If ‘rise and shine’ in your life is more like ‘hit snooze and whine,’ try these tips for making friends with your alarm clock.
You set your alarm clock the night before with the best of intentions. Maybe you’ve got a spin class, a commute to work, or early-morning meetings. But if you’re hitting snooze on repeat and struggling to get out of bed, something’s got to give.
“Some people have an easy time falling asleep earlier in the evening, and they’re most likely to wake up in the morning naturally. But this doesn’t apply to everyone,” says John Cline, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in sleep medicine who is based in Cheshire, Connecticut.
The key lies inside your body. Within your genetic makeup is your chronotype, or your natural sleep schedule and inner circadian rhythm. And these schedules run from one end of the spectrum (“early birds”) to the other (“night owls”) — and everything in between, according to Michelle Drerup, PsyD, a psychologist and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Drerup also notes that generally, everyone has a circadian rhythm that’s slightly longer than 24 hours: on average, about 24 hours and 10 minutes. People mostly stay up past their bedtime because of a combination of biological factors such as circadian rhythm length or a shifted circadian rhythm that is delayed, and behavioral factors.
But there are ways to recalibrate your system to get the sleep you need so you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day ahead despite your DNA.
“Most of us are aware that habits can be hard to change and break, but when someone is motivated to make this change and puts forth intention and effort consistently, you typically can reset your sleep schedule to an earlier morning wake time,” Drerup says.
If you’re not a morning person, and you find yourself struggling at the start of your day, try these tips and strategies to get going.
1. Shift Your Wake-Up Time Gradually
Slow and steady wins the race, according to Drerup. This means you shouldn’t jump from a 9 a.m. wakeup time to a 7 a.m. wake-up call within a day. Your body won’t get the rest it needs if you’re cutting into your sleep time and the reset won’t be sustainable.
The best way to successfully shift your sleep cycle is to do so gradually in 15- to 20-minute increments. “Ideally you should give yourself at least three nights to get comfortable with the new schedule before you shift an additional 15 to 20 minutes,” she says.
With this in mind, it should take slightly over a week to shift to an hour earlier wake-up time.
2. Don’t Sleep Late on the Weekends
If you’re running on empty by the time Friday rolls around, you may be dreaming of a Saturday sleep-in session. But staying in bed until 11 a.m. on the weekend will unravel your efforts during the week, interrupting your natural body clock.
This applies to people in a hybrid work situation who sleep in on at-home work days, too.
According to research published in the journal Chronobiology International, a consistent bedtime on the weekends seems to lead to better sleep and easier waking during the week. Plus, you get to spend that weekend morning time any way you’d like.
But if you’re going to indulge in sleeping in on the weekend, limit it to an extra hour, Drerup says.
3. Wind Down 2 Hours Before Bedtime
Build an evening routine that helps you relax and primes you for bedtime, says Colleen Carney, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Start by shutting down on all goal-directed activities. “That means no work emails, no homework, no rigorous workouts. Nothing that will be difficult to ease out of,” Dr. Carney says.
Limit exposure to bright light, lower the brightness on your screens, and — better yet — tuck away the devices about two hours before it’s time for bed. Studies have pointed to a link between screen time before bed delaying the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
This is your time to wind down, read a novel, journal, or meditate, Dr. Cline says. “I’m a big fan of switching to reading a paperback instead of on a screen, as long as you’re not reading Stephen King or something thrilling. It’s in this time period that we should focus on creating calm.”
Make sure your bedroom is “optimized” for sleep, too, according to Timothy Young, MD, a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at Mayo Clinic.
Make use of curtains to block out light, invest in earplugs if your neighborhood is noisy, dim your lighting and, if possible, turn off all notifications on your phone, except for emergencies. The aim: cool, dark, and quiet.
4. Get Bright Light First Thing in the Morning
Bright lights on your devices can make it harder for you to go to sleep, but it has the same effect in the morning, too. Cline recommends opening your blinds for exposure to sunlight as soon as you start your day. And if you’re dealing with dark, dreary mornings, invest in a light box for 15 to 30 minutes of light therapy.
“It’s one of the most important tips: Having bright light in the morning resets your internal clock and that’s going to help you wake up earlier in the long run,” Cline says.
Play upbeat music, splash cold water on your face, or hop in the shower, Carney says. “These aren’t scientific tips, but I recommend them because they’re going to reinforce that it’s time to get up.”
5. Meal Prep and Make To-Do Lists at Night
If you’re a night owl struggling to wake up early, consider trimming down your morning activities so you can squeeze out a few more minutes of sleep, Carney says.
“What can you move to the night before so you can stay in bed a little longer and make your morning routine easier to manage?”
You can lay out your clothes and meal prep your breakfast and lunch the night before, or swap to lunchtime workouts instead of morning gym sessions.
Dr. Young also recommends taking time the night before to draft a to-do list, checking your family’s school and work schedules so you know what to expect. You might sleep better knowing you have the next day’s events in order and you won’t need to scramble in the morning.
6. Avoid Caffeine After Lunch
While you may need an after-lunch hit of espresso to get you through the rest of the workday, that caffeine may be keeping you up at night.
That’s why Young recommends cutting off caffeine after about 12 p.m.
This could vary depending on when you’re planning to go to bed. The Sleep Foundation suggests avoiding caffeine about eight hours before bedtime. For example, if you’re aiming to go to sleep at 10 p.m., stop drinking coffee after 2 p.m. to minimize sleep problems.
You can figure out what works for you by keeping a sleep diary that includes what time you last had caffeine and how well you slept that night. You may find that you sleep much better with a longer period away from caffeine.
7. Try a Melatonin Supplement to Get Back on Track
Your body naturally makes melatonin to stimulate your sleep, but some experts recommend taking a melatonin supplement to help reorient your body clock.
Start with a low dose of about 1 to 3 milligrams taken about 1 to 1.5 hours before bedtime and shift intake as you move your bedtime forward, Cline suggests. If you are trying to shift your circadian rhythm, you might want to take it even earlier, about four hours before your planned bedtime.
“It can be really helpful in moving to an earlier sleep onset,” he says.
Bear in mind, melatonin doesn’t work well for sleep disorders and can even result in drowsiness the next day for some people. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking supplements in case of possible side effects or interactions with other medications you may be taking.
8. Seek Professional Help if You Still Can’t Wake Up in the Morning
If you’ve tried the tips above consistently for one to three months to no avail, book an appointment with your healthcare provider who may connect you with a sleep specialist.
You may be dealing with underlying health concerns like depression or anxiety or you could have a sleep disorder that’s affecting your sleep quality.
Seek professional help sooner if your lack of sleep is creating a safety concern, such as with driving, or if it’s impeding on your ability to go to work or school on time, Young says.
“Is getting up on time an inconvenient struggle, or is it negatively impacting your academic or work performance? If you recognize a pattern of lost opportunities, then seeking professional help is an important next step.”