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These 9 Life Hacks Will Turn You Into an Early Riser

Structure. Many of us resist it, or feel like it refers to something boring. But the truth is, when things get rocky, we realize it’s structure that helps us feel safe. It’s a container for spontaneous movement and play. A routine, a schedule, a scaffold. It soothes your nervous system. It levels your mood. It allows your body to find a rhythm. Nothing like Pandemic 2.0 and a ‘society is crumbling’ vibe in the air to remind you of this. Also just…February. Am I right?

You’re reading this because for some reason you’ve decided your structure needs a change. Particularly, the structure that book-ends your days: Sleeping, and waking up. Why? Perhaps you rush into your day and always feel like you’re playing catch-up. Maybe you need a self-care boost, more daylight, more quiet, more alone time. Maybe Covid has time stretching out, un-differentiated. Maybe you sleep badly, or maybe this just feels like the thing to do, and so you’re going to do it, damnit!

From a converted night owl, let me tell you: waking up early before the noise of the day is surprisingly magical, and I’m still shocked by how much more energy I have because of it. But don’t take my word for it.

Let’s get you equipped with what I consider the key early bird life hacks. They’re firmly rooted in habit-building principles, but even more firmly rooted in my personal experience. Here we go.

Decide on Your Why

Whenever you commit to a new habit, nothing is more essential than knowing WHY you’re committing to it. Without a solid set of reasons, after the second or third morning of groaning as your alarm goes off, you’ll think ‘Why am I doing this again? Sleep sounds so much better….’

So why? Why do YOU specifically want to wake up earlier? Write your list. And make sure it includes something particular you’ll want to wake up FOR. A yoga class online or home workout or reading habit you want to start in two weeks? Great. No time like the present! Put that list somewhere you can see it. Beside your bed? It can act as a cue to remind you why you’re making this change for yourself. Next.

Take Slow Steady Steps

Without a doubt, one of the top reasons people fail at creating a new habit is trying to go too far too fast. You usually wake up at 11am? Don’t bare-knuckle it and switch your alarm to 6am tomorrow. You just won’t do it. Or worse, you’ll do the one thing you should never do: You’ll hit snooze. It’s also unnecessarily uncomfortable.

Instead, decide right now what your goal wake up time is: 8:00am? 5:30am? Set your alarm back 15min or 30min a day, until you reach that goal. Or every other day. You decide which increment will work best for you.

When you DO reach the goal, you want to wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, at least for a few weeks. Until the new habit becomes second nature, you don’t want it to get knocked off track.

Check Your Sleep Hygiene

Think carefully about the things that interrupt or reduce the depth of your sleep.

1- How dark can your bedroom get? Make sure there are no blinking lights that you are subliminally picking up on (you can cover those with black tape). If the blinds or curtains don’t shut out all the light, you might want to try a very comfy eye mask.
2- Now what about the temperature? Is it comfortable? Do you usually get too hot or too cold? Can you adjust the thermostat to fix that issue, or wear lighter pajamas, or change the sheets and comforter you use?
3- Is it noisy? Is that because of open windows, appliances, or other people? Consider what options you have to reduce that noise. If options are limited, try some earplugs.
4- Do you have a lot of tech next to your bed? See how you can limit it, and keep everything you do use in the bedroom set to Night Time Mode or with a Blue Light Filter on.
5- Last but not least, do you work in bed? Don’t! Bed is for sleeping and sexy stuff. Everything else happens not in the bed. That way, your mental associations are firmly trained in the directions you need them to be.

Create a Wind-Down Routine

Have a reminder go off an hour or two before bed time (two is preferable if possible). This signals to you that you need to begin to ‘wind down’. You decide what that means, but studies and personal experience show that a few things are beneficial.

1- Start to taper off technology (Netflix! Social media!)
2- Prepare for your next day. Planning to exercise? Lay out your clothes. Need a lunch for work? Pack it now. Have a to-do list that will be running through your head as you try to sleep? Jot it down.
3- Do some relaxing activities that feel like a pleasant ‘ritual’ for you. When something becomes ritualized (repeated in the same way every day) it signals a specific experience to your brain. In this case ‘relaxing for sleep’. Perhaps a bath (which lowers your body temperature afterwards, helping you sleep), a cup of herbal tea, and reading or listening to a good book. Bedtime yoga, deep breathing, meditation, coloring, puzzles or journaling. Whatever works.
4- Put your phone on airplane mode, and preferably at a distance (no scrolling while you try to sleep!)

