I have been on Team “Night Owl” for as long as I can remember.
Sure, I remember waking up as a kid to watch Mr. Wizard before taking the bus school, but as I grew older I shifted my daily routine further and further back. By high school, I was struggling to get out of bed to get to school on time, and all through through college an “early” bed time was 2 am.
Even in my adult life I struggled to get to bed before 1 am. During my nearly six years of writing articles for Nerd Fitness, I’d guess that 90% of my writing was done after 10 pm.
And I wanted to be a morning person, but I just couldn’t do it. I remember asking on Twitter:
“I can’t seem to get myself to focus during the day, and do my best work at night. How do I become a morning person?”
And the responses all came back saying the same thing: “You’re a night person, just learn to live with it.”
But as we explained in our comprehensive article on sleep, just two in ten of us are true “night owls.” The rest of us are morning people (larks) or somewhere in the middle (hummingbirds).
Little did I know that I fell where most people do – somewhere in the middle! I wasn’t a true night owl – just someone with bad habits! And I was missing out on all sorts of stuff as a result – namely quality sleep, sunlight, and a social life!
So, I stopped making excuses, and over the past six months, I’ve turned a corner.
Today, I’m going to talk about HOW I became a morning person and why you should consider it too.
If you’re somebody working weird hours, don’t worry, we got you covered there too.
Why Become a Morning Person?
You might already be thinking, “Steve, I’m a night person too, and I like it that way. Why mess with a good thing?”
However, you might also have realized: “Hmmm, I never seem to exercise after work, I wake up feeling like crap, and I drag myself through the first half of the work day before finally getting my act together around 2 PM.”
Why should you switch teams and give the morning a chance? I’m glad you asked:
1) Your willpower bar is fully charged in the AM. Remember our talk about willpower, and how it’s a finite resource? Like in any RPG game (sleeping in the Inn recharges your health meter), getting a good night’s sleep recharges your willpower. If you’re somebody that tends to get bogged down and busy at work and never has the energy to work out after work, use some of that willpower BEFORE work on getting to the gym and you’ll never miss it. Your willpower is most full in the morning.
Hat tip to my buddy James Clear for this one 🙂
2) Get your sh** done before anybody can bother you. I realized that the reason why I was so productive at night wasn’t because it was night… it was because there was nobody awake to distract me! Once I discovered that I could do the same thing early in the morning, my life changed.
If you’re somebody with children, or hectic roommates, you may find it difficult to get anything done AFTER work, try getting it done before.
3) Actively prepare for the day rather than stress the f*** out! Prepare your lunch. Sit down and eat breakfast (or don’t eat it at all). Go through your morning ritual. Get in the groove…instead of snoozing a million times and then running out the door with a bagel in your mouth.
4) Stop leaving things hanging over your head. When I worked only at night, there was always that looming feeling of “I have things that need to get done” hanging over me. It was stressful – it’s tough to relax when there are things that need doing.
HOWEVER, when you exercise in the morning, or get your work done early, you can close up that laptop at the end of the day and say “I’m done.” Now I truly enjoy my evenings.
There are two main components of becoming a morning person: getting to bed earlier, and then waking up earlier.
Let’s tackle them both.
How to get to bed earlier
When I decided to transition into a morning person, my first thoughts were “this is going to be tough.”
You see, we can lie, justify, and rationalize anything and everything to ourselves. It’s actually quite impressive. So, I started by accepting the fact that I can get to bed earlier, and wake up earlier.
Here’s how I did it:
1) Focus on small incremental changes. When most people decide to “get up earlier,” they go from waking up at 8:30 am to waking up at 6:00 am. They set a few alarms, go to bed at their usual hour (probably midnight or later), and then struggle for a week to get up at 6:00…or they snooze and have to start over.
Instead of going from 8:30 to 6:00, I went from 8:30 to 8:15 for a week. Then from 8:15 to 8:00 for a week. Then from 8:00 to 7:45, and so on.
By SLOWLY adjusting my sleeping schedule, my body didn’t freak out, and I could actually let it happen.
2) Go to bed earlier. I’ve covered this in our extensive guide on How to Not Suck at Sleeping, but I’ll lay out the basics here. For starters, the reason I was always up so late was because I was sitting at my computer staring at bright lights until 10 minutes before bed, or watching TV/playing videogames and then struggling to fall asleep.
So, I set myself up to win by upgrading my batcave:
- I installed Fl.ux on my computer. It automatically adjusts the brightness of your computer screen after the sun has set, so you’re not staring at glaring lights at night (which can mess up sleeping patterns).
- I used Self-Control to block specific time-wasting websites after a certain hour. I found that I was sitting at my computer doing NOTHING at the end of the day. So I blocked those sites (gmail, facebook, etc.), and suddenly I had no reason to still be at my computer.
