How To Wake Up Early: 11 Simple Strategies for Night Owls


Would you like to wake up early?

For years, I was a night owl. I wrote in the evening or late at night. I enjoyed the idea of writing into the wee small hours with only Frank Sinatra, the moon, and the blank page for company.

But, a job and the demands of family life make it difficult to write late at night. For me, it wasn’t practical to write past midnight and then get up the next day, go to work, and function with a family.

I was far from an early riser. Then, I read about the routines of many creatives I admire and found many of them like waking up early, including the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard American author Ernest Hemingway.

If you want to become more creative, science is on the side of learning how to wake up early too. The American philosopher and psychologist William James said:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and to guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague.

Are you ready to wake up early and become a morning person? Let’s dive in.

1. Write down your ideal morning routine

Thinking through an ideal morning on paper will help you visualize your day and increase your chances of avoiding procrastination first thing

Here’s mine: meditate for twenty minutes, make coffee, write for one hour, record ten ideas, and then make breakfast and get the kids up for school.

Although your ideal morning routine may not look like this, it’s useful to consider what you want to accomplish after waking.

2. Prepare to Rise Early the night before

If you want to transform yourself from a night owl to an early bird, your nighttime routine is almost as important as your morning routine. Consider what you want to accomplish the next day, and gather all your tools, equipment, notes, or gym gear.

Each night, I prepare for the following day:

  • Tidying up where I write
  • Reading what I worked on last.
  • Writing a short note to myself saying what I’m going to write tomorrow.

Twyla Tharp

American choreographer and author Twyla Tharp recommends this strategy in her excellent book, The Creative Habit.

No, I don’t succeed at this every night, but this routine helps me sleep.

Writing down what you will write the next day primes your subconsciousness to work on the idea even when you’re asleep.

If you need some inspiration for your morning routine, check out the blog My Morning Routine.

3. Set an alarm clock for going to bed

You set an alarm clock for getting up, so why not one for going to bed?

I set an alarm clock for 21.30.

Once this alarm clock goes off, I stop checking emails, using my computer, drinking caffeine, and doing anything else that will keep me up late. The clock app on Apple iPhone includes a setting that will give an ideal bedtime based on waking up early.

4. Pick A target time for waking up early

Pick an ideal time to wake up based on work and family commitments. For example, if you work a nine to five job, rising at five am or six could work. However, if you work shift work, you may need to adapt to this rising time.

My ideal rising time is half five. If I rise any earlier, I’m too exhausted to function during the day. If I rise any later than six AM, I’m either running behind, or I don’t have enough time to write before the working day begins.

My target rising time gives me a half an hour window between half five and six am for allowances. 

5. Ease Into An Early Morning Routine

If you set your alarm clock for four AM tomorrow morning, you may get up, but you’ll be exhausted and unlikely to repeat this heroic feat of endurance the following day.

Instead, set your alarm clock for half an hour earlier than your normal time.

On the following day, set your alarm for 45 minutes earlier than your normal rising time.

And so on.

Like pennies gradually filling a jar, these small incremental gains will help you reach your desired rising time and become an early riser. 

6. Leave An alarm clock in a different room from where you sleep

When your alarm goes off first thing, you will have to get out of bed and go into the other room to turn it off.

The act of moving makes it harder to press the snooze button or roll over and go back to sleep. The simple act of moving will mitigate feeling groggy too.

All you have to do is avoid going back to bed.

7. Track your progress like a boss

You can create a good habit faster if you know what works, what doesn’t, and how close you realize this habit. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day on your new early morning schedule.

For the first few weeks, I recorded when I got up, how long I slept, and when I went to bed. I found out checking email and social media late at night is a bad idea because I find it hard to sleep afterward.

8. Let Your Sleep Cycle Adapt

Maintaining consistent circadian rhythms helps a lot. A circadian rhythm refers to your sleeping and waking cycle. Consistent early morning risers go to bed and rise at the same time every day, including the weekends.

I don’t get up early every day, 365 days a year.

I sleep late at least one day at the weekend, and there are times when it’s not possible or practical to get up at six AM because of the demands of the previous day.

I accept these days for what they are (a time to rest or sleep) instead of seeing them as setbacks on my journey towards creating an ideal morning writing routine. It takes a little time to shift a sleep cycle from working and rising late to rising early.

9. Use Blue Light Blocking Glasses

It’s best to avoid screens at night-time altogether if possible. The blue light glare of a computer screen stimulates the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep.

If you must work late in front of a screen, consider investing in a pair of blue light glasses. According to a 2017 study by The University of Houston, they can increase melatonin production by 58%.

10. Ensure You Get Enough Hours of Sleep

It’s not much fun getting up at dawn and then fumbling through the day with only four or five hours of sleep. If you’re going to wake up early, ensure you get enough sleep by going to bed earlier.

If you need to restore energy levels, take a 20-minute nap at lunch, at least until your body adapts. I recommend using a sleep tracker, like a Garmin Watch, Whoop, or Fitbit, so that you can track your sleep cycle for a few weeks.

11. Use Coffee… Sparingly

A cup of coffee in the morning can jumpstart your day better than any energy drink. However, avoid drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, as you’ll find it harder to sleep.

If you drink coffee in the afternoon, trace amounts of caffeine will stay in your system until well into the late-night and impact sleep quality.

The Final Word On Waking Up Early

Many successful people wake up early because their mornings are usually distraction-free and quiet. These hours are also ideal for working on a personal project, meditating, writing, or exercising.

You don’t need to be an early bird to start waking up at dawn. It takes practice and some self-discipline. I told a friend once when you rise early, “you give the best of yourself to yourself.”

He laughed.

I’m aware this sounds ridiculous, but if you’re feeling physically and mentally exhausted from work or day-to-day life,  it’s harder to work on what matters.

But what if you really are more creative at night?

If you’re happy with your late routine and output, stick with what works.

Tharp sums this up in her book, The Creative Habit.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.

Wake Up Early FAQs

How can I force myself to wake up early?

During the day avoid caffeine. Stop working in front of a screen after your evening meal. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and read for a little bit if possible, ideally a paperback. Lay out your clothes and set an alarm in a different room to where you sleep. The first morning will feel difficult, but after a few days rising early will become more natural.

it good to wake up early?

If you want more time to work, meditate, exercise, write or work on personal projects, waking up early is a good habit to create. You’ll have more free hours to work on what matters rather than on other people’s priorities. Waking up early also means you’re more likely to feel energised and fresh.

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