You’ve probably heard it so many times: “the early bird catches the worm” and it seems to work for humans too. Some of the most productive and successful people I know are early risers. In fact, I have two close friends who consistently wake up at 4 am every day and I am always envious by how much they get done way before they ever arrive at work.
Unfortunately, waking up early really sucks for people who are natural night owls, like me. I used to spend hours working into the wee hours of the morning but began to notice that I wasn’t being very efficient and that the work I did produce was consistently turning out to be of sub-par quality.
So as painful as it was, I decided to try and shift my hours around and become an early-rise instead. Of course I went about it all wrong by making too drastic of a change and ended up suffering through a few weeks of being a caffeine-fuelled zombie before the suffering eased a bit.
Once I got through the initial fog, I started to experience some of the most productive days that I’ve ever had. Blog posts got written, newsletters went out, and client plans were created and I even managed to sneak in a workout as well. I also fell in love with the peace and stillness that exists for those few hours before the world around you (aka kids) starts to wake up.
However, had I known then what I know now, there are several things that I would have done differently and because I’m a nice person, I am going to share with you what those things are. The most important thing is to ease into this change gradually! A few friends I talked to did it the right way and they experience almost no negative side effects and had minimal disruptions to their schedules. So start small, and set up some of the supporting habits listed below ahead of time, and you will smoothly transition from night owl to early bird in no time.
First, if you want to wake up earlier you need to go to bed earlier too. Seems pretty obvious, but the trick is to actually implement this. For me, this meant setting a bed-time alarm, so I would be reminded to start winding down for the night at 9:30 pm. The key here is to take gradual steps, as mentioned above, and shift your bedtime just15 minutes earlier every few days. If you follow this routine by the end of the week, you will be waking up an hour earlier than normal.
To help you fall asleep at night, try to include 30 minutes of exercise or gentle stretching upon waking. Studies show that exercising in the morning leads to better sleep patterns at night. Exercise not only promotes good health and energy in the morning, but it can help make you feel tired enough at the end of a day so that sleep comes more easily, which is important if your brain is wired for night-time activity. Personally, I love starting my day by taking my dog for a brisk walk or easy run in the fresh air and sunshine, which leads to my next point.
Remember that at heart we are all animals and our internal clocks are naturally inclined to wake us up when it is light outside, and to get tired and sleepy when it gets dark. Use this biological fact to your advantage. As you start to wind down for bed keep it as dark as possible (this means no cell phones in the bedroom) and as soon as you get out of bed, open your curtains right away to let the natural light in. Keep in mind that electronics can disrupt these natural rhythms so it’s best to turn them off at least an hour before bed, but you can also use them to stimulate you to wake up faster (blue light is really good at that).
Another one of my favourite ways to get going in the morning is to drink a large glass of lemon water right away. As we sleep, our bodies are naturally fasting, and eight hours without food or water can leave us feeling sluggish and dehydrated. Drinking water can jump start your energy, boost your metabolism, activate your digestion and assist with proper elimination (hey, everyone feels better after they’ve gone to the bathroom), so head to the kitchen and fill up your glass!
I also like to play some fast-paced, upbeat music. I find that it releases feel-good chemicals and creates positive emotions that make me associate waking up early with being happy (hey, I will use any help I can get). Playing music also gets me moving around faster which increases my metabolism and body heat, thus making me slightly less fearful of stepping outside into the cold Canadian winter.
The final thing that helps me wake up and prepare for the day is gratitude. It may sound silly, but I am always thankful to have woken up to a new day, especially when I am lucky enough to catch a beautiful sunrise during my morning walk. Each morning as I get ready, I try to identify three things that I am grateful for in my life. That way, my day always starts off with a positive focus.
So you might be wondering how these tips worked for me? Well, I am happy to report that I now wake up at 6 am, which isn’t as early as I would like, but it does give me enough time to check one or two items off my to-do list, walk the dog, and sneak in a short bout of cardio as well. I am so happy to have discovered this secret slice of solitude each morning. It has left me feeling more energetic, more creative, and more productive in my life. I highly recommend that you try it too!