The Benefits of Waking Up Early and Why You’re Not Enjoying Them
Have you recently been trying to get up earlier in the morning without success? There are numerous benefits of waking up early:
- accomplishing more with your day
- finding time for activities that normally get squeezed out of your schedule, like exercise or hobbies
- having quiet time for yourself
- being more deliberate and organized in preparing for the day ahead
- reducing stress caused by rushing in the morning
- beating commuter traffic to work
- tending better to the needs of your family members or pets
- making time to prepare a healthier breakfast or eat with your family
- looking more well groomed or stylishly dressed without time constraints
If those advantages to waking up early aren’t enough for you, consider the following. Early risers tend to be more proactive in their studies, their careers, and their lives in general, according to Christoph Randler, a biology professor at Germany’s University of Education in Heidelberg. While some of this proactive behavior may be genetic, it may also be learned by developing an early morning wake habit. Randler also maintains that much of the world is biased towards morning people, which means that you may lose out on a plum promotion if you chronically straggle into the office as late as you can possibly get away with.
These are all great reasons to set your alarm for the pre-dawn hours, but if you are finding yourself infatuated with your snooze button, you may be frustrated and wonder why your plan to get up earlier isn’t working.
Don’t beat yourself up; read on to see if fixing one of these common causes of staying in bed too long can help you achieve your dream of becoming an early riser.
Not Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene
You know why the rooster is able to get up before sunrise to wake up the rest of the barnyard? Because it didn’t stay up all night watching a marathon of House reruns or playing games on its cell phone.
The first thing you need to address before even trying to get up earlier is your sleep the night before. Count back from the hour you want to wake up, and make sure you’re in bed with enough time to get a good night’s sleep. That may mean finishing up evening activities, including eating dinner, earlier than normal. Set a schedule, and stick to it.
You may be able to get by on a lesser quantity of sleep if the quality of your sleep is conducive to high energy the next day. Make your bedroom an oasis of serenity in your home. Boot out anything that doesn’t belong there, like exercise equipment, dirty laundry, and kids’ stuff. Ideally, you also want to remove televisions and computers from your bedroom too. If this isn’t feasible, at least try to screen these appliances from your sleeping area.
In addition to keeping you up at night with distractions, tech devices emit blue light that research has proven to interfere with your sleep cycles. If you need to keep a tablet or mobile in your bedroom to stay in touch with a teenager or spouse who is out of the house or to read ebooks in bed, use an app that reduces blue light between sunset and dawn.
If you have no serious health reasons for waking up exhausted after getting what should be adequate slumber, you may not be enjoying enough late-stage, restorative sleep. Resist the urge to pop a prescription pill. (Do you really want to see that viral Youtube footage of you twerking at the all-night grocery store after taking an Ambien?) Instead, you might try three grams of over-the-counter glycine, which is a natural amino acid produced in the body and clinically demonstrated to improve the quality of sleep.
Other things to remember about good sleep hygiene:
- Use a mattress and pillows that are right for your body type and sleep positions.
- Keep your room a little on the cool side.
- Try showering or bathing in warm water right before bed.
- Don’t eat large meals or exercise too close to bedtime. Do get enough regular exercise, though, and a small snack of sleep-inducing oatmeal or hot cocoa before bed is okay.
- Eliminate caffeine between the hours of noon and about six o’clock. Surprisingly, it may be that two p.m. latte that’s keeping you up, not the espresso after dinner.
- A glass of wine with dinner is fine, but more may actually cause you to waken during the night. Watch your alcohol intake if you have trouble staying asleep.
- Make every effort to go to bed and get up at the same times every day, even on weekends.
Failing to Get Organized the Night Before
If you know you have a ton of things to do in the morning just to get out the door on time, you may toss and turn instead of being lulled into pleasant slumber. Being organized for the next day not only lets you sleep better at night, you can get up earlier in the morning knowing you’re not facing a long, daunting to-do list.
Try making a computerized list of tasks you need to do before bed for the following day. Print it out, and use it as a nightly checklist, adding extra things that come up only occasionally.
