Want to start waking up early because you’ve heard that to be successful you need to wake up around four or five in the morning? Well, societal mythology aside, if you want to know how to wake up early, there is one very simple thing that you can do to make it happen…
Go to bed early.
More on that in a second though.
First, I want to point out that you don’t have to wake up at a certain time to achieve your goals, or build a better life for yourself, or attain some key objective for more happiness. You just need to be deliberate about how you use your waking hours.
Now for me, waking up early (around six in the morning) gives me the ability to get things done before the hecticness of the day gets going. It’s a time when I get real, meaningful work done.
That time may change in the future, but that’s where I’m at right now.
So does that mean you need to wake up at six from now on too? Nope. It’s merely to show that the time that you choose to wake up is irrelevant. What matters more than anything is how you use your time each day.
Got it? Ok great.
Let’s say you’ve evaluated your time and have decided that yes, you want to start waking up early. Not because some CEO somewhere does it, but because you have a lot you want to do and waking up earlier would give you the means to do it.
Well, I have just the technique for you to use. A “secret” that has been passed down through time.
Go to bed earlier.
Notice how secret was in quotes? That’s because it’s not a secret. It’s common sense and you know that’s all you need to do. But as humans we like to overthink things.
We want 30 ways to wake up early without having to hit snooze, feel tired, or sacrifice drinks with friends the night before. It’s really not that hard though. If you want to wake up earlier, you just need to plan for and go to bed earlier.
Why aren’t most people doing this then?
Because it requires effort.
But good news, you’re not most people.
I’ve been a night owl for most of my life; from as young as I can remember, up through college, and into my early twenties. When I was in school, I would stay up well past after everyone else had gone to sleep.
It was when the world was quiet and I could focus.
I would do all my most important work at that time – in the late hours of the night and into the early morning. But, when my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved into together, everything changed (for the better). She’s someone that values sleep and likes to wake up early.
Yet, when we first started living together, I kept up with my regular schedule of staying up late and working on my side project(s) into the night.
One day, noticing her routine though, I decided to try waking up early with her. And instead of working on my side project at night, I’d spend that same amount of time in the morning instead.
So, I started waking up early and… haven’t stopped since.
It’s been several years at this point and I can clearly notice a difference between the work I did at night versus the work I do now in the morning.
In the mornings, I’m sharp. I’m rested. I can see problems clearly and I have the energy to tackle them. Waking up early has proven immensely more fruitful in the work that I do now compared to when I would work at night.
Morning, and in particular, early morning before I start my full-time job, is the ideal time for me to get meaningful work done (like writing this to you right now).
I’ve found mornings to be so helpful that I’d be happy to try waking up even earlier.
- 5:30? Sure.
- 5:00? Yep.
- 4:00? That’s pretty early, but if I think there’s a benefit to be gained, I’m in.
- 3:00? Don’t kid yourself.
Am I doing it because an Olympic athlete told me that’s when I need to wake up?
It’s because I know how much more effective I am in the morning and figure that if I wake up earlier I’ll be able to capitalize on that time even more. Especially with a new baby in the picture, productive time is precious. That said, the 6:00AM wake up call works great for me right now so I’m not changing my alarms just yet.
All I’m saying is that I’m open to it because I see the benefit behind it.
How to wake up early and not feel tired
Once I knew that I wanted to start waking up earlier, I needed to figure out how to sustainably make it happen. I couldn’t continue to go to bed late and also wake up early.
I had to choose. And I chose mornings.
It took some time for me to work out the process of how to reliably do it, but I eventually figured it out. To keep it simple (because it is), this is what I did (and still do):
- I recognize that I want to wake up at 6:15AM.
- From there, I determine how much sleep I want each night (for me, that’s eight hours).
- I then backtrack from 6:15AM and determine that if I want eight hours of sleep, I need to be in bed, relaxed, and eyes closed by 9:35PM.**
- And then each night I just stick to the plan.
As long as I stick to that plan, I get a full night’s sleep and manage to wake up early.
**Through tracking my sleep habits over the years, I’ve learned that from the time I close my eyes at night, to when I open them in the morning, I have about 40 minutes of non-sleeping active time. That includes tossing and turning, falling asleep, and middle of the night bathroom breaks.
For example, if I close my eyes at 9:00PM and wake up at 6:00AM, that’s nine hours. But I know that there is 40 minutes in there of non-sleep time. So it’s really closer to eight hours and 20 minutes of sleep.
