6 Steps to Waking Up Earlier and Becoming a Morning Person

You, too, can be an early riser.

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There’s a lot to love about mornings: sunrises, peaceful moments, and the feeling of productivity as you take on the day. The only catch? Waking up early can be a drag and feel pretty miserable, especially if you typically have late or inconsistent bedtimes, or don’t actually sleep well throughout the night.

And while it might seem like your body is making it impossible to be a morning riser, your ability to wake up earlier is actually adjustable. “We all have a built-in internal body clock, which varies throughout the lifetime,” says Steven Henry Feinsilver, M.D., director of the center for sleep at Lenox Hill. For example, teenagers and young adults (15 to 25 years old) tend to be night owls, while older individuals (between 70 to 80 years old) tend to be morning folks. And even within those age groups, unique sleep chronotypes really do vary from person to person. While it's more challenging for some, with the right approach, it is possible to shift your internal body clock and make waking up early easier and more pleasant.

But take note: According to Dr. Feinsilver attempting to become a morning person might not be the best move for everyone. Specifically, if you’re currently experiencing daytime sleepiness (regardless of how much sleep you get), see a sleep doctor first. The reason? Daytime sleepiness is the main symptom of a medical sleep issue. In this case, you’ll want to get treatment and manage your symptoms before trying to adjust your sleep schedule. 

Otherwise, if you’re not experiencing daytime sleepiness, you’re in the clear. Read on for actionable tips for waking up earlier—and reclaiming your mornings once and for all.

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Identify your motivation.

Before attempting to join the “morning person” club, ask yourself why you want to be a morning person. Do you want a few moments alone to sip tea in a quiet kitchen? Or do you want a chance to make breakfast, exercise, or simply feel less rushed getting out the door? Whatever your intentions may be, identifying your reasons for becoming a morning person is key for making the change, says Jeanette Lorandini, LCSW, therapist and owner of Suffolk DBT. “It can also provide you with an extra boost of energy when you’re feeling tired or unmotivated [to get out of bed],” Lorandini adds. On chilly mornings when your bed feels too comfy to leave, remember that mental list of perks and why it’ll be worth it.

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Make a deliberate sleep-wake schedule (and stick to it).

Once you’ve set an alarm with your ideal wakeup time, do your best to avoid pressing the snooze button. “No matter how rotten you feel, get up when [your alarm clock] goes off,” Dr. Feinsilver says. Then, depending on how many hours of sleep you need or want, work backward and determine when you should sleep that night. For example, “if your goal is to sleep seven hours, don’t go to bed earlier than about midnight,” says Dr. Feinsilver. He adds that it may be difficult to stay awake until then—and you’ll probably have a few tough days—but after that, your homeostatic sleep drive (i.e., the body’s natural need for sleep) will kick in and your body will adjust to the new schedule.

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Start the day with light exposure.

Our internal body clocks are directly influenced by light, so exposing yourself to plenty of it during the day is important for becoming a morning person. When you wake up, sip your coffee on the patio or next to a sunny window. Or weather permitting, go outside for a quick, easy walk first thing—even just around the block. Both the light exposure and physical activity will help wake up your brain and body, ultimately making the morning feel more enjoyable. In the depths of a cold, dark winter? Turn on as many lights as you can or use a lightbox, Dr. Feinsilver suggests.

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Practice good sleep hygiene.

The poorer your sleep quality, the harder it will be to get up in the morning. Do yourself a favor and follow a few basic rules of healthy sleep hygiene, including avoiding caffeine six hours before bed. According to Dr. Feinsilver, drinking caffeine too close to bedtime can make it hard to fall (and stay) asleep. While you’re at it, step away from the nightcap. Although alcohol can make you tired and want to fall asleep, it will actually disrupt good, deep sleep in the middle of the night while being metabolized in the body. Other good sleep hygiene habits include keeping your room dark and cool, using fans or humidifiers to block noise pollution, and avoiding prolonged screen time before bed as best you can.

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Enjoy your wake-up and wind-down routines mindfully.

By adjusting the way you start and end the day, you might find it easier to consistently get up earlier. “Upon waking up, take some time for yourself to do something positive that motivates you for the day ahead,” Lorandini says. “Whether it’s journaling, stretching, listening to music, or practicing mindful exercises, do whatever makes you feel energized and ready for the day.” If you actually do something pleasant and start to enjoy the stretch of morning you're giving yourself, you're far more likely to get out of bed day after day—in fact, you may even start to wake up feeling excited to get going (imagine!).

At night, spend the hour before bedtime doing something relaxing away from bed (i.e., no working or studying!), such as reading or listening to music, Dr. Feinsilver says. You can also carve in some “worry time” in the 15 to 20 minutes before the relaxation hour, he adds. Go over the next day’s tasks and, if needed, scribble in a journal and let out any worries, concerns, and stressful thoughts. This way, you can head to bed without the weight of tomorrow’s to-do list on your shoulders, which will pave the way for better Zs. In the morning, you'll feel a little less stressed knowing you jotted things down the night before and can refer to that list with a clear head.

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Stay consistent (even on weekends).

When trying to form new habits like waking up early, consistency is key because it creates a sense of stability and predictability, Lorandini says. “Practicing the same behavior over time helps build strong neural pathways, [making] it easier to repeat the habit without thinking about it,” she explains. “This also helps us break old patterns and create new ones that more closely align with our goals and desires.” With that in mind, avoid sleeping in an hour past your wakeup time, even on your days off. For example, if you need to get up at 6 a.m. on work days, don’t sleep past 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Dr. Feinsilver says. Otherwise, you won’t be able to sleep on Sunday night, which can put a damper on your efforts to become a morning person.

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