- Commit to no video games or TV after 10:30 PM. Assassin’s Creed IV kept me up until 2 am for too many nights. Damn you, Edward Kenway. I also set alarms and committed to turning off my TV after 10:30 pm. That has since shifted to 10 pm, and now even earlier. Oh, and I know if I watch Cosmos before bed I’m going to lie awake questioning my existence…so instead, I read.
- Reading [fiction] in bed. This one was Steve-specific, but I realized I couldn’t read nonfiction (I get too excited and come up with ideas). Instead I read fiction that wound my brain down and puts me to sleep. For me, that was The Martian.
I realized my struggle was not with getting up, but rather going to bed earlier. Making a commitment to get to bed early is a crucial part of the process.
So, stop staring at bright screens! Put the phone down. Turn off the TV. Get off your computer. Read a freaking book 🙂
Now, let’s focus on the other half of the equation: getting up earlier!
How to wake up earlier
First and foremost, DON’T RELY ON YOURSELF. Remember how I said we’ll justify anything? You know those mornings where you wonder why you snoozed without even waking up? If you’re not used to waking up early, your body might refuse to do so. So we’re going to use our batcave to set us up to succeed.
1) Put your alarm clock across the room. Remember how we talked about building a better batcave to help you get to sleep earlier? You can do the same thing for getting up earlier. If you can reach your alarm clock while still lying in bed, the chance of you hitting snooze is approximately 1000000.33333% higher. That’s a fact. So, put your alarm clock across the room! Make it SUPER loud and annoying, so your only option is to just get out of bed and turn it off.
In college I had my alarm clock across the room and on my dresser. I fell asleep one night with both arms behind my head, and woke up to a blaring alarm at 7 am…with both of my arms dead asleep. As my roommate looked angrily at me, I had to swing my arms, Ace Ventura style, until I knocked it off the bureau and broke the damn thing.
2) Wake your ass up! The toughest part about waking up earlier than normal is that fogginess we all experience first thing, which can affect our productivity, mood, etc. So, the first thing I do is splash cold water on my face, and then go through a basic mobility warm-up and handstand practice exercise.
Another great option is to use this time to go for a brisk 5-10 minute walk. You know, like a Morning Mile. In fact, 5-10 minutes of walking every day will eventually get you to Mordor if you follow through!
3) Caffeine is your friend. Instead of using caffeine to stay awake later playing more video games, use it as part of your morning routine to wake up earlier. We’ve already covered caffeine extensively on the site, so I won’t dig in too deeply. The goal: enough caffeine to give you focus, but not too much that it becomes less effective with each increased day.
4) Use technology to your advantage: If you couldn’t tell already – I’m a big fan of using technology to remove willpower from the equation and actually force ourselves to do stuff. Now, we don’t need to shock ourselves to get out of bed (though if you want to, my buddy Maneesh can help)…but you can use technology to make your wake up easier:
- Use Twitter scheduler: Schedule an embarrassing tweet to go out the next morning, 10 minutes after you’re supposed to wake up. If you don’t get up and go to your computer in time, the tweet goes out. Hat tip to Thomas Frank.
- Try a sunrise alarm clock: Part of the reason we struggle with earlier mornings is the grogginess, and that can stem from being woken up while we’re in deep sleep. By using something like a sunrise alarm clock, we can gradually come out of deep sleep into light sleep, and then be woken up.
- Check out the Sleep Cycle App: Not only does it track your sleep, but it can also tell when you’re in deep sleep or light sleep, and will wake you up when your sleep pattern is least likely to make you groggy. It’s been fascinating for me to track those stats…when I can actually remember to set it up!
In all of these instances we are taking the decision making process out of your hands and putting it in the hands of technology or a third party. The fewer decisions you need to make, the less willpower you need to use, the more likely you’ll be to find success in becoming an early bird.
build a morning routine
The last piece of advice for you: build a morning routine around something you’re looking forward to doing. I used to love my
quiet nights spent yelling into my computer or at my TV playing games, but now I honestly look forward to my quiet mornings, waking up with the sun, and going through my full morning routine in a silent house.
Here’s a morning routine that works for me:
- Wake up with sunrise alarm clock, which wakes me up gradually.
- Put on water to boil for tea.
- Perform a basic mobility routine.
- Five minutes of handstands.
- Sit down at my computer, put on my epic trance playlist (thanks PM!)
- Spend 10 minutes checking ESPN, Yahoo, scanning for any important emails.
- Jump into writing mode, and block all big sites.
- Take over the world.
That’s my routine, but I’d love to hear yours. How do you crush your mornings? What’s your morning routine?
And if you’ve transitioned from night-owl to early bird, what was your favorite tactic?
If you’re trying and failing to transition, what’s your biggest hurdle?