The early bird catches the ….*snore*
October 7, 2021 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Very shortly I will have to become A Morning Person due to the 3 hour time difference between where I live and the east coast hours of a new job. I am very much not a morning person and pushing back my start time each day is not an option. How do I become an early bird? I can only do one cup of coffee before I get jittery.
posted by Jubey to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to sound really dumb, but I broke myself of the snooze button habit and became a Morning Person (initially with ill grace, I’ll admit) by shoving my bed against the wall and putting my phone on the other side of the room.

This meant that when my alarm went off, I had maybe a few seconds to vault over the sleeping form of my wife and turn it off before it woke her up. By the time I’d done that, I was wide awake and I did not want to run the further risk of waking her up by trying to creep back into bed. A few weeks of that definitely trained me to get up with minimal resistance. We no longer have our bed against the wall like that, but the habit has persisted.

Sleep hygiene (as in having a routine and following it) so that I went to bed at a reasonable hour most nights also helped. This is much harder to do, because it requires you to do things consistently when you’re tired and grouchy. However, again, habit helps, as does some attention to body chemistry - caffeine in the afternoons can do a number on you, really, even tea.

The book ‘Atomic Habits’ helped me to get past the idea that this was a question of willpower or character and realise it’s mostly about dumb tricks that let you bypass your own self-sabotage by essentially rewiring your brain. It’s definitely a book that suffers from ‘really, this is three blog posts with some padding’ syndrome but the core ideas were a very useful reframing for me. The book ‘Why We Sleep’ also gave me a lot of food for thought and helped me to see sleep as an absolutely essential part of my life rather than the irksome chore/annoying gap that I saw it as in my twenties. A lot of the struggles I had with establishing effective morning and evening routines were basically just the effects of chronic sleep deprivation.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:15 AM on October 8, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in Marin and worked on the NY Stock exchange time. Had to be at the office at 5:30 am. That meant getting up at 4:00 am. Prior to that, the only time I saw 4:00am was coming in, not going out.

I am not going to lie. I am a night owl. It was not easy. I struggled for the entire year I did it. It came down to two things. One, necessity. Two, mental discipline. This may sound ridiculous, but the only way to do it is to do it.

I set up critical hurdles. I was managing traders and set up a morning meeting with them at 6:00am. The market opens at 6:30 in California. I HAD TO BE READY. My kids were very young (1,2,and 3) at the time. I took responsibility for the early morning bottle for the baby. If you have a bunch of must do's, you get up and do them.

The other key was bedtime. I was disciplined to be in bed by 21:15. I simply forced myself to live on eastern time. Dinner was at 16:00 or 17:00. I learned little tricks like using my DVR or VCR to time and day shift TV. So, while most people had must see TV on say Wednesday, I would record on Wednesday and watch on Thursday.

My "A" advice is to have the same bedtime and morning alarm time every day. After a while you realize that it is second nature.
posted by AugustWest at 12:26 AM on October 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Two big things for me were the same alarm times everyday, and the second was changing my alarm ringtone every few weeks. I find the first helps in my getting used to new bedtimes, and the second harder to ignore my alarm.
posted by Carillon at 12:55 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you have a bunch of must do's, you get up and do them.

I think this is the shortcut to retraining your wake-up. Make your morning busy. Used to starting work at 8am but now have to start at 5am? Get up at 4am and do those things that will set you up for the day - stretching/yoga/work-out/meditation/breakfast/shower/presentation. Make yourself a little tight for time to fit everything in so you won't feel like you have time to sleep-in when the alarm goes off.
posted by Thella at 12:57 AM on October 8, 2021

Although he got weird later on, Steve Pavlina's advice on early rising is still very valuable.

I second going to bed on time. If you know how much sleep you need, do the math, add some bonus time for pre-bed routine, and even though the final number may sound ridiculous ("what, start getting ready for bed at 8 pm??"), try it for a while. You can try aiming for the end of your sleep cycle: sleep calculator.

Maybe a dose of melatonin until your body settles into the new schedule would be beneficial.

One weird little trick (TM): Back when I had a commute that required getting up unreasonably early, I set my alarm ringtone to very energetic songs, just to make getting up easier. I still bolt upright whenever I hear "Hey Ya" by Outkast.

