How to become an early riser (from a previous night owl)

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Why Wake Up Early?

This is a really fair question. As long as you complete your tasks and meet your goals, why should it matter what time you wake up?

And if you’re not bound to any time agreement for starting your day and your work? What about people that have peak focus later in the evening?

If you are a night owl, and that’s working great for you, that’s great. From my personal observation, I would say the vast majority of the morning people I know are more optimistic and more energized. The night owls seem moodier, and a bit darker even. I even see this shift in myself. I personally want to be consistently in a better mood, and waking up early has definitely helped me.

For those that have “normal” jobs, imagine two different scenes. Two coworkers have to get into the office at 9. One snoozes their way to 8:30. Wakes up frantically. Barely manages to get dressed and get ready, all the while cursing their morning and their life, and rushes into a super crowded subway or meets standstill traffic on the highway. The other coworker wakes up at 6, reads a book while sipping on coffee and listening to music, gets ready to go to work, check their work calendar to get a glimpse of their day, and heads over to work on a calm subway or in a car with little traffic. The morning sets a vital tone for the day.

So, beat traffic, cheat and get a head start of the day.

My Early Sleeping Habits

I developed terrible sleeping habits in middle school. Before then, at my first couple of elementary schools (I went to four different ones), I would go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5 like clockwork. I fell in a deep sleep as soon as I laid my head down, and woke up as soon as the alarm went off with zero struggle. The middle school I went to in South Korea was a boarding school, and it was there that I had horrible nightmares, keeping me from getting good sleep, and so I compensated by sleeping during class and the “self-study” sessions and also got 18 hours of blissful “catch up” sleep every Saturday. Do you know how terrible it is to wake up early in the morning when you haven’t had enough sleep? While walking down the steps of the dormitory to stand in formation outside, I’d try to force my eyes open, and ignore the headaches and dizziness. The exam periods at the competitive “gifted school” I attended, of course, didn’t help my sleeping schedule at all. I could go on and on.

I carried bad sleeping habits into high school and my adult life. I slept for 30+ hours once. During my summer vacation in 10th grade, I slept 14 hours every day. I didn’t attend most of my classes in college because I was sleeping all the time. (It’s ok. I got a full-tuition scholarship, and I wasn’t supported financially). My roommate in London made a comment about never having seen anyone have so much trouble with getting up in the morning. So now you see how it’s a miracle that I’m now a morning person waking up at 6 every day.

How to Wake Up Early

Have something to look forward to every morning

When I wake up from my bed, I feed my dog, Aji, and then go immediately to the couch to curl up with a blanket and read. Sometimes I’ll put on a warm light in the living room, and sometimes I’ll put on music. When my boyfriend’s up early with me, he’ll make me coffee 🙂 Early morning, which I used to abhor is actually one of my favorite times of the day now. I don’t worry or think about anything at all during that time when I’m reading. What things do you really enjoy? Dancing? Running? Yoga? Meditation? Do it early in the morning when it’s nice and quiet and calm.

Also, think about whether you genuinely look forward to starting a new day. If you're not happy, whether it's because you hate your job or your significant other, you may want to stay in bed subconsciously to avoid your issues. If that's the case, waking up an hour early to work on those issues, whether it be taking an online class or seeking relationship advice may help you feel more optimistic in the morning, and more motivated to start your day.

I also set up morning reminders of my 5-year goals. Every morning, I try to reflect and think about how I’m a day closer to reaching my goals.

Procrastinate

I needed a drastic push to become a morning person; in my early transition stage, I would put off really important tasks to do until the next morning. For example, if I had a task due at noon the next day that would take about 5 hours to complete, I’d put it off, wake up at 5 the next day with adrenaline, and work away. Procrastinate important tasks at your own risk 😉

Think about waking up the night before

This tip is related to the one above. Have you ever woken up after sleeping through an alarm with panic? Maybe you realized you’re really late for work or had a flight to catch. How did you know immediately that you woke up late, and how were you wide awake immediately? Our body has a way of storing information. So, at night when you go to bed, tell yourself you’re going to wake up at whatever time the next day no matter what and visualize how the morning will unfold.

Take advantage of time zones

Go travel somewhere with a time zone slightly ahead of you. Eastern Standard Time is three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, which is perfect for me for taking advantage of East Coast trips. I can easily wake up before 9AM when I’m traveling, so when I come back home to California, I get a nice boost for waking up early. Going somewhere really far away? Well, you’re going to have jet lag anyway when you return. Might as well adjust to the ideal time you’d like to wake up.

Have an accountability partner

Find someone else that wants to wake up at the same time, and keep each other in check. For me, it helps a lot when my boyfriend makes me coffee. Also, I started feeding Aji at 6 AM when the alarm rings, so now whenever the alarm goes off, and I don’t get up, he’ll start making weird sounds by licking his legs right next to my ear or my boyfriend’s ear to get us up.

Try out an alarm app

I’ve personally never used an alarm app, but I’ve read great reviews from Alarmy, which forces you out of bed by making you solve puzzles or taking pictures of a designated place like your bathroom sink. They have both free and premium versions.

App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/alarmy-alarm-clock/id1163786766

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=droom.sleepIfUCan&hl=en_US

Go to bed early

If you want to wake up at 6 AM, but can’t fall asleep until 3 AM, you’re going to feel miserable when you try to wake up. During this transitional phase, wear yourself out by engaging in physically strenuous activities, such as hiking or swimming. Try sleep-inducing food like turkey, chamomile tea, or bananas in the evening. Finally, try staying up the first night for quick results. This is usually what I do when I travel somewhere really far away to adapt to the local time zone right away.

Set up the ideal environment for waking up early

Some people do better when they’re immediately forced into reality. They need to toss their blankets away and turn the lights on. I tried this, and it was miserable for me. I need a relaxing and comfortable environment, and it helped a lot when I lived in warm places with lots of sunshine like San Diego and Barcelona. If you live in a dark or cold place, try a light therapy lamp like this one (I’ve personally never tried one). One of my roommates in London from California swore by one of these. She said it boosted her mood in the morning and helped with her Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I would also recommend experimenting with aromatherapy. One product that I use to get an immediate boost is this aromatherapy mist with citrus and eucalyptus. The smell is so refreshing, and the bottle has lasted me over a year.

So there you have it. Remember, everyone is very different, and you definitely have to experiment with this for yourself. Also, stack up as many things strategies you can all at once, instead of experimenting one by one for quicker results.

I’ve overcome two decades of unhealthy sleep habits. You can too 🙂

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