Invest in a dressmaker’s mannequin or clothing rack on which to hang your outfit for the next day, complete with jewelry, shoes, and accessories. Use a pocketed purse liner to make changing handbags a breeze. If you discover an item you want to wear is still at the dry cleaner, you won’t be running around like a crazed designer backstage at Fashion Week the next morning trying to replace it.
Create an assembly line for your breakfast, and have all the ingredients divided into small containers, chopped, sliced, and ready to go. Do the same with lunch if you take it with you during the day.
Trying to Make Too Big a Change at Once
There’s no rule that says you have to go from getting up at seven o’clock to waking at five all in one fell swoop. Easing into an early morning wakeup time may be the way to go. Try setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier each week until you reach your desired time to get up.
You may find, though, because your sleep cycles are roughly 90 minutes, changing your alarm by 15-minute increments can have you waking up in the middle of a cycle. Hitting that sweet spot before you progress to another cycle can take some trial and error. Divide your sleep into 90-minute chunks to estimate what is probably the best time for you to ultimately set your alarm, but know that your personal cycles may dictate that your ideal wakeup time falls on either side of that.
Having an Ineffective Alarm System
Nothing makes it easier to hit the snooze button than having your alarm only inches from your fingertips when it goes off. Say goodbye to your nightstand alarm clock, and don’t rely on a cell phone alarm that you keep by the side of your bed.
When you set your alarm, place the clock or device across the room or on the other side of your apartment. If you have to get out of bed to shut it off, you’ve already won half the battle.
You may be battling nature on several fronts by attempting to wake up early in today’s modern society. In the days before electricity, people went to bed shortly after sunset and arose with the dawn. Now, however, a 24/7 society keeps everyone up too late with light stimulus that can delay the release of melatonin, which stimulates sleep.
While that blue light from mobile devices may be the worst villain, light of all kinds is the enemy of natural sleep. You might think you’re a night owl when in fact you’ve artificially changed your inner circadian rhythm that should be in sync with the sun. To test how far off your innate sleep cycle you are, try going camping for a week free of tech devices, like what researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder did with participants in a scientific study on light, melatonin, and sleep. After just a week, the subjects in the study had already shifted their melatonin production and sleep time by two hours earlier.
To help maintain an ideal circadian rhythm, try to limit the amount of light stimulus you encounter at night. During the day, make sure to get some natural sunshine, which makes the body think you’re back in the good old days before artificial light.
If your alarm jolts you awake in the dark every morning and makes waking up a misery, it could be that your body is still waiting for the sun to come up. Think about trying a dawn simulator, which uses a timer to gradually increase light in your room and mimics a natural sunrise. A dawn simulator can provide a gentle entry to the new day if you need to get up so early that it’s still dark outside, which fights your circadian rhythms. It’s not so tough to rise with the sun in summer, but in winter, you may need to be out of bed for work before dawn is anywhere near the horizon.
Using the Wrong Motivation to Get Out of Bed
The key to reaping the benefits of waking up early is to find something rewarding in the behavior. If you don’t have something desirable motivating you, you’ll find it exponentially more difficult to get up. Don’t try to change your alarm time just because you think you should or to do something you dislike in your first waking hour, or you’ll be setting yourself up for failure.
Allow yourself to experiment with doing fun, normally sidelined activities, like journaling or reading the entire New York Times, and you can even do them in your jammies if that works for you. The point is to give your brain and your soul a reason to change a long-held pattern.
If that health club spinning class with all the women who look like they just walked off the set of America’s Next Top Model makes you want to crawl under the covers and never come out, consider changing your morning workout to a solitary hike or tai chi in the park. It’s okay if your early morning reward is career related too; your brain gets the same chemical reaction from your satisfaction with cleaning out your email inbox as it does when you savor your favorite breakfast or have a great run.
Start by making getting up earlier an experiment. Don’t tell yourself it’s forever; you’re just going to try it for a few weeks and see if your life improves as a result. Give yourself enough time to weather your breakup with your snooze button, just like any big relationship transition, and remember it takes time (at least a month) to build a habit. But, as Ovid so wisely said, “Habits change into character.”