How to Wake Up Early, According to Sleep Experts
“The body craves consistency,” explains Dr. Augelli. So if you want to establish a long-term habit of waking up in the early morning, you need to be relatively consistent with it seven days a week. It’s also really important to get adequate sleep every night, she adds.
5. Get light first thing in the morning.
Our bodies use light to tell time, so exposing ourselves to light at the same time each morning can help us adjust our circadian rhythms (aka our natural sleep cycles) to an earlier wake time, explains Dr. Augelli. Ideally you should be exposed to light for about 30 minutes within the first hour of waking up, and it’s best if this light is sunlight, which you can get by either going outside or sitting by a sun-lit window.
Depending on the weather and season, that’s not always possible, in which case you can use a broad-spectrum light box or a specially designed light alarm for similar effect. Simply turn on the light soon after you wake up and sit near it while you eat breakfast, work, or complete another part of your morning routine. “That can be really, really helpful,” says Dr. Kenneally. Just be sure to turn the light off after you’ve gotten the recommended half hour dosage. “You want to be really careful about using it later in the day because it can have the opposite effect,” Dr. Kenneally warns.
6. Exercise at the right time.
Working out can help you sleep well (and thus make it easier to wake up early), but you have to get the timing right. The ideal scenario is to exercise outside during the day when there’s sunlight, says Dr. Augelli. But if that’s not possible, just make sure to squeeze in a workout more than two hours before bedtime; otherwise, you could unwittingly push back your sleep time. “When we exercise, we get activated,” Dr. Augelli says. “And if you’re trying to go to bed at 10 p.m., and you’re exercising at 9 p.m., you’re not going to be able to fall asleep.”
7. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities before bed—like work, reading the news, or scrolling social media—can activate your brain, trigger stressful thoughts, and make it more difficult to fall asleep. “It’s very hard if you’re working on your computer to just close the computer and get into bed,” Dr. Kenneally says. “The brain can’t switch gears that quickly.”
Such activities can also negatively impact the quality of your sleep. “If you wake up in the middle of the night, the thoughts can start flowing again pretty smoothly,” Dr. Kenneally says. Initiating a relaxing bedtime routine about two hours before bed can help guard against that by sending cues to the brain that it’s time to wind down. What’s relaxing will vary person to person, but you can try things like reading, guided meditation, gentle yoga, or talking to a loved one.
8. Take low-dose melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces, and your melatonin levels typically peak several hours before your normal bedtime, explains Dr. Kenneally. So if you’re trying to establish a new habit of going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier, it can help to take a low dose of over-the-counter melatonin (about 3 grams) about an hour and a half before your desired bed time each night, suggests Dr. Kenneally. Doing so can help cue the body and the brain that it’s time to sleep.
9. Limit light at night.
Our electronic devices emit light that can interfere with our circadian rhythm and melatonin production, which in turn can impact our ability to fall asleep, says Dr. Augelli. That’s why she recommends avoiding screens in the hour or two before bed. If that’s not possible, wear blue light blocking glasses to help filter out the most harmful wavelengths, she says.
10. Don’t eat before bed.
Eating too close to bedtime can trigger acid reflux or silent acid reflux, which can disrupt your sleep (and thus make it more challenging to wake up early), says Dr. Augelli. Instead, plan your schedule so that you have dinner several hours before bedtime. “That’s going to put you on a better path so you have time to digest” before you hit the hay, she says.
11. Curb alcohol consumption.
You may think your nightly vino habit helps lull you off to sleep, but alcohol can actually have the opposite effect. Having one drink several hours before bed generally isn’t a big deal for most people, says Dr. Augelli, but sipping more than that can disrupt your sleep, particularly during the second half of the night. You may have more snoring, sleep disordered breathing, and silent acid reflux. Moreover, one night of excessive drinking can affect your sleep multiple nights in a row, says Dr. Augelli. So if you’re committed to waking up early, keep alcohol intake at a minimum—it’ll make a big difference come morning.
12. Monitor caffeine intake.
You’ve probably heard the advice to avoid caffeine in the hours before bedtime. A better rule of thumb is to focus on total daily consumption, says Dr. Augelli. Because caffeine can linger in your system for longer than eight hours, consuming too much of it at any time of day can fragment your sleep and prevent you from achieving a deep state of slumber, she explains.
How much is too much? Dr. Augelli recommends most people stay below 400 mg of caffeine per day, and folks who are sensitive to the stimulant or have difficulty sleeping should aim for much less (100 to 300 mg at most). Keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to order a venti triple shot.
13. See a sleep specialist.
If you’ve followed all the above advice, but are still struggling to wake up at your desired time, seek help from a sleep specialist. There may be other factors that are impairing your ability to stick with your ideal sleep routine, says Dr. Kenneally. A certified pro can help you get to the bottom of the issue—and on the right track to meet your sleep goals.