For most of my adult life, I had a goal of becoming an early riser so I could become more productive and get the most out of my day.
I failed at this goal for years.
After a few days of progress, I would be back to hitting snooze and then scrambling to get to work in the morning.
After trying every hack possible (hiring an accountability coach, buying a natural light alarm clock, etc), I gave up on this goal in 2017 and came to the realization that I was just not going to be an early riser.
Flash forward to today, I am waking up at 5am every single day and it has been one of the most powerful lifestyle changes I have made in my life.
Here are the 5 simple steps I took to finally become successful at waking up at 5am.
The 5 Steps to Waking up at 5am
Step 1: Find Your “Why“
Here is the truth:
Nearly everyone would prefer to stay in their warm bed in the morning rather than waking up at 5am when it is cold and dark outside.
To convince yourself to get up, you need to find a compelling reason to wake up early (your why).
When I failed for years to become an early riser, the reality was that I did not have a clearly defined reason to get up. I had ambiguous reasons such as: Creating more time, starting an exercise routine, and making more money.
When the alarm clock hit, the warmth of my bed was more important than my ambiguous goals. Would I rather sleep more right this second or “Create More Time”? Easy, I went back to sleep.
The only way to be successful at waking up early is to find a “why” that is more important than hitting snooze.
For me, my hand was forced. When COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, my job went from highly demanding to consuming my life every waking moment. I no longer had time for myself and my health (both physical and mental) were negatively impacted.
The only way for me to take care of myself was to create more time in the day and take care of my health while everyone else was still in bed.
If I started waking up at 5am, I instantly had 2-3 hours of free time. Instead of playing defense against my job, I was now playing offense and in control of my mornings.
While this started out as a response to a busy time at work, I quickly realized how amazing it was to have 2-3 hours to myself in the morning. I spent this time prioritizing myself, mainly:
- 20 min meditation + Gratitude Practice
- Planned out key goals for the day (Daily Wins)
- 60 Min Workout Outside
- Saw the sunrise
- Listened to a mindset Podcast or Audibook
- Healthy Breakfast (Green Smoothie)
My day was already won by 8am each morning. No matter what work threw at me, I had already won the day.
Mornings became a positive thing for me where in the past it was always negative (cold/dark outside, I was tired, etc). I wanted to get up as I felt amazing each morning by 8am.
For me, my “Why” was accidentally discovered. But in hindsight, it is clear to me that this is the key foundation if you want to become an early riser and be somebody that is waking up at 5am.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when identifying your “Why”:
- If you were to instantly get 2-3 hours a day of additional free time, what would you want to do with this newly found time?
- What is the #1 thing that you have been neglecting in your life that could be improved with additional free time?
- If you spent a few hours each morning working on this #1 thing, what would your life look like in 1 year?
- If you continue to neglect this #1 thing, what does your life look like in 1 year?
Step 2: Create a Sleep System for Success
Now that you have a high level understanding of why you want to become an early riser, the next step is to create a system that allows you to be successful.
When trying to wake up early, most people (myself included) try to create the habit through blunt force.
It probably looks something like this..
You decide that on Monday you will be waking up at 5am and immediately set your alarm without any preparation.
The alarm goes off at 5am and you are jolted out of sleep with the alarm. All of the motivation you had the night before is now out of the window, but you know you made a commitment to yourself.
You reluctantly get yourself out of bed and get on with your day, but by about 2pm in the afternoon you are crashing. Refusing to be defeated, you grab a cup of coffee and continue to power through the day.
Tuesday morning, the alarm shocks you again at 5am. However this time, you decide you can hit snooze once and be up by 5:15am (Hey – 5:15am is still a huge win, right?). The next thing you know, it is 7am and you have overslept. You get up, get ready for work in a hurry and battle the traffic into work.
Feeling like a failure, you decide that this week is not the best week to try to wake up early. You will put this goal on hold for the week and start fresh next monday.
Rinse, recycle, repeat.
The truth is, you need to create a system that works in your favor and gives you the highest possible chance of success.
I call this the Sleep System for Success.
The below framework should be used and clearly defined before starting your journey of waking up at 5am (or any time earlier than what you do know).
What time do you want to wake up?
Clearly define your ideal time to wake up in a perfect world. There should be a reason behind it (your why) and you should have a clear understanding of what you will be doing in the morning with this newly found time.