Make Getting Out of Bed Unavoidable

It’s key to get out of (and away from) bed and into contact with daylight (or artificial light) as immediately as possible. In the interest of that, put your alarm in a different room. If your alarm is your phone and you can’t fathom having it in a different room, get a different alarm. Set both your phone alarm and the other alarm AT THE SAME TIME. Don’t set different alarms at different times, because that is called SNOOZING. Snoozing is the enemy.

Activate Your Body Immediately

As soon as the alarm goes off, jump out of bed, switch it off, and have the blinds open and the lights on (again, getting light is important!). Make your bed. Wash your face. Drink a glass of water to hydrate your system. Put some music on (make a morning magic playlist!). Engage your senses!

If you drink coffee, I highly recommend a self-brewing machine that has a timer set to start brewing when your alarm goes off. You’ll smell it and it will make you happy. Then you’ll taste it and it will make you even happier. No coffee? Make tea. No tea? Infuse some water. You do you.

Whether or not you have a workout routine or plan to have one, see if you can find a way to move your body and get your blood flowing. Maybe that’s just a little jiggle around to your morning playlist. Maybe it is doing a short 3 minute yoga sequence. Whatever, just MOVE.

Pro tip: DON’T check your phone notifications in bed. In fact, try not to check any messages or emails for the first 20 minutes after you’ve woken up. You’ll just prolong your zombie mode.

Weave in Morning Rewards

I sort of gave away some of my points here in the previous one- but fill your immediate moments after waking with a domino effect of things that make you happy.

Here is how I have morning rewards woven into my routine: I wake up, and wash my face with amazing smelling face wash. I put my earbuds in, and turn on my morning music playlist (70s disco). By the time I get downstairs, my coffee machine has brewed my coffee. It smells epic. I do a little dance. I drink a glass of water. I drink a second glass of water and take my supplements. I light some incense, switch from my music to This American Life podcast, or the Daily, or my book. I listen or read while I drink my first cup of coffee. Then I sweep (cat hair), do a 20 minute workout, hop in the shower, and start my day. This all happens between 7:00 am and 9:00am.

What has morning reward potential for you? Don’t go and add a million things like I currently have. I didn’t start there. I started with the coffee, the morning playlist, and a little dance.

Watch Your Daytime Habits

Your daytime habits seriously affect your sleep. After all, while your morning and bedtime routines are the structures that book-end your days, there are a lot of little pillars (or lack thereof), in between.

It’s best to try to have meals at consistent times each day, but most important for sleep is avoiding food, especially heavy activating food (fatty, spicy, fried, sugary) after 7pm. Alcohol generally equals bad sleep, but if you like an evening glass of wine, try to have it early. Cut out caffeine after 3 or 4pm, and no naps after that either! While you’re trying to change your sleep schedule, it’s better to avoid naps altogether, but if you can’t, keep them early in the day and short (20-30mins). Last but not least, try to manage your stress. If your nervous system is highly charged all day long (let’s stay, at a 9/10), your wind down will be seriously challenged to bring you down to a 1/10). Try to integrate a few moments of deep breathing, stretching, or walking throughout your day.

Believe You Can Be an Early Riser!

If you’re always talking about how you’re SUCH a night owl and that’s when you are in the zone and you couldn’t possibly wake up that early and you HATE mornings and morning people and sunshine and your favorite thing is your bed and…

I hear you. I’ve been there. And look, if you don’t want to be a morning person, don’t do it. But if you do want to, stop talking about how you can’t! Just because you haven’t before, doesn’t mean you can’t now. Tell yourself you are excited to make the change, and you look forward to discovering who you are in this new routine. Be kind to yourself and compassionate about the fact that it won’t go right all the time at first. Be realistic about your expectations, but also motivate yourself and set yourself up for success! Hopefully these pointers will help you get there.

That’s all folks. Tell us your early wake-up successes and failures, and any waking up hacks I’ve left off this list. We love to hear from you.