How To Wake Up Early Even When You Aren’t an Early Riser

If you’re wondering how to wake up early, we share 14 must-know tips — from a consistent sleep schedule to well-timed light exposure.
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Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Man waking up early and feeling refreshed

Put your hand up (or share this article) if you’re guilty of hitting the snooze button more often than you should.

Because our society mainly runs on an early-bird schedule, many have to rise and shine with the sun. To illustrate, Oprah wakes up at six in the morning. Michelle Obama works out at half-past four. And Tim Cook gets up at 3.45 a.m. every day without fail. It’s no surprise then we’ve associated early risers with success, even though the correlation isn’t causation.

Despite the early bird halo, you might find it challenging to get going at daybreak — or any time your body clock deems too early. If you’re Googling how to wake up early, we share 14 must-know tips below.

Spoiler alert: It’s not about fiddling with your alarm clock. Because sleep debt and circadian consistency (you’ll learn what they are later) are measured over the long term, what you do over the course of preceding nights and days impacts your early-morning awakenings. But don’t worry, the RISE app is here to help you make your new habits stick for better sleep for better energy.

1. Understand Your Motivation

Early risers are seen as the go-getters in society’s eyes. But not everyone is biologically inclined to be at their best in the morning. Case in point: Evening types (aka night owls) are wired for a late sleep schedule.

Forcing late chronotypes to wake up early for a pre-dawn workout or a Zoom meeting often comes at the expense of sufficient sleep and circadian alignment (an off-balance internal body clock). The result is reduced productivity when you want the opposite.

So, does that mean late chronotypes shouldn’t wake up early? Not at all, especially when work and lifestyle obligations necessitate getting up at dawn. In this scenario, you’re waking up early for the right reasons that will (hopefully) motivate you to get out of bed without hitting snooze.

Rest assured night owls can definitely shift to earlier wake times. Just keep in mind this shift will be an active, ongoing process as you work against your genetic programming for a late sleep-wake cycle. We’ll show you how in the next few steps.

2. Keep Your Sleep Need Top of Mind

RISE app screenshot showing your sleep need so you can keep sleep debt low
You can find your unique sleep need when you tap on the “Profile” icon in the RISE app.

Before committing to a new early wake-up time, keep your sleep need top of mind. This is the genetically determined amount of sleep your body requires. Not meeting your need incurs sleep debt (the amount of sleep you’ve missed in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need). This is counterproductive to your original plan of getting more done by waking up early, as sleep deprivation flattens your energy potential for the day. It also has other ramifications, like more intense wake-up grogginess the next day and a higher risk of chronic illnesses in the long term.

A tool like the RISE app helps to accurately determine how much sleep your body needs. Let’s say your biological sleep need is 8.5 hours, and you need to rise at seven in the morning. Working backward, your target bedtime should be around 10 p.m.; allowing you to meet your sleep need with 30 minutes of buffer time. This is to offset the usual 20 minutes of sleep onset latency (how long you take to fall asleep) and any potential sleep fragmentation (how often you wake up during the night).

Pro Tip: Align your bedtime with your Melatonin Window, which you can view on your Energy Schedule in the RISE app. This is the roughly one-hour window of time that your body’s melatonin production peaks. Going to bed during your Melatonin Window gives you the best chance of falling and staying asleep to keep sleep debt low, making early rousings easier. (If your Melatonin Window is too late at night to meet your sleep need, you’ll need to actively shift it forward, which RISE can show you how in some of the sleep tips below.) Want to know when you experience high melatonin levels? Add the “Melatonin Window” habit for a personalized reminder based on your unique chronobiology.

3. Be Consistent in Your Sleep and Wake Times

Waking up early one day and sleeping in the next confuses your internal clock and dampens your energy levels. It’s best to wake up at the same early time every single day, even on the weekends. A consistent sleep schedule keeps your body clock aligned to counter common forms of circadian misalignment like social jetlag and virtual jet lag. Plus, you’ll find it easier to get the sleep you need, which makes waking up early more palatable.

4. Give Your Body Clock Time and Grace

It can be tempting to rush the process of resetting your sleep schedule. But in reality, your body needs time to adjust to the earlier wake-up time. Gradually shift your wake and sleep times by 15-30 minutes every few days. The greater the shift in your sleep schedule, the longer (in days) it will take to achieve your new sleep-wake goal.

For example, if you want to bring your rise time forward from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m., try doing so in 15-minute increments every three days, to reach your new wake-up time in 12 days. Remember, shifting your chronotype from late to early will be a continuously active process, but the results are worth it.

5. Get Light First Thing When You Wake Up

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The “Blue Light Control” habit reminds you to get some light when you wake up.