Also: if you have a coffee maker with a timer, use it. There's nothing like the smell of fresh coffee (or fresh bread, if you have a bread machine) to lure you out of your bedroom.
posted by gakiko at 1:00 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you aren't a morning person and enjoy being awake at night, you could consider waking up much earlier (e.g. 4-5 hours earlier), before you start work. This would also mean sleeping a lot earlier, though. Having that extra chunk of time before starting work can be helpful in feeling like you have some personal time to collect yourself, feel more "settled" and awake, and not stumble into work too bleary-eyed/sluggish. Not sure if you have other responsibilities that would preclude sleeping much earlier and waking up in the middle of the night, but it works for some that can accommodate that schedule-wise.
posted by aielen at 2:19 AM on October 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

Get as much natural light as you can. Leave the curtains open when you sleep/duck out to watch the sunrise (depending on what part of your day sunrise falls into). Go for a walk in your lunch break. If you’re starting so early hopefully you get a decent bit of the afternoon free so stroll, picnic, just hang on the balcony/stoop/library steps watching the sun/rain. Sounds quaint but it’s the only way I don’t feel awful as a mega night person doing early starts.
posted by hotcoroner at 2:24 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have a similar early start because of time differences. For me, having a siesta for maybe an hour in the afternoon, helps. It lets me avoid having to go to bed earlier than my partner to get enough sleep and it helps demarcate the end of the working day.
posted by rongorongo at 2:49 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you can't drink a lot of coffee (my first choice) you can do intermittent fasting. Stop eating at what ever time is 12 hours before you have to get up. The timing would be between 10–18 hours - choosing the longest interval will work the best for this method.
Then, when you wake up you will be so hungry, you will be in bed thinking what delicious breakfast can I have and I get to drink my one cup of coffee a day!
I think this will propel you out of bed.
posted by cda at 3:41 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

A sunrise simulator lamp really helps me wake up early, when it's still dark outside. I usually set it to start getting light about 30 minutes before I have to wake up, with full brightness just before my alarm goes off.

I recently had to start waking up nearly 3 hours earlier than I'm used to. It's not fun, but is getting easier as time goes on. I still set multiple alarms on my phone to make sure I actually wake up.
posted by belladonna at 4:37 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

The good news is that the change is possible. I started med school at age 37 and have now become a permanent morning person, it seems (still holding out at age 44).

Some things that helped—Mr. Coffee brand cheap coffee pot with a timer, multiple alarms, expensive Philips “dawn” light alarm clock, 1970s clock radio that plays very, very loud, mediocre internet at home (fast enough to do work, not fast enough to have fun), Provigil to keep me awake during the day, instant coffee with me in my bag for the same purpose (faster than other ways of making coffee at work), little mini crockpot to make oatmeal for breakfast, drinking a bunch of water first thing in the morning, and (important) lots and lots of falling asleep at 7:30 PM out of sheer exhaustion. One thing I didn’t use is sleeping pills—always worried I would oversleep.
posted by 8603 at 4:58 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I made the switch to being a morning person a few years ago, but it still feels a little precarious — like, I believe (whether or not it’s true) that I’ll fall off the wagon and start habitually sleeping in again if I EVER let up. So I just never let up.

This is what works for me, echoing some of the comments above.
- Alarm clock on the other side of the room. Bonus points if you have to turn it off fast to avoid waking up a partner.
- Never use the snooze button. When you use it, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to make a choice (whether or not to get out of bed) when you’re least equipped to make a good one (because you’re tired). Just never make it a choice in the first place by never making it an option.
- Make sure you have hard obligations during your morning routine (aside from, you know, getting to work). (Like AugustWest’s post above about HAVING to get up to feed the baby at X time, then HAVING to be ready for a meeting.) So, for me, I like to work out. My workout time is non-negotiable — it’s super important to me and I love to do it, so it’s a hard obligation for me. I MUST wake up at X time to give myself 1.5 hours to work out and then shower/get ready. Then I MUST get my kid up, then I MUST get him to school on time.
- This is weird and also kind of the same point, but simultaneously make your morning schedule a little tight, so you’re never tempted to slack off — while at the same time, giving yourself time to do a routine that you like and sets you up for the day. Like I said above, for me, that’s working out.
- Keep the same schedule every day, including weekends (more or less). Makes it easier for me, anyway (see above about being afraid of falling off the wagon).
posted by liet at 5:12 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My only One Weird Trick (which is very YMMV and will require calibration): drink a LOT of water before going to bed. This will help hydrate you and serve as a natural alarm clock.
posted by papergirl at 5:18 AM on October 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

