Waking up early. It seems like it’s the holy grail of productivity advice. Just get up at 5 AM, do a morning routine, and success is guaranteed.
The reality is a bit more complicated, of course. Aside from the fact that waking early doesn’t guarantee success (see the next section), it can also be extremely difficult.
You know you’d like to wake up earlier. But when the alarm goes off you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Determined to make that feeling go away, you punch “Snooze” and roll over.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. It is possible to wake up early and get an energetic start to your day. Below, we explore three techniques to get rid of that early morning grogginess, as well as an underrated (but powerful) tip for waking up motivated.
But first, a few thoughts on the relationship between early rising and productivity.
Before we get into the details of how to wake up early, let’s clear up one thing: early rising does not automatically equal productivity
Some people do find that they’re more productive when they get up early. If that describes you, then great! This article will help you wake up at your desired time.
But if you’re just interested in waking up early because that’s what you’re “supposed to do,” or because you saw a YouTube video telling you it’s the only way to be productive, you should reconsider.
Different people naturally have different times when they feel most alert and productive. For some people, that time is the early morning. But for others, it might come later in the day or even late at night.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Specific work and family obligations aside, there isn’t one time that’s “best” to wake up. Great creative minds throughout history have all kept different schedules, and these schedules bear little relation to their overall creative output.
As evidence, check out this infographic from Brain Pickings showing the wake-up times of renowned writers throughout history. Some of them did/do wake up well before sunrise. But plenty also woke up later in the morning, and it didn’t hurt their creative output.
So don’t feel like you must wake up early to be successful. If you’re most productive at night and have the flexibility to maintain such a schedule, go for it!
But if you do find that you’re more productive in the morning and you’re struggling with early waking, then read on for some tips to make it easier.
So you want to get up early (whatever “early” means for you). How do you do it?
First, we’ll assume that you’re going to bed at a decent time and getting enough sleep. If you haven’t mastered these parts of the equation, then you’re going to struggle to get up early no matter what you do in the morning.
But if your nighttime and sleep routines are solid, and you’re still struggling with an intense groggy feeling in the morning, then here are three things that can help:
Through personal experimentation and research, we’ve found that these three ingredients are key to overcoming the intense tiredness you may feel when you wake up. Let’s take a closer look at how each helps you feel awake.
If you stay in bed after your alarm goes off, you’re almost certainly going to fall back asleep. Even the most strong-willed of us struggle to resist the warmth and comfort of the covers.
That’s why our first piece of advice for waking up early is to get out of your bed and start moving. Often, we’ve found that simply getting out of bed and then moving to a different room is enough to banish all thoughts of going back to sleep. But if you want to go for a run or do some more strenuous movement, more power to you!
For added effectiveness, I recommend that your first piece of movement be to make your bed. This way, you’ll be much less tempted to go back to sleep. It sounds silly, but a made bed sends a powerful message that now is the time to be awake.
Once you’re up and moving, though, you’re not done yet. To really stay awake, you should also add a crucial beverage (hint: it’s not coffee).
While we haven’t been able to find much scientific research to back it up, we’ve found through experience that drinking a glass of water first-thing helps us feel far more awake.
It probably doesn’t hurt that several of our team members live in Denver, CO, where the dry climate and high elevation require a higher level of hydration than at sea level. But even if you live at a lower elevation, I recommend adding a glass of water to your morning routine.
But while water is important, you should also make sure you don’t forget the final (and probably most crucial) part of feeling awake in the morning: sunlight.
In a sense, sunlight is the original alarm clock, a natural way for our bodies to know it’s time to be awake.
When sunlight hits the photoreceptors in your eyes, it sends a signal to the brain that says, “Hey, it’s time to wake up!” Therefore, getting sunlight exposure first thing in the morning is one of the best things you can do to feel alert and energized.
It gets even better, though. Not only does sunlight exposure help you feel more awake in the moment, but it can also help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms. These natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness are what make you feel tired in the evening and awake in the morning. When your circadian rhythms are in tune, you’ll be able to fall asleep faster and sleep better.
While I’ve discussed them separately so far, you don’t have to do each of these activities in isolation. Ideally, I recommend finding a way to combine movement, water, and sunlight into one activity.
My favorite way is to take a walk around the neighborhood with my water bottle in hand. Not only is this a great way to help me wake up, but it also gives me time to collect my thoughts before I begin the day’s work.
In the introduction, I mentioned that most of us find it easy to wake up early when we have to. I used to wake up at 6 AM to get to high school on time, and I never have trouble getting up early for a flight. When the consequences for not doing so are severe enough, you can wake up at pretty much any hour.
But what do you do if your main reason for getting up early is to carve out some time for a morning routine? In this case, there isn’t a particular obligation that “forces” you to wake up early. Adding such an obligation would diminish the effectiveness of your morning solitude.
To resolve this issue, we like this advice from Tiago Forte:
“You can’t compete with someone who is having fun”
That is, the best early rising hack is to be excited to get up. Have something so fun to do each morning that it makes you leap out of bed (or, at least, resist the temptation to go back to sleep).
Most of us aren’t used to thinking about early rising this way, so it can take some thought and experimentation to find an activity that excites you to get up.
Here are some fun things that have motivated me to wake up early in the past:
- Making (and drinking) really good coffee
- Walking to the climbing gym
- Reading a really interesting non-fiction book
- Taking a long (1 hour+) walk around the neighborhood
- Going to the coffee shop to grab a drink and chat with friends
And those are just some of the things that excite me. Do whatever excites you to get up (within reason, of course).
Waking up early is tough, especially if it isn’t your body’s natural tendency. But with the tips in this article, early rising should now be easier.
If you’re looking for more detailed advice to make early rising (or any other habit) easier, then you should check out our Habit Building Essentials course.
Learn more below:
Building habits isn’t just about discipline; there are real-world steps you can take to set yourself up for success! In this course, you'll learn how to set realistic goals, handle failure without giving up, and get going on the habits you want in your life.
Image Credits: waking up