In this image for an article about how to wake up early, there are many old-school, identical green alarm clocks shown on top of a yellow background.

© Juan Moyano / Stocksy United

We Asked Sleep Experts How to Wake Up Earlier—These Are Their 4 Big Tips

They say the early bird catches the worm—but if you’re not naturally a morning person, how can you become one?

By Ayren Jackson-CannadyOctober 27, 2023


For many of us, the thought of waking up earlier in the morning—to exercise, eat a nice breakfast, or meditate—seems doable. Just go to bed early, and you’ll wake up early—right? Not quite. If you’ve tried…and tried, you know that becoming a “morning person” is way easier said than done. 

Here’s the thing: Your sleep pattern is genetically predetermined and encoded within your DNA, explains Shelby Harris, PsyD, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. It’s a trait that can be traced back to Paleolithic hunter-gatherer societies which prioritized group safety around the clock. To achieve this, some people adapted to stay alert during the daytime, while others took on the responsibility of keeping an eye on the group and protecting them from predators and external dangers during the nighttime. As generations passed, the genetic characteristics of these distinct groups may have contributed to the emergence of the morning larks and night owls that we recognize today, among other factors.

Morning larks tend to wake up early with the rising sun and have the most energy early in the day. Night owls, on the other hand, have later sleep schedules and reach peak energy levels after the sun sets.

So, if you aren’t a natural morning person (but want to be!), how can you become one? Science has entered the chat. Here are the expert tips and tools you need to hack your sleep patterns and wake up earlier. 

Why You Might Struggle to Wake Up Early

The serene stillness of the early morning, with its gentle light and promise of a new day, holds a unique charm. However, for some, the mere thought of waking up at the crack of dawn sounds next to impossible.

Contrary to what you might have heard before, a perpetual struggle to rise with the sun has nothing to do with laziness; research shows it's actually a complex interplay of biology, lifestyle, and personal habits. But the biggest factor in why you might find it difficult to wake up early? Circadian rhythm. 

Circadian rhythm is the body's 24-hour biological clock that regulates various physiological and behavioral processes, including hormone production, body temperature, and—yep—sleep-wake cycles. “We all have a circadian rhythm that creates wakefulness and sleepiness on a predictable pattern,” says Christopher Winter, MD, a sleep specialist, neurologist, and host of Sleep Unplugged. “For many, their wake-up time is simply not aligned with their circadian wakefulness pattern, but with effort, this can be improved.”

A sleepy woman lying in bed and turning off her phone alarm.

© BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy United

Tips for Waking Up Early

It may seem obvious, but being able to get up early really does start with a good night’s sleep. And there’s research that backs up the benefits of getting more Zzzs, says Aric Prather, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California San Francisco. According to a study published in the journal Affective Science, people who got more sleep than they typically do reported feeling more joyful and less stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed when they woke up, he says.

Beyond getting plenty of Zzzs, here are some other expert-approved tips on how to wake up early:

1. Get on a Sleep Schedule

To help regulate your body’s internal clock, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. (Quick side note: The exception to this rule, experts now say, is that it may be beneficial to sleep in an extra hour or two on non-work days if you didn’t snooze enough during the work week.)

After you’ve chosen a wake-up time that’ll work for you throughout the week, plan out how you’re going to make it happen, Prather says. “If [you’re] using an alarm, pick one you like. And plan out what you are going to do as soon as it goes off,” he says, recommending that you don’t snooze your alarm if you can avoid it. “Maybe your first step is coffee. Prep it the night before.”

A consistent wake-up time is good for your health, too. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that regularly changing your usual bedtime and wake-up time by more than 90 minutes, whether earlier or later, significantly raises your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“The more consistent we can be with our timing, the more efficient our body tends to work,” Prather says. “If you stabilize your wake-up time, you will ultimately experience more predictable bedtimes, and likely a more restorative and restful sleep experience.”

2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine 

Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from a bedtime ritual. You, too, can wind down with activities like reading, gentle stretches, or a warm bath to signal to your body that it's time to catch some Zzzs. “Creating a relaxing nighttime routine that you do before bed every night can help you fall asleep faster and wake up easier in the morning,” Dr. Harris says.

Prep your bedroom for a good night's sleep with these steps:

  • Keep it cool: When your bedroom is too hot or too cold, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. The ideal sleep temperature varies depending on your age and personal preference, but the National Sleep Foundation suggests somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. 

  • Cut back on pre-slumber screen time: It might be harder said than done, but reduce your exposure to electronic devices at least an hour before sleep to minimize the impact of blue light on your circadian rhythm.

