Some of us are night owls. Others, early birds.
Apparently, based on your chronotype, you will be more naturally alert earlier or later in the day. And your type may dictate when and for how long you sleep. But while a natural variance in sleep patterns is natural, it appears that the early bird is indeed the more coveted of the species.
We’ve heard it time and time again: most CEOs wake up before 6 a.m. It’s often said that the most successful people are early risers and it makes sense. Chances are if you get up early you spend less time sleeping, which frees up more time for other, more productive activities.
In addition, the early morning is often the time of day you have most control over. Unlike later in the day, very little happens between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. that can throw a wrench in your plans. But how does one go from night owl to early bird? And can you?
The truth is, no matter what your natural rhythm, many people have been able to train themselves to become early risers and/or need less sleep. We’ll show you how.
1. Go to bed when you’re tired, and wake up at the same time every day.
You might be thinking, “duh.” And you’d be right. But as obvious as it sounds, it can be harder than you think. Just last night, I was ready for bed (which, for me means dozing off on the couch) around 10 p.m. But being the sucker for bad television that I am, I got sucked into watching a new show. By the time it was over, I was no longer sleepy. I ended up staying up until well after midnight. And for what? Mindless television I’ll have forgotten about by the end of the week? Great. I would have much rather had two or three more hours of sleep.
And what if you’re not tired until 1 a.m.? That’s okay too. Just make sure you still set your alarm for the new, earlier time. The next day you’ll likely be tired earlier than usual, and a new, steadier sleep pattern will begin to take shape. What you don’t want to do is try to force yourself to sleep when you’re not tired. You’ll just end up feeling frustrated. You’ll waste valuable time in bed not sleeping. And you might develop an anxiety around not being able to sleep, which can lead to insomnia. So wait till you’re tired, wake up at the same time every day, and eventually, your new cycle will fall into place.
2. Know the ninety-minute rule.
We’ve all heard that eight hours sleep is the ideal, but this theory goes against sleep research that says human sleep cycles occur in ninety-minute intervals. This hour-and-a-half is said to include two doses of REM sleep, separated by one of non-REM. Therefore, the best way to get the most of your sleep time is to make it a multiple of 90 minutes. And it makes sense. I’ve noticed that when I sleep a full eight hours, I wake up feeling groggier than I do when I sleep for six, even though I’m missing out on two whole hours of shut-eye.
3. Cut your sleep time incrementally.
You might be used to sleeping eight hours a night. But the truth is, you may be able to get by on less if you train your body to do so. And it’s not about getting used to surviving the day on less fuel. It’s about training your body to squeeze more quality sleep (REM) into the time allotted.
In order to make this process as painless as possible, cut down thirty minutes at a time. Plan to sleep for seven and a half hours one week, then seven the next week, and so on and so forth until you’re down to your ideal sleep schedule.
4. Give yourself a good reason to get up.
If you’ve got no good reason to get out of bed at a certain time, you’ll never do it. It can be a 6 a.m. gym class, a project you need to get a head start on or a delicious cup of coffee and the New York Times.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that its benefits outweigh those of your evil but oh-so-tempting snooze button. If it’s something you look forward to doing, even better. Tip: If you’re a coffee drinker, invest in a percolator with an automatic timer. Set it to brew at the time you’d like to get up. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, first thing in the morning? It really is the best part of waking up.
5. Let the sun shine in.
Unless you have a stalker or a peeping tom, leave your curtains or blinds open so as to let in light in the morning. When it’s dark, your body responds by producing sleep hormone melatonin. On the other hand, light discontinues this process and provides a natural cue to your brain that it’s time to wake up. Does your window face a brick wall in a dark alley? Worried about that peeping tom? Or maybe (hopefully) you just prefer to have more control over the time in which light floods your room? No problem! The people at Phillips have made an alarm clock with a large lamp that gradually increases the amount of light in your room to simulate the sunrise. Genius!
6. Move your alarm clock.
Often, the hardest part of getting up early is actually getting out of your warm, comfortable bed. So if you have to get up to shut off your alarm clock, you’re already halfway there! Move it to the other side of the room, and set it to a truly intolerable sound at a high volume. For you, that might be the sound of a buzzer. For me, it’s the sound of deep house music.
Whatever it is, it needs to drive you crazy enough to make you need to get up and shut it off. And once you’re up, you’ll likely stay up (thanks to all those great things you need to get up for—see number four).
7. Don’t let yourself snooze.
You know the drill. You keep telling yourself “just ten more minutes.” The next thing you know, it’s been an hour-and-a-half and not only did you miss out on your precious morning time, but you’re now late for work. And the worst part? That hour-and-a-half was absolute torture, thanks to the blaring sound of your alarm clock, which has been disrupting an otherwise pleasant dream at ten-minute intervals.
Just say no to snoozing! It’s no longer an option. Think about it: if you’re going to snooze that long, you might as well have set your alarm an hour-and-a-half later and gotten some quality shut-eye.
8. Drink a glass of water.
If the excruciating urge to urinate doesn’t get you out of bed, you’ve got much bigger problems than sleeping in. Drink a glass of water before going to bed and you’ll naturally get up early.
After you drink that evening glass, refill it and leave it on the night stand for the next morning. A glass of water first thing in the morning will kick start your metabolism and get you up and running, even before you’ve had your first cup of coffee .
9. Be your own alarm clock.
It may sound crazy, but if you tell yourself you’re going to get up by a certain time, often your body will wake you up naturally.
If you haven’t experienced this, try it some time. Tell yourself you need to get up at 5:30 a.m. and set your alarm clock for 5:45 a.m. (Just in case!) You may be surprised to find that you wake up right on time, give or take a few minutes. This will be especially more doable once you’ve gotten into the habit of going to sleep and waking up early for a few days or weeks.
When you do manage to wake up without an alarm clock, you’ll find the transition back to full consciousness much more pleasant.
Updated on August 5, 2010.