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How to Train Yourself To Wake Up Early (Yes, Even in Winter)

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Trying to become an early riser is a beast at any time, but in winter (when everything is cold, dark, and dreary) the siren song of your warm blanket pile can be irresistible. It’s so easy to talk yourself back into falling asleep and prolong facing the harsh outside world for a few more hours. But, as we all know, there are a ton of benefits to waking up early, like reduced stress, increased productivity, and a better attitude overall.

I used to be the biggest night owl (like staying up until three or four in the morning on a regular basis). I thought that because I enjoyed staying up late it meant that was the best schedule for me; after all, whether you wake up at 6 am or go to bed at 3 am you’re getting roughly the same waking hours. On a whim, though, I decided to try this mythical morning magic for myself, kissing my night owl days goodbye.

The first thing I noticed was that, although technically having the same amount of waking hours, the quality of those hours was (pun intended) night and day. In my old routine, most of my conscious hours past 11 pm were spent watching TV, snacking, or skittering mindlessly across the Internet. This habit didn’t make me feel the greatest; I was constantly thinking in circles about things I should have been doing instead of vegging out, but never got to any of it because it was late and I’d run out of willpower (which is NOT an unlimited resource, if you haven’t heard)

Now that I go to sleep around 11-11:30, my “extra” early morning hours are spent doing things I love that put me in a primo mood for the rest of the day. How can you make the switch?

Here are some ideas to get you out of bed before the sun:

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1.  Ease yourself into it.

Like a lobster dropped in hot water (wait–lobster? Frog?), if you try to go from waking up at 8:30 am to 5:00 am overnight, you’re going to fail. Maybe you’ll hold out for a few days, but sooner or later the shock will hit your system and you’ll be right back to snoozing the sunrise away.

This actually isn’t your fault. Any change in routine freaks out your amygdala, sending stress hormones and lots of !!! signals to your body. Your cortex is like the rational parent of your brain; it understands all the perks of waking up early and will sit there trying to explain them, but the amygdala basically buries its head under the pillows shouting “NO NO NO!” until you give up.

One way to circumvent the amygdala panic attack is by utilizing a Japanese philosophy called kaizen. Kaizen has you approach habit changes so incrementally that your brain doesn’t even realize you’re doing anything out of the ordinary. So, instead of dialing back your alarm by hours, start by waking up just ten minutes earlier the first week. Next week, get up ten minutes earlier than you were last week. Continue this process slowly but surely until you’re waking up at your desired time!

2. Shamelessly bribe yourself. 

You’re never going to wake up at 6:00 am if all that’s waiting for you is a cold shower, a cold jog outside, and a cold, funky green juice. Yes, these things are good for you but they’re not enough when the last thing you want to do is get out of bed. If I tried to wake up early and become a morning exerciser at the same time, I would’ve failed at both. Because I hate both.

What constitutes a tempting enough bribe really depends on what you love. The morning routine that I’ve fallen into is waking up at 7:00 (this started at 8:00, so we’re already six weeks strong), enjoying a big breakfast while reading whatever latest book I’m into, and spending half an hour doing my morning pages with a homemade latte.

I love reading, writing, and coffee but never used to have time for all three. Now, the very first things I get to do after waking up are what make me happiest! Eventually, you can add in the good-for-you things, like exercising or doing homework, too, but not right away. (Maybe not ever, if you’re like me).

3. EAT BREAKFAST. 

Do I really need to say it?

Fine.

BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY.

This is not a drill, folks! Your body has been fasting since you fell asleep the night before and it deserves a healthy, filling meal to start the day. What you eat for breakfast directly affects your metabolism and energy for the next 24 hours so DON’T SKIP IT. Seriously. Choose something hearty, like an omelet, oatmeal with banana slices, or yogurt and a banana bean muffin. You’ll stay full for longer and be bursting with energy by the time you hit work.

4. Prep things the night before. 

Yes, now that you’re waking up earlier you have all this new time in your morning routine. But do you really want to spend that extra time agonizing in front of your closet or scrambling for something to eat for lunch? (Sidenote: if anyone has healthy lunch ideas please leave them below because that is the one meal I’m worst at).

To avoid decision fatigue first thing in the morning, get some of the more mundane things prepared the night before. Physically pick out your clothes (and shoes!) and put them within easy reach of your bed. Plan your meals at the beginning of your week and pack the next day’s lunch up before you go to sleep. Do your dishes right after dinner instead of when you first wake up. Your groggy, morning self will thank you for it.

 

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