  • Optimize your sleep environment: Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. Block out disruptive light and noise by using blackout shades and earplugs.

3. Embrace the Morning Light 

Natural light in the morning can help reset your internal clock. “Sunlight is critical to shutting down the melatonin system that helps facilitate sleep,” Prather says. “My suggestion, if possible, is to get 20 minutes of sunlight as soon as you awaken.” Grab your coffee, get outside (or near a window), and let the sun do its thing in helping you wake up early.

4. Don’t Exercise Too Late  

Working out triggers the release of endorphins, which are chemicals that can stimulate brain activity and might make you feel more awake. This is all good news—when you want to be awake. But if you’re trying to go to bed earlier so that you wake up earlier, it's a good idea to schedule your exercise routine at least one to two hours before bedtime.

Another reason to not work out too close to bedtime? Exercise also elevates your core body temperature, which produces a similar effect to the jolt you get from a warm morning shower. According to experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the rise in core body temperature serves as a signal to your internal body clock, indicating that it's time to be alert. But as time passes (typically within 30 to 90 minutes), the core body temperature gradually decreases, aiding the onset of sleepiness, experts say.

A woman stretching in bed as she wakes up early in the morning.

Maria Korneeva / Moment via Getty Images

Benefits of Waking Up Early

If you want to start waking up earlier and need an extra dose of motivation, there are a few advantages that come with the practice. Here are just a few benefits of waking up early:

  • Time for exercise: Moving your body in the morning can boost your energy levels, helping you start off your day on the right foot. Plus, studies have found that working out at 7 AM, compared to later in the afternoon or evening, may help you get more of that all-too-important deep sleep at night. Not to mention, you won’t have to worry about missing a sweat session if the rest of your day gets derailed.

  • Regulates your circadian rhythm: Starting your day with early sunlight can help to regulate the body's internal clock, Dr. Harris says. “This leads to a more consistent sleep pattern and improvement of your overall sleep quality.”

  • Cuts depression risk: People who woke up an hour earlier in the morning were associated with a 23 percent reduced risk of experiencing depression, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

  • Space for self-care: Extra time in the morning means more time for the things that fill you with joy. Whether that’s reading a chapter in your book, fitting in a meditation class, or going for a morning walk, those extra minutes to yourself allow you to start your day more intentionally. 

When to Talk With Your Doctor

If, despite your best efforts, you continue to struggle with waking up early, it may be time to consult a doctor or sleep specialist. This is especially important if your struggle with waking up early is affecting your daily life, productivity, and overall well-being.

“Talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you have been trying to wake up earlier for two weeks and have not seen any improvement, or if you are routinely having trouble with the quality or quantity of sleep,” Dr. Harris advises. 

Your doctor or sleep specialist will try several different methods to diagnose what’s going on and why you aren’t able to wake up earlier. In addition to taking a deep dive into your medical history and doing a physical exam, they’ll likely have you answer a sleep questionnaire and start keeping a sleep log. They may also recommend a polysomnography (an overnight sleep study conducted in a sleep center) or a home sleep test. 

But it’s important to remember that it may not be a waking-up issue at all, Prather says. “Pretty much anything that impacts your ability to sleep well can make it hard for someone to get up and get going,” he says. Here are some of the most common disorders that affect your sleep:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: This happens when you aren’t breathing well during the night. (You may even be snoring.) Bouts of breathlessness, which you might not even notice, are what wake you up throughout the night and leave you sleepy in the morning.

  • Insomnia: Often related to anxiety or depression, this is when it becomes very difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep.

  • Restless legs syndrome: This neurological disorder is characterized by an irresistible urge to move your legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations, especially during periods of inactivity. This can significantly disrupt your sleep and make it hard to wake up early.  

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS): This is a circadian rhythm disorder in which your body naturally wants to wake up at a different time than what you are trying to force upon yourself via the alarm clock. “Think jet lag, but all the time,” Prather says. “This is often how extreme night owls feel because they want to go to bed in the early morning and get up past lunch, but the world is not set up like that, so they are in a constant battle.”

The Takeaway

Waking up early isn't just a cliché; it's a lifestyle choice that can positively impact many aspects of your life. From increased productivity and mental clarity to better physical and mental health, the benefits of being an early riser are numerous. By adopting a healthy habit of waking up early, you can harness the morning's potential and set yourself on a path to accomplishing many goals. Remember, small changes can lead to big results on your journey to becoming a morning person. But if you’ve been trying to wake up earlier for two weeks and just aren’t making any improvements, it may be time to chat with a doctor or sleep specialist.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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