I’ve found that sleep discipline is key for me. Always to bed at the same time, no bargaining or claiming I can get by on less sleep for a day. It’s not a cure all, but without it I never seem to adjust at all.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:21 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wake your body up. Hot coffee is great but not the only thing out there - a cold glass of water, a hot shower or face wash, a brisk walk, singing to the radio, a stretch, a literal breath of fresh outdoor air (especially if you're working from home).
posted by february at 5:48 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention — like I said, one of my hard obligations is working out, but I do different activities over the course of the week. Each day, I have something different to get up for and be excited about. It doesn’t get stale and I’m not waking up to exactly the same thing every day (but still exactly the same timeframes/schedule).

I’m not sure how to adapt the idea of shaking up the morning to stuff other than working out, but it really helps me get my ass out of bed. Worth thinking about.
posted by liet at 6:00 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I became more of a morning person using the SleepyTime app. Contrary to what I thought, the app gives you a time to wake up based on when you're going to bed, or you can ask it what time you need to go to bed based on what time you need to wake up. It sets the time based on the average length of REM cycles. I now get 6 or 7 hours of sleep, and usually wake up before the alarm even goes off. Mornings are easier because waking at the wrong part of a REM cycle is jarring, but once your body gets used to the number of REM cycles it needs, you wake up more refreshed and ready to go.
posted by mibo at 6:46 AM on October 8, 2021

All of these are great suggestions, I'd just add that sleep discipline (same time to bed, same to rise, seven days a week, with no screens for 30-45 minutes before lights out) is critical. I don't do that, I can't get up feeling somewhat human. I also drink a big glass of water, do some breathing and centering exercises, and have a yogurt or piece of fruit before I start in on the caffeine.

Good luck!

Although he got weird later on, Steve Pavlina's advice on early rising is still very valuable.

It is, and as an aside it is somewhat incredible to watch Pavlina move over the years from pretty standard self-help tips like "How To Get Up Right Away" and "Overcoming Your Fear of Success" to bizarre entries about "lightworkers" and juice feasting and creating your own reality through vibrations or whatever. Odd guy.
posted by fortitude25 at 6:50 AM on October 8, 2021

I did this recently, because I spent nine months on the west coast still working my eastern time job. And I am not a morning person, holy wow. It turned out relatively okay mainly because I never allowed myself to fully adjust to the west coast time -- I just got stayed on eastern time, but three hours earlier, if that makes sense. You apparently don't have that option, though, so I'll add my one weird trick that helps, even if it doesn't solve the problem:

Wake up at the same time every single day and go to the bathroom, even if you do not *stay* up. Saturday? Stat holiday? Doesn't matter, let your alarm go off, get up and pee. Go back to bed after if you like. You power through that for a couple of weeks and your body clock will semi-permanently want to pee at that time, which makes getting out of bed so much easier.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:01 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I start work at 6am PT (or sometimes even earlier) because I also have an East Coast job. It's much easier in the summer when the sun rises early! The most important things to do are to shift your bedtime earlier and, if you can, get up a little earlier to go for a short walk outside before you start. Even going around the block helps. When daylight saving time ends that will help a little- it's very hard right now.
posted by pinochiette at 7:02 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you have a few days lead in time start now to switch your schedule over. Make sure that your getting up time is sufficiently before your have-to-be-functional time that you won't be rushed into skipping breakfast or making mistakes that you don't have time to correct, like mislaying things.

The tricky thing will be figuring out what time is the one where you wake up easiest - half an hour earlier or later can make a big difference, so if you ever get up shortly before dawn because you are sick, or the garbage trucks wakes you, or you need to pee, figure out if that happens at a particular time and choose that for the time you shoot for.