Light is the most potent circadian cue to start your body clock. Light upon waking helps you spend less time dealing with sleep inertia (more on that later), as well as helps you fall asleep more quickly at night. With shorter sleep latency, your sleep in bed becomes more efficient to help you meet your sleep need, making waking up in the morning more effortless. What’s more, earlier light exposure has the benefit of shifting your Melatonin Window forward if you need to head to bed earlier tonight.

So, how do you make light work for you when you wake up? It’s about timing, intensity, and duration. Bask in natural light first thing in the morning to signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up. Direct sunlight goes up to 100,000 lux, while standard indoor lighting is only about 500 lux or lower. If you have timer-controlled blinds in your bedroom, automate them such that they open at daybreak to allow sunlight to stream in.

Aim for at least 10-15 minutes of bright light exposure outside in natural light, and closer to 30 minutes if it’s overcast. Or combine it with exercising outdoors, say jogging in the neighborhood, to further lessen sleep inertia and make waking up early even easier.

If you’re indoors, park yourself next to a South- or East-facing window in the Northern hemisphere, or a North-facing window in the Southern hemisphere. (Use the compass app in your smartphone if you need directions.) Maximize light getting into your eyes and skin by not wearing sunglasses or sunscreen but don’t look directly at the sun or risk burning your skin.

If natural light isn’t available, use a 10,000 lux light lamp instead. Make sure the lamp is at a close but comfortable distance, i.e., 16-24 inches, no more than 45 degrees from your eyes. You can set it up at the breakfast table or next to your computer screen.

Need a reminder in the morning? Add the “Blue Light Control” habit to your Energy Schedule in RISE. It tells you when to expose yourself to blue light at your wake goal.

6. Take Note of Your Grogginess Zone

Realistically speaking, it’s not possible to wake up without feeling groggy, despite what mattress ads portray. Morning sleep inertia, aka wake-up grogginess, is a natural part of your sleep-wake cycle that lasts up to 90 minutes. That’s why we call it your Grogginess Zone in the RISE app, which you can view on your Energy Schedule. During this period, expect sleepiness and low energy levels as your body clock starts to rev up for the day. Take note that the greater your sleep debt, the more intense your sleep inertia and the worse you will likely feel.

While it isn’t possible to skip right ahead of wake-up grogginess, there are things you can do to shorten your stay while making the most of it:

  • Keep sleep debt low by consistently meeting your sleep need.
  • Create a 90-minute buffer between your wake time and vital tasks on your to-do list, like a work meeting.
  • Other good sleep hygiene practices such as bright light exposure, exercising, and even coffee help bear the brunt of morning sleep inertia too.

7. Psych Yourself up for Your Early Wake-up Call

One way to motivate yourself to get out of bed is to reframe the early wake-up call as something pleasant, and even exciting, especially if you aren’t a morning person.

That’s why your morning routine matters so much. Make time for enjoyable but low-stakes activities that give you an endorphin boost and a helpful cortisol rush. Say, a yoga session or making breakfast, so you’re more likely to look forward to waking up early.

For night owls, go one step further by changing how you approach productivity at certain times of the day. You’ve likely associated evenings as your prime time for work and other high-demand tasks. As part of your quest to become an early riser, switch challenging activities from your Evening Peak to your Morning Peak (you can see both on your Energy Schedule). This will help an earlier rise time stick. 

RISE’s “Morning Routine” habit lets you customize your ideal rise-and-shine ritual. Choose activities that help you feel good as much as possible during your Grogginess Zone and start the day on a productive note during your Morning Peak.

8. Sweat It Out at the Right Time

Workouts, when done at the right times, offer a double-layered advantage:

  • Moving your body during your Grogginess Zone effectively raises your body temperature to reduce wake-up grogginess.
  • Low- to moderate-intensity exercise increases your energy levels and promotes better sleep.

So when are the best times to work out? That would be your Grogginess Zone, Morning Peak, Afternoon Dip, and Evening Peak (basically, any time other than in the few hours before bed). You can view the exact timings on your Energy Schedule to plan your workout. Alternatively, RISE’s “Energy Boost” feature intuitively tells you the best times to walk or exercise for better energy when you need it.

Pro Tip: For a potent duo, combine exercise with bright light as previously mentioned.

9. Avoid Caffeine 10 Hours Before Bed

RISE app screenshot telling you when to limit caffeine intake
Use the “Limit Caffeine” habit in the RISE app to find out when you should have your last cup of caffeinated beverage.

Drinking a cup of coffee as part of your morning routine is highly recommended as caffeine neutralizes the drowsiness-inducing adenosine behind sleep inertia. You can also partake in caffeine at later times so long as it’s 10-12 hours before your bedtime.

