Strategies for waking up earlier
July 14, 2016 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Are there any effective cognitive strategies or tricks for waking up earlier for something non-essential but beneficial (i.e. going for a run, having a longer breakfast, just having more time in the beginning of the day)?

I currently have a really draining commute. As a result, when I get home from work, I tend to be very physically exhausted and don't have time to go for a run, which I used to enjoy. I've been trying to get myself to wake up 35 minutes earlier than I need to, in the morning, so I can run then but I've been finding it near impossible. I get enough sleep and am not especially tired during the day and have no trouble waking up at the right time for work but my body and mind rebel at the idea of waking up even slightly earlier for something I don't absolutely need to do.

My question is: what kind of cognitive strategies or tricks work for waking up slightly earlier in the morning for something that you don't absolutely have to do?

I can't go to sleep any earlier--I already get enough sleep (around 7.5 hours) and sleeping more, when I've tried it, has not made any difference. I'm a night owl, so I'm never going to really want to wake up in the morning. However, I can manage it without trouble when I need to do something--what would be a better way to do it when I just want to do something?
posted by armadillo1224 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The approach that Steve Pavlina suggests is practicing. I.e., make it routine by roleplaying going to bed and getting up when you hear your alarm. I can't personally vouch for it, but it makes sense!
posted by Baethan at 6:56 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

(Disclosure: I'm a time management wrangler, but not your time management wrangler)

Some of the clients I work with noticed that when they started to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day to prepare for the next - ie lay out clothes, clean out their purse/bag, etc - they suddenly had an extra 15 minutes in the morning that they could spend on a nice breakfast instead of running around stressed about being late.

The other piece of advice I would have is wonder how long have you had this new schedule? It can take a long time for your body to adjust to the new commute time.
posted by A hidden well at 6:58 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: 1. I keep my phone/ alarm far away so I physically have to get up and turn it off.
2. I try to remember that a morning run is VASTLY better than regretting it all day.
3. Cherry limeade nuun.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:04 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can use Sleep Cycle as an alarm clock, and study the graphs to figure out when you are naturally in a sleep phase that is easy to wake from. I typically can wake up easily around 7 AM or around 5 AM. Trying to wake up at 6 AM is pretty miserable.
posted by BrashTech at 7:12 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have to dispute your last paragraph. If you're coming home from work exhausted, staying up even later, getting 7.5 hours (many people need more) and can't wake up even 30 minutes earlier, you need to get to bed earlier. After a few or several days, you're probably going to start waking up before your alarm naturally and then setting an earlier alarm will be easier. You can stop being a night owl; many people do. I suggest that when you get home, you put your phone away and read or sit outside until you feel tired. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy a cheap alarm clock and keep your phone away from your bed. Drinking more water in the evening might help you feel better in the morning. If possible, eat less in the evening (light dinner before your commute home?) so you wake up hungrier. Maybe set a light timer to turn on a little before you want to get up or keep the blinds open if you're facing east/south. If you would rather keep your phone near you, Sleep Cycle mentioned above is great. I also agree that practicing the immediate bound out of bed can be helpful if you're awake but sluggish. Putting your running clothes right by your bed (or even sleeping in them!) can help you be out the door before you realize you don't want to do be doing this. Hope this helps.
posted by michaelh at 7:15 AM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was going to mention Sleep Cycle, as well. I've found that it's the first alarm I've ever used that actually helps me get up regularly, on time, and even earlier than on time when I want/need to do that. And I have generally TERRIBLE sleep hygiene.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:18 AM on July 14, 2016

Best answer: I sleep in my running clothes, which greatly increases my chances of getting out of bed. Also, a cognitive trick that I've tried to implement is noticing that I generally don't gain anything by lying in bed another half an hour, so if I'm going to feel the same anyway, I might as well take the opportunity that will bring me more satisfaction during the day. I've never (ever) regretted getting up a half hour earlier, but I've always regretted not doing it, when I've thought that I should. Also, one other cognitive trick has been convincing myself that running adds more time to my day than it takes away. The amount of mental energy and productivity for my day goes through the roof that exceeds the time commitment to run. If you are tired of being tired during the day and at the end of it, this is a pretty good immediate reward feedback system. It helps with general energy, and it changes your mood and mental perception of the day, which can relieve stress, which is a major factor in ongoing fatigue. Fatigue makes you feel as if you don't have the time, so it's a negative feedback cycle. The "convincing yourself to go" issue will probably resolve itself in a short amount of time when you start getting the benefits from it, and then you'll feel as if you want to go. I'm sure this is stuff you already know as a runner, but I find that framing the issue and reminding myself with words can be incredibly helpful, even for things that I know already.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]

Sacrificing sleep for workouts is a terrible idea. You need sleep to properly recover from them, for one thing. Your body and mind are rebelling from losing Zzzs because they need them, not because they're being contrary for the sake of it or need "discipline". If you've got a good rhythm, I think it's important to respect it.

What about running after work (close to work)? Have a snack about an hour beforehand so you're not starved. Maybe that way, you'll also skip out on some of the worst traffic on the way home. I bet you'll see an increase in energy this way, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've found that my ability to wake up early has noticeable improved during the time that I've been completely without the Internet at home. It was a choice I made, and it was helpful. YMMV.