Then get up and do something reasonably active so you are at least walking around, every morning at that time. During the period before you actually start you job the only rule is to get up at the same time and to not go back to bed, and to not just slump in a chair somewhere. If you get up at 4 AM you can go back to bed or drop into vegging out on the computer at 5:30 AM, but for that hour and a half you must stay up and at least intermittently moving around. It doesn't matter what your bedtime is or when you sleep as long as you get up then. Train yourself to be as awake as you can at that time, including on your days off.

If it is really tough after three days, try moving the wake up time half an hour earlier or later, to see if that matches your sleep cycle better, but don't let yourself take a day off from getting up to meet the milkman.

Get out of the house if it is viable - a quick drive down to the drive through for a breakfast egg sandwich and orange juice will make you feel more like the day as started. Seeing other people out and about will help convince you psychologically that you are now part of the community that starts the day early.

Use treats to motivate yourself - music you want to listen to, zucchini cheesecake for breakfast, buy virtual rewards in your game, whatever makes you feel, however briefly, positive and motivated to get up.

Consider switching to tea which has less caffeine in it, or coffee made with one third of the caffeine and stretch your intake out over the work day by having a cup every two hours instead of one cup of espresso first thing and then try to hold out without it. Make sure you don't do a carb crash either after breakfast or after lunch. Try to get into moving air by going outside, or opening windows even if you have to wear a jacket inside. Also try to make sure that everything is bright and not cozy.

Do something active, like stretches or yoga to make sure your circulation is pumping.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:10 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I had to make this switch last year! A few things that help me:

-a nightstand coffee maker (single serving) so I could caffeinate for 10 min before leaving bed

-taking advantage of being off work a bit earlier than the rest of the world, since it made the tradeoff more pleasant. For me this means enjoying the extra non-work daylight in late afternoon for running or hiking.
posted by soleiluna at 7:20 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am on the east coast and have to accommodate meetings in European timezones. During one stretch I was joining 5:00 am calls, as I was the only U.S.-based person on the call, and no other time slot could be found that worked for everybody else in the call.

Things that helped:
- wake-up light (also referred to as sunrise alarm clock)
- going to the gym after the call and before my east coast work hours started
- taking long lunch break (walking outside if weather was nice) or leaving early on the days I had an early start, done with the understanding of my manager
- going to bed early
- eating dinner early to leave enough time between eating and bedtime
posted by research monkey at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2021

There are a variety of alarm apps out there that require you to do some task to shut off the alarm - math problems, puzzles, etc - this is great because it requires you to actually wake up your brain to some degree. Ever better for me were the options that require you to take a picture of something or scan a barcode. When I had a job where I was responsible for opening the library, I had it set to force me to take a picture of my shower. That way, I was already out of bed and in the bathroom, so I might as well get in the shower. I used Alarmy, but I'm pretty sure I tried others as well.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:38 AM on October 8, 2021

Best answer: I'm going to go against the grain and say ditch coffee altogether. I was never a morning person until a few years ago when I had to start getting up at 5am, leave the house before 6, start work by 7, and not get back to the house until gone 5 most nights.

Someone in the same boat at work suggested knocking coffee on the head and dammit she was right. Took a few days for the withdrawal to go, but after that I found getting up and getting alert in the morning a lot easier, even when it was dark and cold outside. Coffee becomes a crutch that very quickly simply makes you crabby and headache-y if you don't have it. And then you have a crash as the caffeine wears off later, so you feel worse.

Get up early enough to be able to do at least a short workout (even 10 minutes of light weights/crunches/jogging on the spot, anything that gets your heart rate up), eat a breakfast with some protein in it to stop you eating through your tiredness, and drink more water than you think you need throughout the day. At least once a week have a lie-in by going to bed 2 hours earlier than normal.

Once you get into good habits, you'll find it much easier. Humans are very adaptable. You got this.
posted by underclocked at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

A tip: instead of the sunrise alarm clock, if you already have or wanted smart bulbs like Philips HUE (or knockoffs, but just make sure it's something with a quality app so you can schedule your lights to come on the way you like), now is the time. You can do it slowly if you want, or just have your bedroom light up like a football field at the time of your choosing (I suggest Target or Big Lots for a selection of smallish lamps that take regular-size bulbs) - I actually find the abruptness helps.

