Mastering how to wake up early can not only boost your energy levels so you're ready to take on the day, but it can also improve your quality of sleep at night. An extra five minutes in bed can seem like a great idea in the moment, but it's time to ditch the snooze button and become a morning person once and for all.
There are lots of reasons you might struggle to get out of bed in the morning, from bad sleep hygiene to lifestyle changes and even your genes.
“We’re all programmed to some degree to either be a morning lark who wakes up early but struggles to stay up late, or a night owl who stays up late but can’t get up,” says Sammy Margo, chartered physiotherapist and sleep expert.
Another possible reason for your slow mornings is your circadian rhythm. This is the ‘clock’ that controls your sleep-wake cycle and can be affected by a range of health and lifestyle factors, according to Margo.
While there isn't much you can do to change your genes so you're suddenly leaping out of bed at 6am every morning, there are lifestyle changes you can put in place. Knowing how to fall asleep will make sure you're successfully completing your sleep cycle every night, which will make it much easier to wake up early.
How to wake up early—our experts' top tips
1. Work out your ideal bedtime
If you feel tired and groggy when your alarm wakes you up, it’s probably because it has disturbed your sleep cycles.
“Sleep inertia occurs when you wake suddenly during slow-wave sleep (deep sleep),” explains Lisa Artis from the Sleep Council. “The brainstem arousal system is the part of the brain responsible for basic physical functioning. Though it’s activated immediately upon waking, our prefrontal cortex (PFC), which oversees decision-making and self-control, takes a while to get going. It can be up to 30 minutes for our PFC to catch up with the rest of our body.”
To ensure you allow your body enough time to rest while still waking up at your desired time and avoiding oversleeping, you need to make sure you are completing the five-step sleep cycle.
How to figure out your ideal bedtime:
- 90 minutes (the length of each sleep cycle) x five (the number of sleep cycles per night) = 450 minutes (7.5 hours per night)
- Allow yourself 15 minutes to drift off
- If you need to wake up at 7am, count back 7.5 hours and 15 minutes
- Therefore your ideal bedtime is 11:15pm
2. Meditate in bed
Adding "Beditation"—meditating in bed— to your morning routine can be a great way to introduce a moment of mindfulness into your morning and prepare you for the rest of the day.
"It requires little effort and can be done within moments of waking," says creator Laurence Shorter.
Try "beditation" for yourself:
- When you wake up, lie there and do nothing. Listen to the voice in your head that says you need to be doing something—whether that’s making the children’s lunches or planning for your meeting—but don’t react to any of it. Be mindful of your body lying on the bed.
- Once you feel relaxed, ask yourself the question, "What are my priorities for the day?" The secret is not to try too hard. Hopefully, by relaxing, you’ll give your brain space to think and you’ll come up with creative solutions that help you feel composed and prepared for the day ahead.
If you find it hard to fall asleep at night, introduce meditation into your bedtime routine, too. You can do this through sleep-guided meditation or use sleep apps with breathing meditation features. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system you'll kickstart the rest and digest response, relaxing the body and mind making it much easier to nod off.
3. Get outside first thing
As soon as you wake up in the morning, get up and get outside to avoid any temptation to crawl back into bed for a few more minutes.
Whether that's going for a walk, having your morning coffee by the window, or doing some light yoga for beginners in the garden, getting daylight as soon as you wake up helps to reset your body clock.
“This is critical to learning how to wake up early,” says Margo. “It tells your body you need to be asleep again in 16-18 hours’ time as it resets your circadian rhythm. Getting out in the fresh air for some exercise is ideal, but even sitting by a window or having breakfast in the garden is better than nothing.”
4. Invest in your bedroom
Investing in your sleeping environment is often overlooked. But, ensuring you have a calm, clean, and tidy space is the key to falling asleep and waking up feeling refreshed.
The optimum bedroom temperature during the night is between 16-18C. “If your room is too hot or cold, your body won’t release the melatonin needed for sleep,” explains Margo. “It also needs to be clean and not damp. A dehumidifier is a good option, otherwise, open your bedroom windows during the day to air out your room.”
Having a good mattress is key to a comfortable night's sleep, but ensuring you know how to clean a mattress is essential for your health. After eight years of wear and tear, the quality of your mattress deteriorates by around 75% and, therefore, needs to be replaced to provide the support your body needs at night. You should also make sure you clean it regularly to avoid a build-up of dust mites, dirt, or mold.
You'll also benefit from investing in the best pillows for the position you sleep in, especially if you often have neck or back pain.
Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible by investing in soft furnishings or carpets to muffle sounds, Sammy suggests. If you live in a particularly noisy area, try earplugs.
5. Step away from the snooze button
Pressing the snooze button won’t give you any extra quality sleep. Your sleep cycle has been disturbed and once you wake up, you won’t fall back into the cycle. You'll only wake up feeling more groggy and less alert.
“When you press the snooze button, your brain knows it’ll go off again, so you won’t get any of the deep, resting slumber in between snoozes,” explains Artis.
Artis advises setting your alarm for the exact time you need to get up or putting it across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. You’ll wake yourself up along the way and not feel the need to get back into bed.
