on the graph below.
Stage 4 is the deepest one and Stage 1 is the lightest one, meaning the closest one to the awake state.
The closer to the awake state you are when the alarm goes off the better you will feel. The deeper you are the worse you will feel.
So how can you use that to your advantage?
You have to figure out at which time in the morning you’re in the lightest stage of sleep.
If you feel terrible when the alarm goes off at 7 am, try 7:30 instead. If that doesn’t work, try 8 am. Eventually, you’ll find the sweet spot and you’ll be able to get up much more easily.
Once you find that sweet spot, you can begin gradually moving your alarm back by 10-15 minutes earlier, and shift your sleep cycles until you hit your target wake-up time.
You can also use a sleep calculator app to estimate at what time you’ll be in the lightest stage of sleep.
Keep in mind that this approach works only if you have consistent bedtimes. If you change the bedtimes by 1-2 hours every day, the sleep cycles will change too, and you won’t be able to find that stability in the morning.
Besides the sleep calculator, you can also use a smart alarm app that tracks your cycles and wakes you up when you’re in a light sleep stage.
The advantage of the smart alarm is that it automatically does the calculation for you. And if your sleep schedule is still irregular it will be more accurate since it actually tracks your sleeping patterns—so if your sleep cycles change the alarm will adjust automatically.
The disadvantage is that it will wake you up at different times every morning. So planning your morning routine and schedule afterward is harder.
9. Get Enough Sleep or Maintain Consistent Wake-Up Times?
You already know that consistent wake-up/bedtimes are crucial to becoming an early riser long-term. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes our priorities change and we have to stay up late.
In that case, we have two choices for the morning after.
Choice #1: Get out of bed at the same time (and deal with sleep deprivation the next day).
The best choice depends on how late you go to bed…
If you go to bed late but still get at least 5-6 hours, then it’s better to maintain the same alarm time.
You will feel a bit sleepy during the day, but you will maintain your sleep regularity. Which will make it easier to wake up early again on the following day.
And dealing with sleep deprivation for just one day isn’t a big deal. You can get a power nap in the afternoon to help you stay awake. You can also go to bed a little earlier the following evening to catch up on sleep.
If you were to change your alarm every time you go to bed late, you will have a much more irregular schedule.
You might end up sleeping 2-3 hours longer.
So on the following evening, you won’t feel sleepy at the usual bedtime and you’ll probably stay up late again. The whole thing turns into a downward spiral.
A good rule of thumb is, “Regulate the amount of sleep by adjusting the bedtime, not the wake-up time.”
Choice #2: Turn off the alarm and get enough sleep (and mess up the regularity).
The second scenario is when you go to bed very late and keeping the typical alarm time means you’ll only get 1-2 hours of sleep.
In that case, you’ll be better off sleeping in.
Even if you wake up on time, with so little sleep you’ll end up spending the day like a brain-fogged zombie, struggling to stay awake all the time. So instead, turn off the alarm and let your body wake you up naturally.
On the following evening, it’s likely that you won’t feel sleepy at your usual bedtime. So make sure you put some extra effort to be in bed on time.
To avoid the downward spiral, you can use melatonin to fall asleep earlier.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that the body produces to make us sleepy, so it’s not as harmful as sleeping pills.
But keep in mind that it’s also not as strong as sleeping pills. Meaning it won’t knock you out completely, it just helps to make you sleepy. So it’s not going to work if you’re doing something stimulating like watching TV or browsing the web.
10. How Long Does It Take for Waking Up Early to Become a Habit?
It’s one of the most frequent questions that I get, “How long until I don’t have to put effort into it and wake up early naturally?”
It only takes your body 2 days of a regular sleep schedule to adjust to a small change like 1-2 hours. It might take several days if the change is 3 hours or more.
However, getting yourself to do those several days consistently is a different story.
It’s different because getting out of bed is a habit. And you’ve probably already got a ton of momentum in the opposite direction—snoozing the alarm and sleeping in.
But even if you break the snoozing habit, there are other bad habits that are getting in the way:
- Watching TV or browsing the web late at night.
- Phone calls and texting past your bedtime.
- Eating dinner too late.
- Caffeine past 4 pm.
- Alcohol close to your bedtime.
So you have to break not only the snoozing habit but all those other habits that mess up your sleep.
That’s what slows things down.
Changing all those negative habits takes time and effort.
So the answer really depends on how many of those habits you’ve already got. If you have a healthy bedtime routine and a regular sleep schedule, waking up early is going to be easy. You can do it in a single week.
But if you also have to work on changing these other habits it might take months.
I’ve worked with hundreds of people on waking up early and improving their sleep schedule. And on average it takes most people about 2-3 months to really get a handle on it.
That being said, the average answer isn’t really helpful. To get the real answer for you, ask yourself “How many negative habits do I also need to change to have healthy sleep?”
11. How to Deal with Electronics That Keep You Up Late
Several years ago I was really struggling with waking up early. I knew it was a corner-stone habit and—if I mastered it—everything else was going to change for the better.
But nothing that I tried seemed to work.
Then something surprising happened that made me an early riser in just 3 days—my computer died.
It was as easy as that.
I had no TV, smartphone, or a tablet at the time. So there was nothing keeping me up late at night. The only device I had was a screenless iPod which I used to listen to audiobooks.
Luckily the audiobooks helped me sleep faster instead of keeping me up.
And since I fell asleep early, I naturally started getting up early—no discipline required.
Going through that period without any electronics and effortlessly becoming an early riser, helped me realize that waking up early is our natural state.
We don’t have to do anything extra to be early risers, we just need to eliminate the obstacles.
And by far the biggest obstacles nowadays are electronic devices.
So if you’re really committed to succeeding at this habit, get rid of all electronics. Don’t just turn them off—that never works. There is nothing stopping you from turning everything back on when you’re feeling bored and can’t fall asleep.
Remove the most harmful obstacles:
- Get rid of the TV.
- Leave your laptop in the office.
- Lend your tablet to a friend for a few weeks.
- Switch to an old school “dumb” phone.
It’s an extreme step and it’s not feasible long-term. But doing it for just a few weeks will give you a great start with going to bed on time and getting up early.
It’s like learning to ride a bicycle with training wheels—eventually, we want to do it without those, but they surely help in the beginning.
And eventually, we have to learn how to wake up early consistently despite the electronics. But getting rid of these obstacles will make the start so much easier.
The Most Powerful Tip About Waking Up Early
Each one of these tips is a solution to an obstacle that is in the way of a healthy sleep schedule and waking up early. If you’re not struggling with that particular issue the tip will be useless to you.
However, if you find that one of them resonates strongly with you, it means that it’s a solution to an obstacle you need to overcome.
But learning about the solution isn’t going to change anything.
Now that you know about it, it’s time to put it into action. So which of the 11 tips resonated with you the most?
How can you apply it to your life?
The more you wait, the less power the insight you got is going to have. And eventually, you’ll forget about it altogether.
How can you use that solution today and get one step closer to waking up early?