In society’s eyes, morning people are typically portrayed in a positive light. Case in point: the oft-used phrase “the early bird catches the worm.” To conform to societal expectations, many of us search high and low for answers on how to become a morning person.
The truth is, not everyone is biologically inclined to perform at their best in the morning. Night owls, in particular, tend to thrive later in the day. Waking up early may be counterproductive for you if your body is biologically wired for a late sleep schedule. Not only will you feel groggier than usual with a 5 a.m. wake-up call, but you’ll probably also be surviving on less sleep than you need. If productivity is what you’re looking for, it’s far wiser to understand your circadian rhythm and structure your day around its energy peaks and dips.
That said, we understand there may be work and lifestyle obligations dictating a need for earlier wake-ups. Ahead, we share helpful tips and tricks on how to become a morning person.
Oriented around an early “productive” start to the day, morning people are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (although they, like everyone else, aren’t immune to wake-up grogginess, aka sleep inertia), ready to go from just about the jump, even when the sun isn’t fully up yet. Society's daily clock averages 24 hours. But if you are an early chronotype, your clock is shorter than 24 hours and skews toward an earlier sleep and wake time.
For simplicity, we often group chronotypes (i.e., natural tendencies for sleeping and waking) into early birds and night owls. But the reality is that science measures chronotypes on a continuous scale, with 351 genetic variations associated with being a morning person alone. Your chronotype is specific to your genetics, age, and relative light exposure. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics provides a survey for helping you find your chronotype.
Three factors determine when you go to bed and wake up:
On the whole, morning larks are typically held in high regard, while night owls are viewed as lazy or unproductive. When successful people like Tim Cook reveal they wake up incredibly early, it’s no wonder an early rise time is conflated with discipline and the rewards commonly associated with it (think productivity gains and career advancements), even when that isn’t always the case. After all, waking up earlier and still feeling refreshed has less to do with discipline and more to do with your circadian rhythm.
That said, even though being a night owl doesn't mean you're lazy or lack discipline, it is possible for people to be undisciplined around their bedtimes in general. For instance, many of us are guilty of bedtime procrastination — indulging in passive late-night leisure activities like television shows. This common phenomenon is likely exacerbated by the deluge of binge-able content on social media and the advent of Netflix’s auto-play “Next episode” button.
After removing the moral halo around being a morning person, you will realize that your desire to wake up early is due to a desire for maximum productivity. In which case, you don’t have to shift your sleep schedule to accomplish that. You just need to work with your circadian rhythm relative to your daily energy levels.
You are naturally productive at different times of the day according to your circadian rhythm. This is on account of the internal clock in your brain that tells every cell in your body when to be active and inactive, causing your energy levels to fluctuate throughout the day. The RISE app gives you a graph of energy peaks (the times at which you’re primed to be alert) and dips (the times at which your body needs to rest and refuel). It’s called your “Energy Schedule” in the app.
If you’re a night owl or have a chronobiology that skews later, you’ve likely always had to adhere to an early bird schedule because that’s how society (and most of the corporate world) is wired. Thus, you’ve never been truly able to embrace the energy peaks and dips of your chronotype. That’s most likely why you’ve felt suboptimal — think sluggishness and low energy levels — for a very long time. (You’ve been struggling with social jetlag.)
Learning to work with your own chronotype and circadian rhythm is key to actual productivity gains and better energy levels every day.
As much as we advocate for prioritizing your chronotype, we also understand it may not be possible to find a job and lifestyle that match it, a common truth for many. If that’s the case, you can shift your sleep schedule to become an early riser even if you’re biologically prone to later sleep and wake times.
While your chronotype is largely determined by genetics, the beginning and end of your daily energy cycle can be molded by your sleep and wake times and relative light exposure. As such, it is possible to shift your sleep schedule and still maintain optimal energy levels during the day.
Do note that your quest to become a morning person will be an active, ongoing process since your chronotype is a product of your genes. If you aren’t actively engaged in the process of waking and sleeping earlier, your genetic programming will likely triumph, and you risk falling back into your previous sleep schedule. Similarly, the strength of your genetic programming will determine how much time and willpower you will need to shift your sleep schedule and if you’ll easily revert back to later sleep and wake times. To maximize success, be consistent on the weekdays and weekends.