6. Try a sunrise clock
Our circadian rhythm is tied to sunlight cues. Our eyes detect light and dark cycles in our environment and adjust our body clocks accordingly. When it’s dark our bodies release the sleep hormone melatonin and when it’s light, production switches to neurotransmitters, like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, that make us feel wide awake and happy.
That’s why getting out of bed in winter when it’s still dark is a struggle. But there’s something that could help. "A lightbox can [simulate] that burst of morning sunlight," says sleep expert James Wilson, aka The Sleep Geek, telling our bodies it’s time to get up and go.
A sunrise alarm clock gradually gets brighter over a period of time before your alarm goes off. "Light exposure between 8am to 11am for 20-30 minutes a day helps set the body clock,’ says Wilson. However, don’t look directly at the lightbox as this can cause eye strain.
7. Eat more foods that help you snooze
We all know to avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bed, but do you know about the foods that could improve your quality of sleep, have you snoozing peacefully, and waking up ready to take on the day?
Three of the best foods for promoting sleep:
- Bananas—They are great before bed. They’re high in magnesium, as well as sleep-promoting hormones serotonin and melatonin.
- Turkey—It contains tryptophan which encourages sleep, the glucose in honey tells your brain to shut off orexin, the hormone that triggers alertness.
- Almonds—They also contain tryptophan and magnesium, which both help reduce muscle and nerve function and steady your heart rhythm.
It's not just about what you eat, but also how you eat. Mindful eating requires you to have your full attention on the experience of eating, being conscious and aware of every bite. Not only can it help you master how to eat less and have better portion control, but it's also a refreshing way to start your day and finish your evening in a mindful way.
How to practice mindful eating:
- Take time to smell, taste and chew—this can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This releases hormones that relax your mind and body, reducing stress and anxiety.
- Ditch the devices—make meals device-free and focus on every bite.
- Avoid overloading—keep every bite and spoonful small
8. Have a caffeine cut-off
Caffeine late at night is a big no-no and can cause havoc with your sleep, promoting an endless cycle of turning to caffeinated drinks to keep you going throughout the day until bedtime.
“It doesn’t affect everyone, but for most people, it’s a good idea to cut out caffeine from lunchtime onwards to improve the quality of your sleep that night,” says Margo.
Swap an evening cup of coffee for one of the best sleep teas, such as chamomile or lavender, or a warm glass of milk instead.
9. Ditch electronics before bed
The blue light emitted from our devices affects our ability to sleep by blocking the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. Ditch the electronics at least an hour before bed.
“I know it’s hard, but the blue light from devices suppresses the body’s ability to produce the sleep hormone melatonin, which means you’re unlikely to sleep well," explains Margo. "We’re all spending so much more time online than usual that the effect has been exacerbated."
By putting down your phone and picking up a book instead, you’ll give your body and mind time to relax and get ready for sleep. You could also try some bedtime yoga, meditation or have a warm bath to get you in the sleep zone.
10. Focus on the positives
"Practising gratitude is about training the brain to focus on the positive things in your life and shift away from dwelling on negative emotions and experiences," says Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. Writing a daily gratitude list can help boost happiness and reduce depression, found a study by Greater Good at UC Berkeley, and doing this first thing will put you in a good mood for the day ahead.
At the same time every morning, write a list of three things you’re grateful for. ‘Ask yourself, ‘What is there to be grateful for right now?’’ says Dr Touroni. Start with what’s around you, such as your bed, but be specific. Don’t just say "I’m grateful for my bed", explain why. This will focus your mind on the positives and help you become more aware of them throughout the day.
11. Strike a pose
While bedtime stretching can help you relax and unwind before bed, making yoga one of your morning rituals can help you wake up early. Not only does it trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you feel calm and positive, but it also boosts circulation. This helps oxygen get to your brain, making you feel alert and energized.
"The tiger pose helps alleviate tension and release endorphins," says yoga teacher, Sarah Highfield, and it gets the blood flowing first thing in the morning, too.
Try the tiger pose:
- Start on your hands and knees—keep your knees hip-width apart and hands shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale and lift—lifting your right leg and left arm off the floor. Reach back and hold onto your foot or ankle.
- Press the floor away—keep your core engaged. Lengthen your spine and push your foot into your hand.
- Hold—stay here for five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
12. Practice journaling
Journaling is a great way to organize your thoughts, identify emotions, improve mindfulness and communication skills, and even make sense of trauma. "It enables you to get any worries or concerns down on paper," says Dr Touroni. "Journaling first thing can help us start the day clear-headed," she adds, so we feel refreshed and perform better.
Dr Touroni recommends journaling at the same time each day, so you stick with it. "Choose a quiet space—somewhere you won’t be disturbed—and make it cozy and welcoming, so you look forward to it," she says. Don’t worry about being clever, funny, or even writing in proper sentences. Treat it like a big brain dump, where you’re emptying your mind each morning.
Woman&home thanks chartered physiotherapist and sleep expert Sammy Margo, Beditation creator, business coach and author Laurence Shorter, nutritional therapist Charlotte Watts, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic Dr. Elena Touroni and leading yoga teacher Sarah Highfield.
Clare Swatman is a journalist, author and copywriter who has written for a number of women's lifestyle titles, including Bella, Best, Woman's Own and Real People.
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