For as long as I can remember, the idea of being a morning person intrigued me. Alone time? Watching the sun rise? Peace and quiet? Time to write, exercise, or read without a steady stream of notifications, phone calls, and emails coming in? Hot coffee? Sign me up. Unfortunately, though, the waking up part always felt more difficult. And even though I managed to train myself to wake up without an alarm long ago, it was the waking up before 7 a.m. that never seemed doable.
As much as I wanted to wake up at 5:30 a.m. each and every morning, I couldn’t stomach the idea of going back to the harsh, blaring sound of my phone alarm. Trust me—once you stop using an alarm, it’s pretty much impossible to go back to it, no matter how much you want to wake up earlier. So I faced a dilemma: I wanted to train myself to wake up naturally at 5:00 a.m., but I didn’t want to use a traditional alarm. Naturally, I decided to find the answers where every good millennial does: YouTube.
I started watching dozens of videos about early-morning routines. I learned how people began waking up earlier, how to make it feel easier, and to stick to it. Then, I put that advice to work—with a few added tweaks of my own. While I haven’t completely mastered the 5 a.m. morning routine, it does seem easier and more appealing than ever. And, I know that if I can manage to make it happen consistently, it’s worth it. Here are the things I did that worked (and some of what didn’t).
Create a Strict Bedtime Routine and Stick To It
In all the morning routine YouTube videos I watched, the most common tip by far was to create a strict bedtime routine. Usually, this included minimal screen time, putting your phone in a different room, and reading, meditating, or some combination of both.
For my bedtime routine, I committed to not being on my phone once I got in bed for the night, reading for 30-40 minutes before going to sleep, and charging my phone on the other side of the room (to make it less appealing to use it in bed). This nightly routine ended up being key to making morning wake-ups easier. And once I started straying from this nightly routine, my sleep (and wake-ups immediately suffered). I still use my phone in bed from time to time now at night, but I know when I’m doing it that it will make my sleep suffer—which makes putting the phone away that much easier.
Make Getting Out of Bed Feel More Appealing
My other issue with getting out of bed so early in the winter time? The temperature. My fiancé and I keep our bedroom relatively chilly at night (this helps with sleep quality), but climbing out from under the covers when it’s 40 degrees outside is still not fun. To combat this, I started placing my fluffiest robe near my bed each night so I saw it when I woke up in the morning. I also set out my slippers right by my bed. I trained myself to think about a hot cup of coffee every morning, sometimes setting out the mug the night before, so I had something to look forward to that would warm me up.
Use Lights to Wake You Up
When I first started this journey, my first thought was just how dark it is at 5 a.m. in the winter (I live in the Northeast). Luckily, I had a solution I hadn’t even considered until I saw a similar solution in a YouTube video: My Casper Glow Lights. For a while, I had been using the timer function to dim the lights for 45 minutes each night. The slow, dim light gently put me to sleep every night, but then I realized they also have an alarm function to slowly wake me up.
I set the “alarm” via the Casper app on my phone, and start with the soft, warm lights gradually illuminating from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., then 5:15 to 5:45 a.m. and so on. And it works. It allows for the wake-up process to feel gentle and natural, which makes it easier to get myself out of bed.
Set "Pillars" in Your Morning Schedule
It's helpful to set a list of things to accomplish each and every morning. This helps me focus on why exactly I wanted to wake up early in the first place. It gives the time more structure. For my pillars, I use exercise, personal writing, and getting-ready time. This is especially big because I was not previously a morning workout person. Now, working out before I start my work day is a priority. Creating time every morning to do things for me, and only me, has been an absolute game-changer in every aspect of my life, even on the days when I don’t wake up as early as I’d like.
Take Morning Notes
Whether I managed to get up at 5 a.m. or not, I trained myself to take notes each and every morning (usually along with my daily journaling or to-do list writing). I writ about what worked, what didn’t, and the reasons I slept in or stayed up late. This helps me stay honest about the things that aren't working (mindlessly scrolling on my phone) and what are (morning workouts feel SO good). It makes it that much easier to prioritize waking up early.
Develop a Curiosity
In the past, my attempts at becoming an early riser were mostly marked by feeling like a failure. This made the process negative. This time around, I developed a curiosity about waking up early and training myself to do so naturally. When I approached it this way, the whole experience was positive—a learning experience, rather than a harsh regimen. This was perhaps the most helpful shift in helping me to learn to love waking up early.
These days, I manage about 50% of the week waking up early—the more consistent I am about all of the above steps, the easier it is. And, of course, if I’m less consistent, it’s a bit harder. No matter what, I know exactly what it takes to get back into the habit; I know the steps to put into place to get there. That said, despite what the internet can sometimes make it seem like, if I don’t wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, it doesn’t mean I’m a less successful person.
Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Bedtime mobile phone use and sleep in adults. Social Science & Medicine. 2016;148:93-101. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.11.037
Waterhouse J, Fukuda Y, Morita T. Daily rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle. Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2012;31(1). doi:10.1186/1880-6805-31-5