The “Limit Caffeine” habit in the RISE app tells you precisely when you should cut off caffeine consumption based on your own chronobiology. This way, you’re less likely to miss your Melatonin Window and delay your bedtime, so you get enough sleep to make an early-wake up call easier on your body.

Pro Tip: It’s not just your cup of joe that contains caffeine. Other foods and drinks like chocolate, chewing gum, and even decaffeinated coffee have caffeine in them. So, make sure you aren’t accidentally consuming caffeine too late in the day.

10. Avoid Bright Light in the Hours Before Bed

Earlier light exposure in the morning helps to bring your circadian rhythm forward, while evening and nighttime light exposure shifts it backward. That’s why RISE’s “Blue Light Control” habit reminds you to avoid bright light four hours before your Melatonin Window, which if you’ll remember, is prime time for bed.

But does that mean you have to live without electronic devices and indoor lighting when the sun sets? Not necessarily. A simple yet effective workaround would be to wear blue-light blocking glasses in the few hours before your target bedtime. So, if your Melatonin Window is at 10 p.m., the “Block All Blue Light” habit will tell you to wear your glasses 1-2 hours beforehand.

11. Know When To Stop Consuming Sleep-Disrupting Substances

Alcohol, late evening meals, and excess fluid intake are common pitfalls that negatively affect your sleep patterns. Case in point: Indigestion and acid reflux from too many late-night snacks are probably why you take longer to fall asleep and keep waking up in the middle of the night.

To help you get the hours of sleep your body needs, the RISE app tells you when to cut off these sleep-disrupting substances before bed. Just add the “Avoid Late Alcohol” and “Avoid Late Meals” habits to your Energy Schedule.

12. Curb Late-night Anxiety and Arousal With a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Late-night anxiety and arousal from stimulating activities like watching a Netflix thriller or getting into an argument with your spouse foil your plan for a good night’s sleep. To set yourself up for success the next morning (i.e., waking up early without hitting snooze), prioritize a relaxing bedtime routine the evening before.

A sleep-promoting evening wind-down encompasses some of the healthy sleep habits we’ve mentioned earlier. For example, you’ll want to steer clear of bright light, caffeine, alcohol, excessive fluids, and late evening meals. To prepare your body’s internal clock for sleep, use relaxin5g techniques like taking a warm bath, journaling, and meditating. You can curate your ideal pre-sleep routine with the “Evening Routine” habit in the RISE app.

Bonus: RISE offers four kinds of relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body so that you doze off more effortlessly. Add the “Relaxation” habit to your Energy Schedule to try them out tonight.

13. Take a Melatonin Supplement, if Necessary

RISE app screenshot showing you when to take melatonin supplements
The “Melatonin Supplements” habit tells you the best time to take a melatonin supplement to shift your bedtime forward for an early rousing.

Sometimes you may need extra help to wake up early. It could be during the first few days of transitioning to an earlier sleep-wake schedule. Or a one-off early rising like when you need to catch an early morning flight.

In such cases, a low-dose melatonin supplement in the short term can help your body clock out a little. Taking 0.5-1 milligram of melatonin 4-8 hours before your dim light melatonin onset (DLMO), which marks the start of your Melatonin Window in the RISE app, moves evening melatonin production up by 1.5 hours. This translates to an earlier bedtime which increases the odds of an earlier wake time. What’s more, melatonin aids are less habit-forming than sleep medicine like Z-drugs that come with unwanted side effects.

Because the effectiveness of melatonin supplementation hinges on timing, add the “Melatonin Supplements” habit in RISE. You’ll receive a personalized prompt to consume melatonin supplements 4-8 hours before your Melatonin Window.

14. Speak to a Sleep Specialist

If you’ve tried every sleep tip above but still can’t wake up early, it may be time to speak to a sleep specialist. A licensed healthcare professional can help get to the bottom of your sleep problems if you have an underlying sleep disorder, like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. Your doctor will likely work with you to formulate a treatment plan that allows you to get the shut-eye you need and realize your goal of waking up early.

It’s All About Good Sleep Hygiene

The secret to early risings doesn’t require details about your sleep cycle or “sleep quality” (a term with no scientific consensus). Instead, it’s all about good sleep hygiene that’s effective when paired with your circadian rhythm.

We admit there’s quite a bit of information on how to wake up early. But there’s an easy way to keep track of all the sleep-promoting activities you should do and not do 24/7.

You’ve guessed it — it’s the RISE app. With 20+ science-backed habits that nudge you at the right time to reduce sleep debt and keep your circadian rhythm on track, it’s the only sleep app you need to help you wake up early with maximum energy potential.

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