I've also noticed that very bright light in the morning also helps a bit.
posted by clawsoon at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2016


and previously.
posted by sazerac at 8:17 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best way I've found is to have someone relying on me to meet them to go running. So I started with my sister & I getting together twice a week to run at 6AM. Now I have a high-energy rescue GSD, and she must get exercised first thing. So I'm having much less trouble getting up in the morning, although it's occasionally hard to get myself to run instead of walking the dog.

So: find a running partner, or get a dog.
posted by suelac at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I generally don't gain anything by lying in bed another half an hour,
Definitely this.

I used to have a series of alarms, recurring every 15 minutes or so, and I'd basically snooze through them all.
It didn't help at all. It just meant I was burning time being cross and annoyed that I couldn't stay in bed.

So, one day after snoozing for about 6 times in a row I realised that if I'd just gone back to sleep I'd have an hour and half extra sleep, but this way I was just as tired and was an hour and a half later in work.

So now I generally either get up or decide that I need more sleep actually and go back to sleep proper. (On the rare occasion that I'm allowed the luxury).
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:30 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, one other note as well. It's really easy for me to have a drink and snack in the evening as a way of unwinding. I've found that the extent to which I do either of these things has a direct correlation to how well I sleep, and whether or not I feel like getting up in the morning. One of the best tricks I've found is to eat things that make me feel better in the long run (vs. instant gratification), and as a result, the mornings look a while lot better to me.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:33 AM on July 14, 2016

Seconding Sleep Cycle - that was how I figured out I have a three-hour cycle rather than the more typical four-hour, and I need either six or nine hours of sleep - eight will always suck.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:05 AM on July 14, 2016

I am you. I am incapable of getting out of bed earlier than I must to get to something non-negotiable.

The one thing that makes me get up on time is having a room with a window that allows for natural light as soon as the sun comes up. It doesn't work if I have to get up before dawn; what does work is setting a bright light on a timer for 30 minutes before the alarm.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a long commute. I literally don't have the ability to get up earlier to exercise much before work. So I exercise on the way (by riding my bike to and from the train). If I don't bike, I try to walk part of the way home from work. My hours after work are hugely improved on the days I manage to do that. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:24 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a night owl who has managed to run 3 mornings a week for 9 months now. No one is more shocked than me - I have never before in life been able to sustain early morning workouts for so long.

Agree with sleeping in running clothes. Accountability definitely helps, but it doesn't have to be a running buddy if you can't find one or prefer to run alone - it could be anyone in your life, maybe a runner friend who you regularly chat with about your runs. Not wanting to admit to your friend that you slept in and skipped your run might get you out the door. To be honest, I started running in the morning when I was in a new relationship, and my desire to impress my boyfriend (also a runner) was HUGELY motivating.

Getting a Garmin watch helped too. If I don't go, there will be proof!

I've also discovered that even though I'm still a night owl, the morning is my favorite time of day to run. It's more peaceful, there's less traffic, and sometimes the weather is much better. I honestly can't even imagine running in the evenings these days when it's above 90 degrees. And I started running in the morning originally because it was the only time I could run during daylight in the winter.

I think my most effective cognitive trick is actually seeing it as something I need to do. My evenings are busy, and I lose so much motivation by the end of the workday that if I want to fit in a run on weekdays, I need to do it in the morning or it won't happen. Since you enjoy running, you could also see it as giving yourself the opportunity to do something you enjoy that you wouldn't otherwise have.
posted by treachery, faith, and the great river at 9:25 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Getting a Garmin watch helped too. If I don't go, there will be proof!

Gamifying it has helped me a bit, too. Fitbit comes with software and an online presence that turns it into a process where you can earn trophies and things, and also connect with other people in a social way. At my house, my wife and daughter also got one, and we compare things like steps, distance traveled in a day, etc.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:40 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gamifying it has helped me a bit, too.

Oh, yes. I do Zombies, Run! and that definitely helps me get into it more, because I want to know what happens next in the story. (Shoutout to MeFi ZR people: I'm cofax on ZL.)
posted by suelac at 9:46 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get yourself a treat if you get up early and do the thing. Treat can be anything, doesn't have to be food/drink/whatever, but for me when I was training myself to go to the gym before work it was a really good iced coffee that I'd pick up at the place in between my gym and my office. No gym = office Keurig.

I use and find success with a lot of these kinds of self-fulfilling motivational techniques. The obvious rebuttal to the iced coffee strategy is, "if you want the iced coffee, what's stopping you from sleeping in, not working out, and getting the iced coffee anyway?" And the answer is... because then I wouldn't have enough motivation to go to the gym! I can't ruin my gym-going trick just to get a slightly better coffee, that's silly. It's not super logical but it works for me.
posted by telegraph at 9:55 AM on July 14, 2016

I've found the time between getting up and actually going out the door is the hardest. Once I've stepped out the door, I'm good. So do whatever you can to make your pre-out-the-door prep easier and faster. I don't sleep in my workout clothes, but I lay my clothes and shoes out so I can get dressed fast.

Use an app like Strava or whatever to track your progress. Give history to all your effort.

I start a pot of coffee right before walking out the door. When I return, I have some good, hot coffee ready as my reward.
posted by LoveHam at 12:31 PM on July 14, 2016

I haven't, but always intended to try kaizen. (Is there a kaizen method to kaizen?) It is a Japanese idea that subtle, continual changes will result in dramatic and sustainable differences. So, the idea is that you would set your alarm to go off one minute earlier every morning, and in a month or so you'll have reached your goal. If you try it, let me know if it worked!
posted by defreckled at 4:16 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

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