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10 tricks to make yourself wake up earlier

Picture of 10 tricks to make yourself wake up earlier

9 min read//

Let’s face it, the corporate world is friendlier to early birds than to night owls. For night people, getting to that 8:30 a.m. meeting can be a horror. Especially if you have been up late working the night before, traveling between time zones, or just aren’t at your best before 10 a.m.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You want to become an early riser. Yet no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to stop hitting snooze.

You don’t have to let those early mornings slip through your hands forever. Here’s how to finally wake up earlier:


Setting your alarm earlier doesn’t always mean you’ll rise earlier. If you find yourself constantly hitting “snooze” until your regular wake-up time, your body probably needs time to adjust. Waking up at 5 a.m. certainly gives you a lot of extra quiet hours to get things done, but if your normal wake-up time is 8:30 a.m., you won’t succeed at waking up at 5 a.m. right away—or even at 7:45 a.m.

Turns out that simply adjusting your alarm clock isn’t the best way to make a long-term change. Instead, understand that your brain is always looking for patterns, says Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success.

“Your body clock, or circadian rhythm, governs how your body is in sync with all of life, and when you make a shift in that, there will be residual fallout,” he says. “By waking up 45 minutes earlier, you proactively created at-home jet lag. If you keep pressing it for several days, your body will eventually sort itself out, but there is a more graceful way to do it.”

Instead, you should gradually shift your wake up time. “Move your wake time up by 15 minutes and go through that for a couple of days to a week,” says Stevenson. “This is especially important if you want to establish a consistent sleep pattern.”


This might feel like a no-brainer, but don’t overlook it. If you start trying to wake up earlier without adjusting the time you go to sleep, you may run into problems. That’s because “we get our deep restorative sleep in the early-morning waking hours when REM sleep occurs,” says Damon Raskin, MD, a sleep expert affiliated with Concierge Choice Physicians in Pacific Palisades, California. “If you shorten that, you are going to feel unrefreshed, and you’re not going to have enough sleep.”

Instead, you need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep when your new wake up time is taken into account. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but nowadays there are tools built into smartwatches, fitness trackers, and phones that can help you figure out your sweet spot. 

Once you know how much sleep you need, subtract it from your wake up time, and go from there.


You can’t just go from awake to asleep in an instant, so to go to sleep earlier, you’ll also need to get ready for bed earlier. Set an alarm if you need to—one that tells you it’s time to start winding down. 

Withdraw from electronics at least an hour before bed, which affect the quality of your sleep. “When it comes to our health, most of us know that calories aren’t equal; 300 calories of broccoli aren’t the same for your body as 300 calories of Twinkies,” Stevenson says. “Sleep is similar, and unfortunately many today are getting Twinkie sleep, not cycling through proper brain activity because electronic devices suppress melatonin (the hormone that controls sleep cycles).”

Every hour you are exposed to blue light from a device, you suppress melatonin production for 30 minutes, says Stevenson. “You may be getting eight hours of sleep, but you will still wake up feeling exhausted,” he says.

Instead, set aside this last part of the day for non-screen activities: hygiene or skin routines, planning your outfit for the next day, drinking a cup of tea—whatever helps you relax. 


You’re far more likely to stick with a habit if you engineer your environment. For example, you’re more likely to exercise if your gym clothes are set out.

Here is how you can engineer your environment to wake up early:

  • Place your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
  • Set your coffee on a timer so it’s ready when you wake up.
  • Put out a warm robe before bed so you can easily access it when you get up.


If you’ve tried to wake up earlier before and failed, or if this attempt isn’t going well, take a step back and evaluate. What actions are you taking that cause you to fail? Analyze exactly what you’ve already tried to wake up earlier and what your blockers have been. 

  • What steps have you taken?
  • Why did they fail?
  • What could have been done differently?

If I’ve previously tried setting my alarm but didn’t get out of bed because the house was cold, I could have anticipated that issue and set out a robe and slippers the night before. If I end up getting up and falling back asleep on the couch, maybe I need to schedule something that gets me moving fast.

Morning exercise will also help by regulating your cortisol levels, the hormone that gets you going in the morning, says Stevenson. “Normal cortisol rhythms spike in the morning and then gradually bottom out in the evening,” he says. “If you are changing your wake time, five minutes of exercise can help reset your rhythm. Do body-weight squats or walk around the block.”


 “If you don’t have a reason to get up, and your body wants to rest, forget about it,” Stevenson says. “You need something that will fill that space that is compelling.”

