We all know that early risers reap big rewards. You can squeeze in a workout while the rest of the world sleeps, or get a jumpstart on your to-do list and beat your peers to the next promotion.
One problem: We all have a natural body clock, and yours may not be set to “bounce out of bed before sunrise, take on world.”
Just because you’re programmed to sleep late doesn’t mean you’re destined to miss the proverbial worm. Here are six ways to become an earlier riser.
Bite Off 15 Minutes at a Time
If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t try to run 26 miles the first day of your program. The same applies when you’re trying to retrain your body to get up early. Go bed a little earlier at night—15 minutes, say—and wake up a little earlier the next morning.
When that feels natural, set both your bedtime and wakeup time back again. Keep going until your naturally falls asleep and wakes up on your chosen schedule.
This plan is based on behaviorist Clark Hull’s goal-gradient hypothesis, which says that the tendency to achieve a goal increases with your proximity to that goal. In other words, you’re more likely to stick to your new routine if you ease into it gradually and tick off a few small wins along the way.
Give Yourself Zero Tolerance
Once you’ve reached your optimum rising time, stick to it. Set your alarm to the same time every day, and get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. Don’t hit the snooze button, or give yourself permission to sleep late on Sundays. If you’re already working against your body clock, you can’t give it a chance to return to its factory setting.
As you condition your body to wake up at the same time each morning, you’ll find yourself ready to rise, just like Amelia Boone, 2013 Reebok Spartan Race World Champion, who rouses for her dawn run most mornings before her alarm goes off at 4:07 a.m.
Put Something on the Line
If you find it hard to ditch the duvet in favor of an early morning routine, make yourself accountable to others. Find a training partner who prefers to work out in the wee hours, or hire a trainer who’ll take you on as her first client of the day.
Another option is to schedule important meetings as early as you can get your colleagues, customers, or clients to agree to show up. Put something important on the line, like your income or your reputation.
Set Up Visual Cues
Planning to train? Put your running shoes in full view of your bed so they’re the first thing you see when you open your eyes in the morning. A 2015 study from Iowa State University showed that it’s much easier to accomplish an exercise goal by focusing on a cue that makes going to the gym automatic.
Not enough to get you out of bed? If you’re scheduled to meet a trainer, you can try something more tangible, like your checkbook, as a reminder that he’s going to charge you for the session whether you show up or not. If you’re training for an OCR, find a picture of yourself crossing the finish line of a previous race. Or, if it’s your first race, get a picture that reminds you of why you want to do it in the first place.
Put Your Morning on Autopilot
A true morning person wakes up with her brain in overdrive. A night person trying to operate on the same schedule may not have a coherent thought for the first 30 minutes of the day.
You have to anticipate that early morning brain fog by making your routine automatic. Lay out the clothes you plan to wear. Pack your gym bag and put it by the door. Print out your training program. And if you don’t already have a programmable coffee maker, one that has your coffee brewing before your alarm goes off, reward yourself with one.
Making these mundane parts of your morning habitual and automatic will also help take the stress out of your re-engineered schedule. As the psychologist Roy Baumeister has shown, each of us begins the day with a finite amount of mental energy. Using it up first thing in the morning leaves you feeling exhausted and defeated, and makes you less likely to get up early against the next day.
See the Light—Immediately
This one may be the easiest of all. Natural light helps clear the sleep hormone melatonin out of your bloodstream. Get outside at the crack of down, and the first rays of sunlight will work their own magic in resetting your body clock. That means less effort from you, and more energy to tackle the rest of the day with gusto.
Ready to give Spartan a try? Here’s everything you need to know to find your race.