Kevin’s Example: I started getting bombarded with work issues around 7:30am each morning, so in my ideal scenario I would be up at 5am and give myself 2.5 hours to accomplish my non-work related goals for the day.
How far are you currently from your goal (in minutes or hours)?
Compare your “ideal time” to the normal time you are getting up each morning. How far off are you in terms of minutes or hours?
Kevin’s Example: I routinely woke up at 7:15am and my goal was to one day wake up at 5am. I needed to wake up 2 hours and 15 minutes earlier to be successful.
What time do you have to go to bed to get 7-8 hours of sleep?
Use your “ideal time” to reverse engineer what time you need to go to bed.
We should be shooting for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, so back into what time you should go to bed by subtracting 7-8 hours from your ideal wake time.
Trial and error should be used to determine how much sleep you actually need (For example, I know I perform best on 7.5 hours), but starting in the 7-8 hour range should be sufficient for most people.
Kevin’s Example: If waking up at 5am was my goal, I knew I needed to get in bed around 9pm (8 hours prior to the 5am wake up) to ensure I was getting enough sleep.
How much earlier is this than your normal bedtime?
Now that you know what time you need to go to sleep to wake up properly rested for your ideal wake time, how much earlier is this than your average day currently?
The closer you are currently to your ideal bedtime, the easier it will be to modify your schedule to get to sleep at the proper time.
If you are currently going to sleep at a significantly later hour than what you will need to in the future, no need to stress. This will be a process that you slowly change over time.
Kevin’s Example: I was going to bed around 10pm, but I now needed to go to bed around 9pm to get a full night’s sleep for my goal of waking up at 5am. This means I needed to adjust my schedule to go to sleep about an hour earlier than I normally would.
What is the timeframe for success?
Instead of immediately adjusting your alarm clock to your ideal wake time, we are going to slowly but surely work towards this goal.
This is important: You are going to slowly wake up earlier in 15-30 minute increments until you are at your ideal wake time. In parallel, you are also going to go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier each night until you are at your ideal bedtime.
Key Callouts & Actions:
- Wake up 15-30 minutes earlier than the current time you are waking up. You will also go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier than your current bedtime.
- Hold at this new time for one week prior to reducing any further.
- If you are unsuccessful one morning, no problem. Try again the next day.
- Once successful for a week, you will then reduce an additional 15-30 minutes the following week.
- Repeat until you are at your desired goal (both ideal wake time and ideal bedtime).
Kevin’s Example: I was waking up around 7:15am and wanted to wake up at 5am, so I was 2 hours and 15 minutes away from my goal.
Based on this, it would take me roughly 4.5 weeks to successfully wake up at 5am (2hr 15 min gap, reduced 30 minutes per week = 4.5 weeks).
Step 3: Add at Least 1 Morning Habit for Yourself
The best way to make waking up at 5am (or any early time) an enjoyable experience is to make your mornings something you look forward to.
Up to this point, we have defined our “Why” for waking up early and also created a straight forward plan on how to get there.
The next step is to add at least one habit that prioritizes yourself and is something that you enjoy doing. If your mornings are something you truly look forward to, you will get more joy out of getting up versus hitting snooze.
Since you have freed up 2-3 hours in the morning, you are likely going to be working on some sort of project, business, or health goal with your added time.
Outside of your primary objective of the morning, try to add at least one thing that is unrelated and something that adds positive momentum to your day.
A larger list of healthy habits can be found here, but some morning examples:
- 15 minutes reading a book you enjoy
- Watch the sunrise
- Drink coffee in silence
- Meditate for 15 minutes with the Calm App
- Stretching, yoga, or a mobility workout
- Go for a 15 minute walk outside
Before jumping into your primary objective, choose yourself and do something that will be a positive highlight for your morning.
Step 4: Start the Night Before
One secret that you never really hear about is the fact that getting up early does not mean you need to be any more tired than normal.
In fact, by being proactive with your evening and morning routines, you should actually feel less tired with this new process than you would have in the past.
In order to not be super tired in the morning, you will need to start the night before and ensure you have a healthy routine that allows you to get good sleep.