In your own life, you can follow this same formula. Don’t overthink it, because yes, it’s really that simple. If you want to sustainably wake up early, feel rested, and get meaningful work done, you just need to go to bed earlier.
It doesn’t matter the season. If you want to know how to wake up early in winter or summer, on the weekend or during the workweek, it’s the same process.
- Decide when you want to wake up
- Determine how much sleep you want (be sure to consider your own non-sleep active time)
- Backtrack to figure out when you need to be going to sleep
- Then be in bed, relaxed and comfortable, and close your eyes at the time
Now, am I promising that you’ll never need to use an alarm again? Well… no this isn’t about how to wake up early without an alarm. Although, you probably won’t need to rely on it as much once you start getting more sleep.
I don’t stress about alarms as much as I used to, but still set them just in case.
This is more about creating a sustainable process that you can use to wake up early.
The system I just described is simple and easy to understand. However, you may run into a few challenges at first. At least I did. That said, here were some initial problems I encountered and how I dealt with them.
Hopefully you can sidestep some of the pitfalls I stumbled upon when first waking up early.
How to wake up early: You aren’t losing an hour, you’re gaining one
When I first started going to sleep earlier, it felt like I was losing time. Suddenly I went from having all this flexibility at night to now having to rush to get ready for bed.
It felt like I lost time.
What I came to realize though was that I didn’t lose it. I just moved it. I took those hours of time that I usually reserved for the night and moved them to the morning.
How to wake up early: Recoup your downtime
Similarly, it felt like my downtime was now gone. All my opportunities for relaxation had disappeared.
Did they actually? No, I just needed to get used to having an hour of downtime before bed instead of three or four. It was uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it soon enough.
And the progress I was making each morning easily outweighed the leisure time I lost at night.
How to wake up early: Stick to the schedule
One big problem that I ran into initially was not sticking to the plan. I knew what time I needed to go to bed, but sometimes I would knowingly stay up later.
You know how I broke that cycle? Guilt.
I knew what the right thing was to do (stick to my plan). And when I stuck to it, I felt good. When I didn’t, I felt bad. Eventually, the guilt I felt from staying up too late started to nag at me and I gradually started going to bed at my planned time more and more because of that – until eventually it became my every night.
Guilt may not work for you, but if it does, use it to your advantage.
Those were three big problems I came across. It’s where I struggled the most with going to bed earlier. That said, you probably have some other objections that I’ve yet to address.
I’ll touch on those now.
How to wake up early: Get your body used to it
If your body is accustomed to going to bed late, you may find it uncomfortable to go to bed earlier at first. Imagine trying to fall asleep for an hour or two, tossing and turning, because you aren’t used to it.
Kind of defeats the purpose of going to bed early, right?
The good news though is that by the second or third night of sleeping terribly, you’ll be so exhausted that you’ll have no problem falling asleep at that new time.
How to wake up early: Sleep better
The process I described may make sense, and you may want to implement it, but maybe you don’t have the best sleep habits and can never tell when you’ll actually get a good night of sleep.
You’re concerned that instead of waking up refreshed, you’ll wake up as a zombie.
That’s fair. And for that, I recommend the book – The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington. I read this when I was first getting into improving my sleep quality and found it helpful.
How to wake up early: Adjust your habits
It’s not just your body that’s used to going to sleep late – your mind is used to it too. That said, you likely have habits in place that prevent you from going to bed too early. Well, if the exhaustion I mentioned above doesn’t do the trick, you may want to examine your habits to see what you can adjust.
For that, I recommend the book – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I found this book to be useful in recognizing and adjusting negative habits I had/have in my life.
*Yes, I’ve heard of Atomic Habits by James Clear. No, I haven’t read it yet as of this writing (but will be reading it soon). I found Duhigg’s book to be quite helpful though.
How to wake up early: Remember when to go to bed
This last one is so easy I almost didn’t mention it. If you’re worried that you won’t remember your plan of when to go to bed and when to wake up, write it down.
That’s it. Write the plan down someplace that you will see it so that you don’t forget.
How to wake up early moving forward
Don’t overthink it. You know what you need to do. You wanted to learn how to wake up early, well now you do. Pick your wake up time, decide how much sleep you want, back into the time that you need to go to sleep, and then stick to the plan.
A basic formula that allows you to get more sleep while still waking up earlier than you were before.
So give it a try tonight! Run through the process, try it out, and discover just how easy it is to start waking up early.