Successfully shifting your sleep schedule will require you to make small steps toward your goal (more on this below). The bigger the move to an earlier wake time you want to make, the more time (and patience) you have to give yourself to get there. This will also be compounded by the strength of your chronotype. For example, an extreme night owl trying to rise in the early morning will take a while to reach their new goal.
Below, we show you how to wake up earlier and still feel refreshed during the day.
Your new sleep schedule should account for your sleep need — an individual trait that’s genetically determined, like your height or eye color. RISE shows your personal sleep need on the “Sleep” tab in the app to help you get enough sleep and avoid accumulating any sleep debt (the amount of sleep you've owed your body over the past 14 days).
Gradually shift your wake and sleep times by 30 minutes every few days until you reach your new sleep-wake goal. Remember, the greater the shift in your sleep schedule, the more time (in days) it will take to get there.
Pro tip: Place your alarm clock far away from your bed so you aren’t tempted to hit the snooze button come morning.
Prioritize light exposure as part of your morning routine. Bask in bright light for at least 10 minutes as soon as you wake up. If natural light isn’t available, use a light lamp instead.
At night, dim the lights and wear blue-light blocking glasses at least 90 minutes before your target bedtime, as all kinds of artificial light, especially blue light, downplay your body’s melatonin production.
Pro tip: The RISE app will remind you when to wear blue-light blocking glasses nearer to your new sleep time. Go to the “Energy” tab in the app and add the “Block All Blue Light” habit to your “Energy Schedule.” Then, turn on the in-app notifications.
Exercise raises your body’s core body temperature and lessens your morning grogginess to help you wake up more easily. As a bonus, low- to moderate-intensity workouts boost your energy levels and help you sleep better at night.
Pro tip: Perform your morning workout in the presence of light to get the best of both circadian cues. Try a backyard HIIT (high-intensity interval training) session or a morning jog.
A cup of coffee or tea neutralizes drowsiness-inducing adenosine to make morning wake-ups easier. You can also use it as a pick-me-up to combat sleepiness later in the day as you adjust to an earlier wake-up time.
That said, do note that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours with an average half-life of roughly five hours. This means that if you drank a matcha latte at 12 p.m., half of the caffeine may remain in your body at 5 p.m. Another five hours later at 10 p.m., your system will probably still be infused with a quarter of the caffeine. As you can imagine, you’ll find it harder to doze off and may end up falling asleep much later than you intended.
Pro tip: To prevent caffeinated beverages from delaying your new bedtime, RISE tells you exactly when you should cut off caffeine consumption according to your own chronobiology. In the “Energy” tab, add the “Limit Caffeine” habit to your “Energy Schedule” and turn on in-app notifications.
Avoid drinking alcohol and overeating too close to bedtime — otherwise, you risk disrupting your sleep that night, making it harder to wake up the next day. Cut off alcohol consumption 3-4 hours before bed and limit yourself to two drinks at most. If you do eat close to bed, opt for a small meal or snack no more than 600 calories.
Pro tip: Use the “Avoid Late Alcohol” and “Avoid Late Meals” habits in RISE to remind yourself when exactly to steer clear of alcohol and large evening meals based on your unique chronobiology.
As mentioned earlier, your genetic programming may make the process of shifting your sleep schedule more or less difficult. If you need extra help sleeping earlier, consider natural sleep aids like melatonin supplements instead of sleep medicine (which can induce unwanted side effects, such as prolonged drowsiness).
Research shows melatonin supplementation helps reduce the time you usually take to fall asleep. It also prolongs the duration of your slumber to help you meet your sleep need and avoid hitting snooze when your alarm goes off. Before adding a melatonin supplement to your diet, consult your primary doctor if it’s suitable for you.
Pro tip: Dietary supplements, including melatonin aids, are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To avoid being scammed, choose products that have the “USP Verified” seal. This signifies the product has been vetted by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention, a non-profit organization that sets public quality standards for health products like dietary supplements.
Take time to understand your motivations behind why you want to become an early riser. Is it because you think you should rather than because you have to? If it’s the former, consider going the route of working with your chronotype for true productivity gains.
On the flip side, if your job or other lifestyle factors demand an earlier sleep-wake schedule, follow the tips we’ve laid out for you above. In addition, RISE will help you know your personal sleep need and time your behaviors to your chronobiology. Download the RISE app today to make the transition from a night owl to an early bird with less sleep debt and more ease.
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