Here are some recommendations on what to do the night before to help you successfully wake up early:
- Have a set bedtime 7-8 hours prior to your target wake up time
- If you are an iPhone user, use the “Sleep” function that is built into the iOS
- Choose your ideal bedtime and ideal wake time
- Your phone will alert you 1 hour prior to bedtime so you can start winding down
- Choose 3-5 healthy habits to work into your evening routine. A full list of healthy habits can be found here, but some ideas:
- Buy a pair of Blue Light Blocker glasses and wear 1-2 hours prior to sleep
- Dim the lights in your house or turn off the bulk of the lights in your house 1-2 hours prior to sleep
- Get in bed at the same time each night
- Read a book prior to sleep (physical book if possible)
- Create a healthy sleep environment in your bedroom
- Avoid watching TV or having a TV in your bedroom
- Make your bed as comfortable as possible so you look forward to getting into bed
- Dim the lights in your bedroom
- Upgrade your mattress, sheets, and pillow
Step 5: Execute the Plan!
At this point, you should have a solid foundation set up that will make it easier for your to be an early riser waking up at 5am.
You should have:
- A powerful “why” that clearly states the reason you want to become an early riser
- A target or “ideal time” in which you want to ultimately wake up and go to bed in the future.
- A timeline on how long it will take to achieve this “ideal time” by reducing in 15-30 minute increments per week until your goal is achieved
- At least one habit in the morning that you genuinely look forward to and something that is overwhelmingly positive for your day
- An environment and routine at night that will help you get the best sleep possible.
Instead of trying to wake up early through blunt force, we have created a system that will stack the odds in your favor.
Once you feel good about having each of these steps defined and completed, the next step is to execute!
Here are the action items you should follow:
- Clearly define what time you want to wake up in the future (your ideal time) and what time you need to go to bed (7-8 hours prior) to be successful.
- Beginning tomorrow, set your alarm clock to wake up 15-30 minutes prior than what you are currently doing on a daily basis
- Go to bed tonight 15-30 minutes earlier than you typically would (ensuring you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night)
- Have at least 1 positive habit for yourself picked out to complete in the morning that you will look forward to and will be a positive highlight of your morning.
- Choose 3-5 healthy evening habits to implement into your night to help you begin to wind down and fall asleep as your ideal time
- Go to sleep, wake up when you alarm goes off 15-30 minutes earlier than normal
- After one week of success at this new time, reduce the sleep/wake time by an additional 15-30 minutes.
- Repeat until you are at your desired wake up time
What if I miss a day, a week, or a month?
Simple, start again tomorrow. This is a lifelong habit that we are attempting to build, so do not beat yourself up over a miss.
Every now and then I still have days in which I inadvertently sleep in after years of following this process. There is nothing else to do but get up, go through your day, and start again tomorrow.
What if I am not tired at bedtime?
Your body will take some time to adjust to waking up early and also going to bed earlier.
This is why I recommend reducing your sleep/wake time by small increments (15-30 minutes) on a weekly basis. This smaller time increment should have a relatively minor impact on your day as it is less than half an hour.
If you are still not tired, I would look at improving your bedtime routine and reviewing some of the habits discussed here.
Can I sleep in on the weekends?
In an ideal world, you are going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day of the week.
This is probably the biggest hurdle I faced, as I wanted to use Saturday/Sunday as a time to sleep in and not have to worry about waking up early.
The “skill” of waking up at 5am didn’t really stick for me until I adjusted my schedule to wake up at the same time every day. The clock in my body truly adjusted and now waking up at 5am is effortless.
I will say – I am a bit more flexible on the weekends. There are times when I am getting up at 5:30am instead of 5am, but I am still waking up early.
What if I feel terrible all day because I am so tired?
If your day is negatively impacted through this process of waking up early in 15-30 minute increments, there is a high likelihood you are not getting enough sleep.
I would revisit step 2 and ensure you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If you are not, you need to adjust your schedule/plan to get enough sleep each night.
Waking up at 5am and becoming an early riser is something that we can all achieve.
Instead of trying to force it through blunt force, we can create a basic system that will make waking up in the morning much easier.
This system focuses on the mindset behind waking up early (your why) as well as a clearly defined path on how to get to your desired wake up time.
Changing my routine to waking up at 5am has been a life changer for me and I would highly recommend anyone that is looking to add 2-3 hours to your day to build this routine.