Waking up early is a cornerstone of modern self-improvement. To avoid confusion, however, one has to first define what early means.
Early doesn’t necessarily mean waking up at 3 AM. In the sense of self-improvement, early means to wake up before you have to. If you usually have to leave your bed by 10 AM, since your work starts at 11 AM, early for you could be 9 AM. But if you have to get up at 6 AM, your early might be defined as 5 AM.
The idea is to get up before you have to in order to work on yourself or your personal projects.
Again, there is no one size fits it all in self-improvement. So before you start, figure out how much extra time you need in the morning, thereby calculate your own definition of waking up early.
Since this pandemic started, I don’t really have a fixed time at which I have to be awake. Studying is quite flexible with closed universities. I, therefore, picked my wake up time around 6 AM. It works best for me.
Once you have that checked, we can move on to the action plan.
1. Go to bed accordingly.
If you are like me — and most people — you should aim for about 7 to 8 hours of sleep. These numbers refer to actual sleep. From measuring my sleeping habits for two years now, I learned that I need to spend about half an hour more than I plan on sleeping inside my bed.
It just takes some minutes to fall asleep, and some nights you will encounter frequent wake phases, reducing your hours of actual sleep. Pick a sleeping time that keeps this in mind, and follow through with it.
When trying to adapt to a new wake up routine, there is nothing more important than the sleeping habits the night before. I have to take them seriously. This includes reducing my caffeine intake in the hours before I plan on going to bed, as well as calming myself down properly. During stressful times, I incorporate a short meditation or some deep, relaxing breaths.
Also, I leave my phone at the bedroom door. This way, I avoid too much screen time before bed, and especially pointless twitter arguments, capable of keeping me up all night. Instead, I usually pick up a book.
2. Have a plan.
Without a plan for the morning, I will not have enough willpower to get out of bed the next day. I will probably be tired and won’t feel like leaving my cozy sleeping cave, especially if I don’t know why I should get out into the cold.
My why has to be strong. Stronger than the discomfort I will experience at the beginning of my new sleeping routine. Therefore, I need to have a plan ready once I wake up.
This plan can consist of anything. Whether you are looking for more time with your family, a solid workout, or developing a passion project further, just make sure that it is important to you. The bigger your why is, the easier it will be for you to stick to your morning routine. Especially in the beginning, before it will turn into a habit, this element is crucial.
Ultimately, you will decide how your perfect morning routine looks like. No one can do it for you. From my own experience, I would aim to execute actions that have already turned into habits while still adjusting to the new wake up time. It’s hard enough to build habits on their own already — and we are not even talking about the extra willpower you will usually need for it. To combine this with waking up early makes sticking to it nearly impossible. So go for habits that you can already follow through, at least in the beginning.
3. Wake up with natural light.
Waking up can be a tedious process in itself. But this can even be amplified after a rough night. It helped me tremendously to make getting up early a non-negotiable for such instances. I do this by immediately turning on the light next to my bed the moment my alarm rings. That way, I instantly get a boost of alertness, and falling back to sleep becomes almost impossible.
With time, this move became a habit. If you don’t see yourself turning on the lights upon hearing your alarm clock ringing, there are some awesome alternatives, too. For example, you could either acquire a sunlight alarm clock or connect your smart home lights with your alarm clock to turn on both simultaneously.
If you are lucky enough to have your wake-up time align with the sunrise, it’s even better to keep your curtains open or have them opened with a timer. Humans became pretty good at faking natural light, but still, nothing can replace the real deal.
I will also keep my evenings as natural as possible, to allow my body to produce sufficient amounts of melatonin, helping me fall asleep. I do this by minimizing blue light in the evening, slowly turning down my lights, or changing their color into a warmer type of white.
4. Have something to look forward to.
Once you are awake, had your dose of light, and are ready to follow your plan, we only miss one more aspect: Consistency. Getting up early once is good. But getting up early daily is our goal. If you think about waking up before you have to as a tedious task, the chance of doing it daily becomes diminishing small. Especially after you had a rough night with less sleep than usual.
To achieve consistency, it’s helpful to have something in the morning you are looking forward to. This could be time with your kids, working out with a friend, pushing your project further, or simply a cup of tea, which you can drink in peace and without any stress. This is your morning. Waking up early is your choice. Why not turn it into something great?
Bonus: Move more.
This one may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it definitely became mine. Movement impacts my mornings in several ways. First of all, I aim at completing a short, high-intensity workout upon the first two hours of waking up. This will make sure that I am alert and awake, as well as increase my happiness throughout the rest of the day.
But that’s not all. The more I am moving throughout the day, the deeper and more refreshing my sleep becomes. I, therefore, try to walk to work or university whenever I can. Alternatively, during this pandemic, I acquired a treadmill to put it below my standing desk. This way, I can walk while still getting my work done. I even found that it massively improved my ability to focus while studying. Having this simple and mundane movement keeps me engaged just enough to forget about possible distractions.
Ultimately, waking up early can be incredibly beneficial for your life and your mood. But keep in mind that just because you aren’t getting up before you have to doesn’t mean you are lazy or unproductive. Whatever you have planned to do in the morning can almost certainly also be done during your evening hours. Whether you are an early bird or a night owl doesn’t impact your productivity.
However, if you plan on waking up early, try to incorporate the above tips and take back control of your mornings again. Your glorious mornings will then start to positively impact the rest of your day, too!