Waking up can be one of the most difficult and dreadful parts of the day for many people. However, rising early is the key to success for some of the most successful people in business, sports, and art.
People like Tim Cook, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama have been known to rise at the crack of dawn.[*]
I’ve been an early riser for years. I have to contribute part of it to my genetic make-up because from what I’ve known, my parents and most of my family members are early risers too.
Waking up early allows me to get extra work done before the day even starts in a quiet space with a clear mind. Even during weekends, waking up early means I have more time for my morning routines like meditation, working out, and reading.
Not all early risers are successful, I get it. You don’t need to wake up early to accomplish great success, there are natural owls who achieve great success in life too. However, it’s undeniable that waking up early has many benefits. If you have no plan to wake up early, ignore and skip this article.
But if you’re someone who has been thinking about rising earlier but not sure how, this article is for you. Here, I’m going to lay out the step-by-step action you can take to start waking up early.
- Set a Goal. What Time Do You Want to Wake up?
- Give Yourself a Reason to Get Off Your Bed Early
- Start by Sleeping Earlier
- Optimize Your Sleep to Get Better Quality Rest
- Create a Before-Bed Routine
- Waking Up Early
- Create a Morning Routine
1. Set a Goal. What Time Do You Want to Wake up?
The first step to waking up early is to set a goal.
Ask yourself: “What time do I want to wake up?” Telling yourself to wake up early without a specific time is too vague. And if waking up is already challenging for you, the vague statement like that will likely not work.
Setting a goal also acts as a reality check. If you’re waking at 10 AM most days, trying to wake up at 5 AM is next to impossible if not outright impossible. Instead, start small and set a realistic number.
2. Give Yourself a Reason to Get Off Your Bed Early
After you have a goal set up, the next thing to do is not setting an alarm. Instead, the next step is to understand why you want to wake up early in the first place. I’ve shared a few benefits I got from waking up early, and you need to find out why you want to do that for yourself.
- To get some work done before your kids get up.
- To hit the gym before you head to work.
- To plan for the day before other people’s agenda creeps in.
Being clear with the reason makes it easier to get up early, or at least not to hit the snooze button and get back to sleep.
3. Start by Sleeping Earlier
Now, it’s time to get into action. But still, it’s not about setting an alarm and calls it a day. (Setting your alarm comes much later) The biggest reason why most people can’t wake up early is that they go to bed too late at night.
Be realistic instead of idealistic. If you want to get up early, you have to sleep early. Getting up early by losing your precious sleep is not a sustainable strategy. It is also likely to defy your objectives to wake up early because you’re unlikely to get off the bed feeling refresh.
4. Optimize Your Sleep to Get Better Quality Rest
Besides sleeping earlier, you need to get better sleep quality to make sure you can wake up and feel energetic. The first step is to make sure you get enough hours of sleep, which we talked about in the previous step. Make sure you clock in at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
The next immediate step you can take is to improve and optimize your sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Darkness encourages the production of the sleep hormone called Melatonin to knock you off. At the same time, keep your room temperature at around 16 degrees to 20 degrees Celsius (approximately 60 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
5. Create a Before-Bed Routine
A before-bed routine will come in handy to make sure you get to bed early and improve your sleep quality in many folds. Schedule 60 to 90 minutes before bed to wind down so you can smoothly get into the dreamland.
I usually start my before-bed routine by reviewing my day and scheduling my to-do for the next day. Then I spend somewhere from 20 minutes to 40 minutes reading before bed.
A few keys to note are:
- Reduce, or best, avoid the use of digital devices and blue light exposure before bed.
- Take a hard stop on thinking about your work and life.
- Avoid high-intensity workout that drives your body temperature up.
- Avoid coffee 6 hours before bed and food 2 hours before bed.
6. Waking Up Early
Now you’ve done prepping for your sleep; it’s time to go to bed and wake up early the next day. If you’re not used to getting up early, use alarm especially in the first one to two weeks.
It would be helpful if you have a sleep tracking alarm to wake you up during your light sleep phase. It’s easier to get up, and you will be feeling more refreshed to wake up during that sleep phase.
If you don’t use a sleep tracking alarm, the 90-minute rule from the book Night School by Richard Wiseman may come in handy.
A complete sleep cycle (consists of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM) usually takes somewhere plus or minus 90 minutes. Set your alarm by calculating blocks of 90 minutes from your sleep time. For example:
You sleep at 10 PM, with five blocks of 90 minutes (7.5 hours), you could set your alarm at 5:30 AM the next day. Or with six blocks of 90 minutes (9 hours), you could set your alarm at 7 AM the next day.
7. Create a Morning Routine
What are you going to do after you wake up early? I wouldn’t jump straight in front of my desk to start working. To get yourself into the peak mental state, develop a morning routine.
I use morning routine to:
- Practice my baseline habits
- Develop the mental clarity for the day
- And boost my energy level. You can read more about the purpose of morning routine here
8. Build the Routine into Weekends and Special Days
That is how you wake up early. However, the goal is not to wake up early for a single day. Instead, waking up early consistently is where the powerful impact lies.
It’s easy to keep waking up early when you get to keep a perfect routine and schedule. But eventually, life happens, and it usually throws your perfect routine out of the window. Here are the tricks to make sure it sticks:
- You may have different plans for the weekends but keeping your sleep schedule consistent could make it so much easier for the long-run. If you need to sleep later on weekends, try to limit the sleep time differences in only one to two hours.
- Get ready and pre-plan your schedule if you know there are special events like traveling or conference.
- This may sound extreme but you’re serious with waking up early and in it for life; plan your work and personal life around your sleep. In other words, protect your sleep first.
Wake Up Early by Mastering Your Sleep
Before I wrap it up, here is a truth I want you to know: You don’t need to wake up early to be productive. Like mentioned above, it’s true that waking up early has many benefits that come to it but it’s not about waking up early that make successful people successful.
Instead, it’s about the awareness and clarity they have with how they spend their time and energy. If you’ve noticed, all the steps above are closely related to one thing: sleep. Ultimately, it’s about how you protect your sleep and manage your energy to get the best out of your waking hours.
Lastly, if you’re dead serious with waking up early, just remember that changing your behavior is a long process. Instead of trying to hit your goal (to wake up early) as soon as possible, track and measure the progress and focus on taking small steps at a sustainable pace.