What’s your vision for your extra time when you master the habit of waking up earlier? Have you considered the impact of that vision on whether you follow through? Change sticks when it’s associated with something pleasant. Plan to do something you love during your early mornings. 

If your morning vision is to run when you wake up, but you don’t like running, you associate early rising with something unpleasant—regardless of the benefits of morning exercise. When your early-morning plan includes something you’re excited about, that snooze button stops seeing so much action.

Think about it: if your goal doesn’t sound exciting, you’ll always see waking up early as a punishment, which won’t motivate you to jump out of bed when your alarm goes off.


Consider the bigger picture behind why you want to wake up early as well. Maybe it’s that your boss took a chance on you with a promotion, and you never want to be late to work again, or maybe it’s that your snooze button habit is driving whoever you share a bed with crazy, and you’d like this person to continue sharing your bed. In any case, figure out a good reason and you’ll be more motivated to do things differently.

If you want to change your life, or at least your morning routine, you need to know your purpose for doing so. “Some people define purpose as the reason you get out of bed in the morning,” says Christine Whelan, author of the new book, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life. This is particularly relevant for snoozing. “Your ‘why’—your reason to get up—has to be more powerful than the ‘but’ of hitting your snooze button.”


Jerry Seinfeld had one simple accountability trick up his sleeve: tracking his progress on a calendar. He wanted to write jokes every day, and when he did, he’d mark an “X” on a calendar with the marker, creating a chain after a few days of consistency. The chain motivated Seinfeld to stick with writing.

Just think of how motivating a calendar hanging within eyeshot of your bed would be, the days begging to be crossed off with a big red marker.


Just because you’re waking up earlier, doesn’t mean you need to immediately start “grinding.” Chris Hyams, the senior vice-president of products and engineering at the jobs site said he became a morning person out of a desperate desire for an hour of distraction-free quiet time, not to get a lightning start to the day’s work.

“Through the majority of my career, I was raising a family. Driving carpool, making lunches, taking out the garbage,” he say. “When I wake up before my family in the morning, I’m not out to be productive. I don’t check emails or answer calls. In fact, I don’t do any work until I get into the office.” Hyams credits this routine for helping him arrive to work in a focused mood without having actually worked all morning. 


The stories are legend–Jack Dorsey of Square reportedly gets up at 5 a.m. to meditate before work. Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo says she wakes up at 4 a.m. and begins her workday. Disney CEO Bob Iger says that he doesn’t just wake up at 4:30 a.m. each day, he’s already read the news, worked out, answered emails, and caught up on work before most of us have blindly reached out to smack the snooze button.

But in truth? The manic early bird myth is just that: a myth.

“People buy into this idea that they need to be at their desks at the crack of dawn because they hear that’s what you need to do to make it,” said Linda Rottenberg, author of Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags. “It’s totally unrealistic, especially if you’re starting your own company and working around the clock. Frankly, it’s a recipe for burnout.”

If you’re someone who works better later in the day, consider if that’s actually an issue. If you’re in a position to set your own work hours or control your schedule to an extent, you might be able to adapt to your body’s natural patterns, rather than vice-versa.

Companies, especially ones in the tech sector, where the hours are long and the nights longer, may be able to accommodate scheduling for people that really just can’t bring the inspiration at 9 a.m. In fact, many managers would rather see you stroll in at 10:30 a.m. looking refreshed and ready to go than clinging miserably to your venti Starbucks cup.

Hyams, who works with engineers, is sensitive to the fact that many of the people he works with tend to do their best work late at night. “It’s about output,” he says. “I have no issue with allowing people flexibility with schedules. What works for a person with a family may not work for a person who’s single and works better into the late hours.”

Being the proverbial “early bird” has its advantages, says Shanon Makekau, medical director of the Kaiser Permanente Sleep Lab in Hawaii. “Morning people have been shown to be more proactive, which is linked to better job performance, career success, and higher wages, as well as more goal-oriented,” she says. “These people tend to be more in sync with the typical workday schedule, versus night owls who may be still be waking up at around lunchtime.”

However, “The jury is still out regarding whether or not simply shifting one’s wake time earlier is enough to garner all of the positive benefits of the early bird,” says Makekau. “It may be that one’s internal tendency toward productivity is inherent or, more importantly, is tied to the congruency between the internal sleep/wake clock and one’s external schedule. Night owls could be just as productive as long as they are allowed to work on a delayed schedule.”

This article appeared in fastcompany (

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