But also, light the rest of your way. We have Hue bulbs in the hallway, in a lamp by the coffee maker, and in our offices, so there's no sleepily padding through the quiet dark. We're up, everything's up, it's time to get moving.

I don't entirely have to work East Coast time, but my company is very bi-coastal and one thing to watch for is that if you're starting that early, STOP that early. I very easily end up falling into a habit where I'll work from 7-7, the East coasters end up working 9-9. Occasionally it does need to happen, but try to give yourself a thing that you leave your desk and do around the appropriate quitting time - dog/kid/self walk, gym, start dinner, half an hour of chores, just remove butt from chair for a few minutes and ideally go see some sunshine for a few.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:12 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

When I need to function at my best soon after waking up way too early, what works the best is a cold shower. Coffee is a distant second.
posted by Homer42 at 11:28 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think the big thing is going to be to live in that time zone as much as possible even on days you aren't working. This is going to be really tough for evenings and weekends, but I'd suggest for the first month or so, you really avoid making any plans later in the evening. If you need to get up at 5am to start work at 6am (or whatever), then you need to start adjusting your schedule so you're asleep by 9pm (or whatever), which might mean winding down at 8pm, and having dinner earlier too. No 9pm tv shows, etc.

A friend of mine started a new job recently where she has to be at work at 6am, and sticking to a really early bedtime, even on weekends, was so key for her, especially in the early transition.

I'm also a night owl, but I think a lot of us night owls sometimes just don't get enough sleep. Prioritizing sleep is going to make this all a lot easier.

When does your job start? As much as possible, start shifting your schedule now, I think.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:42 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

It really helps to wake up at the same time every day. Yes, including your days off. Also, I struggle with not sleeping because I'm worried I'll miss my alarm, so an alarm noise that you don't sleep through is really helpful (mine is a dog barking; I have a different noise for less essential wake ups). I do my morning routine almost completely on autopilot, and that's also helpful. You build that by doing exactly the same things in the same order for days and days and days.
posted by plonkee at 1:12 PM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Melatonin, for me, has been great for switching time zones, but you may have to play around with timing and dosage. You really want to take around half a mg, a couple of hours before your desired bedtime. Make sure it doesn’t interact with anything you’re taking and that you don’t have any contraindications.

It is not a placebo like a lot of supplements, but it is also unlike a typical sleeping pill in that it is not really a sedative. Its main function is to cue your circadian rhythm. This makes it really useful for jet-lag, with or without an actual jet.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:13 PM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Do you have a pet? You know how you're NOT supposed to feed your pet as soon as you wake up because it will train them to bother you first thing in the morning for food? Doing the opposite is a great way to ensure you get out of bed.

I was sick of my habit of hitting snooze, so when I adopted two new rescue cats at the beginning of the pandemic, I made a habit of feeding them as soon as I woke up. It didn't take long for them to adjust to this, and now, when they hear my alarm, they run into my room and start pestering me for food. I haven't slept in for over 18 months, which was the goal!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:08 PM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Don’t be like me and blow it on the weekends/over vacations by oversleeping, because it’ll mess up the week. Give yourself no more than 20 minutes of a lie-in and then get right up. Otherwise your whole week will be ruined because your body will try to drag you back to weekend sleep-in time.

I have a breakfast I love so much, it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed some days. Being hungry helps but it’s crucial for me that I am looking forward to eating my particular thing.

Totally agree that pee urgency trumps all.
posted by kapers at 12:07 AM on October 9, 2021

Oh yeah, how could I forget a cat who jumps on my head, dive-bombs my chest, licks my nose, and PUTS HER PAW ON MY MOUTH at the crack of dawn, as my actual infallible alarm?
posted by kapers at 12:10 AM on October 9, 2021

the only way to do it is to do it

Can confirm. Also, as a fellow night owl, can also confirm that it keeps feeling terrible and expecting to find a way to make it not do that is an unrealistic expectation. Best that can be achieved is convince yourself that the suffering is actually worth it, and then suffer.

I guess you could try sleeping outdoors in a tent for a while. That usually shifts my sleep cycle forward by a few hours if I do it for more than a week.
posted by flabdablet at 2:37 AM on October 9, 2021

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