For most people, there’s nothing more satisfying than sleeping. You get up when your body wants. You can ease into your morning. You don’t have large under-eye circles. It’s all pretty impressive.
Waking up early, on the other hand, is the pits. Only a few magic unicorns are genuinely jazzed about rising before the sun does, and yet too often life requires it. Work and school start early, also that dreaded 6 a.m. HIIT class may be the only one that fits in your calendar all week.
To a particular extent, becoming an A+ early bird is not in your control. “The ability to wake up early is determined by your genetics. It’s not something you should be forcing,” says sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus.
But if you do have to get up early—or are determined to make this the year that you get something done before noon—there’s a way to do it without too much pain.
Here’s a step-to-step guide you can follow to become a morning person.
1. Set a bedtime based on 90-minute sleep cycles
Sleep generally runs in 90-minute cycles—and the goal is to wake up at the end of one. “You’ll be in a lighter stage of sleep at that point, which is easier to rouse yourself from,” Breus says. Most people are best served by getting either six hours or seven-and-a-half hours a night, he says, not eight. So, if you know you work best with seven-and-a-half hours of zzz’s and you need to be up at 6:30 a.m., it’s lights-out at 11.
2. Move your alarm clock across the room
If your alarm is right next to your bed—or on your wrist—it’s so easy to hit snooze. Forcing yourself to get out of bed physically may be a simple trick, but it’s an efficient one. Another alternative? Enlist a wake-up buddy, i.e., a person who will call you and hold you responsible. It’s kind of like having a screeching toddler who drives you out of bed, even if you’re not a parent.
3. Have water right away
When the alarm sounds at 5 a.m., your first impulse might be to sprint for a cup of coffee. Don’t. “Your body breathes out one liter of water a night, and you need to replace that first,” Breus says. Hydrating right away will energize you to avoid creeping back under the covers.
4. Find the light
According to Breus, sunlight helps to turn off your “melatonin faucet,” which in turn enables you to avoid that groggy, I-seriously-don’t-want-to-be-awake-right-now feeling. Stand by the window for a few minutes if it’s light out or use a lightbox.
5. Create electronic sundown each night
The actual key to waking up refreshed each morning, holistic medicine pioneer Frank Lipman, MD, says, is to re-sync your sleep habits with your inner circadian rhythm. According to Dr. Lipman, a straightforward way to get things back on track is to limit the amount of screen time you have each evening. “The single most important light exposure correction is to power down devices a couple of hours before bedtime,” he says. “This shields your eyes from blue light and lets your mind wind down.”
6. Throw a shower party
Breus suggests a cool—not cold—shower in the morning to get the blood flowing. And blast the guilty-pleasure Bieber tunes. “Saving your workout music for your workout isn’t the best idea,” Breus says. The overall aim is to start off in a good mood, so you’re more likely to give the whole getting-up-early thing a go again the next day.