It’s an inconvenient, uncomfortable, and often annoying fact: Getting up early in the morning is the best way to make sure that you accomplish what you need to get done for the day!
This is a tiring and difficult fact, and is often dismissed by most people out of hand. Many people will say, “No way, I am NOT a morning person!” I often hear some version of, “5 AM, are you kidding me? No thanks…I need to sleep in!”
But for those of you using your beginner’s minds, hear me out! Waking up early in the morning is one of the few ways that you can make that extra hour or so needed each day to get your goals done for the day–fitness goals or otherwise! Wake up, read for a few minutes while drinking coffee or tea (if that is your thing), do a light warm-up stretch, and get your workout done. Now it’s only 6 or 7 AM and you are done with your exercise obligations for the day! But you are also awake and feeling alive, so you have time to get other stuff done too. It’s all part of the magic of waking up early!
The biggest reason why many people can’t get up early is simple and obvious: They get to bed too late the night before! The usual culprit? Ask most people and they’ll tell you they watch TV until 1130 PM or so, or scroll around on their phones for an hour in bed at night and get to sleep after midnight.
The solution is also simple, but often requires that all-important trait of discipline: You must force yourself to get up earlier each day and get to bed earlier each night until your body becomes used to it. We all have a natural body clock that forms something called a circadian rhythm. This clock is mainly adjusted by our wake-up time, and by exposing our eyes to light in the morning. And just like anything else in your body, it can be trained!
The best way to start getting up earlier is just to start getting up earlier!
Here is the plan I suggest you use to get where you want to be:
- Start by picking your ideal wake-up time. I use 5 AM for mine. That gives me the balance of getting enough sleep and also getting up early enough to get things done. You can pick anytime that works for you.
- Figure out what the difference is between when you wake up now, and your ideal time. For example, if you currently wake up at 9 AM but want to wake up at 6 AM, you have to adjust your circadian clock back 3 hours.
- Aim to adjust your clock back by 20-30 minutes every 3 days. For example, tomorrow you will wake up at 8:30 AM. The day after that it’s 8:30 AM again. And once again the day after that. After you are able to wake up at 8:30 for 3 days in a row, if you feel OK you can continue to adjust the time backwards again for another 3 days. In this example, you would wake up at 8 AM for the next 3 days.
- This is the most important part: When you set your alarm and hear it go off in the morning, you MUST get up and out of bed immediately! This is all of no use if you lay around in bed hitting the snooze button for 25 minutes every morning! If you need to, turn up your alarm volume and place the alarm 10 feet away from your bed. If you’re really struggling, use a back-up alarm set 5 minutes after your regular alarm and place it far from your bed too.
- Try to adjust your bedtime earlier and earlier each night to compensate for waking up earlier. Make sure you are getting around a minimum of 7 hours of sleep. For example, if you are looking to get up at 6 AM from now on, that means you really need to be sleeping by 11 PM. I mean actually sleeping by 11 PM, not going to bed around 11, scrolling social media for 30 minutes in bed, getting a snack, and then trying to sleep. If you want to be sleeping by 11 PM, you should probably start the bedtime routine around 10 PM.
- This is a 7 day per week plan. If you “sleep in” on the weekends, all progress will be lost and your circadian clock will be confused. If you must get extra sleep on the weekends because you were up late the night before or for some other reason, make sure you wake up within 30-45 minutes of your normal weekday wake-up time. For example, if you are getting up at 6 AM Monday-Friday, you can get up at 6:30-6:45 on Saturday and probably still be OK. Getting up at 9:45 AM on Saturday is definitely not OK and will screw up all the progress you are making towards getting up earlier! This is where discipline and dealing with discomfort is necessary: Think about how tired you are going to feel on Saturday morning when you are thinking about staying up until 2 AM on Friday night!
Do this every day and after a few weeks, getting up at 6 AM will be your new normal. Do this every day for a few months, and you will be getting up at 6 AM-ish even if you forget to set your alarm! Once your circadian clock adjusts, you will no longer feel sluggish and in physical pain by waking up early…you will feel good and have the time and energy to take on the world!
A personal anecdote: I wrote most of this program during the hours of 5:15 AM – 6:15 AM, spaced over the period of a few months. Wake up, black coffee, start writing while my brain is still fresh. After a cup of coffee is done, time to go warm up and work out for about 45 minutes. Then it’s time for a shower and off to work I go. I try to be sleeping by 10 PM every night or earlier if I can. On weekends, I will still wake up around 5-5:30 AM and allow myself to write until around 7:30 before exercising.