There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who spring out of bed at dawn, totally refreshed and looking like they live in a face wash commercial…and the rest of us, who hate those people.
Whether you’re a morning bird or a night owl is mostly built into your genes (and there are benefits to both)—the brain structures of night owls and early birds are even different.
“One in ten of us is an up-at-dawn, raring-to-go early bird, or lark. About two in ten are owls, who enjoy staying up long past midnight,” say Michael Smolensky, Ph.D. and Lynne Lamberg, authors of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health. “The rest of us, those in the middle, whom we call hummingbirds, may be ready for action both early and late,” they write. “Some hummingbirds are more larkish, and others, more owlish.”
But even taking into account our natural chronotype, lifelong night owls (and hummingbirds) can become morning birds and reap the benefits—and years ago, I did just that. And while I don’t yet look like I belong in a face wash commercial, I am energetic, productive and sometimes even downright chipper at 6 a.m. Here’s how I made the change… and how you can, too:
I figured out why I wanted to wake up earlier.
Willpower alone won’t make this habit change stick. Researchers suggest setting goals and committing the “how” and “why” of them to paper. I chose to focus on three major reasons to drive my habit change. I wanted to start running four times a week and train for a half marathon, but I couldn’t get into a post-work gym routine thanks to unplanned late days at the office, get-togethers with friends (not unplanned, but way more enticing than the gym), and less motivation and energy in the evening.
I also wanted to work on more writing side projects—and, for the same reasons I couldn’t get into evening workouts, I couldn’t guarantee a set amount of time for that each day or week. 6 a.m., on the other hand, was totally mine and free of distractions.
I made a plan for the morning.
Once you know why you want to wake up earlier, make a plan for the morning in service of those goals—and not a “well, I guess I’ll just hang around and maybe make breakfast at some point” plan, which is easy to throw aside when the alarm goes off.
For me, this meant a routine comprised of a short morning run (which eventually turned into training for a half marathon), a shower, a quick breakfast and leisurely working on a creative side project until it was time to start getting ready for work. Make sure to include something you’re looking forward to in your own morning routine—like reading a favorite blog, watching an episode of your favorite show in the morning instead of at night or cooking an indulgent breakfast.
I eased into it.
If you usually go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at 9 a.m., rising and shining at 6 a.m. will probably not be an immediate possibility. It took me a few weeks to go from a groggy 9 a.m. to a chipper 6 a.m. wakeup time, and I did it by waking up 15 minutes earlier every few days.
Listen to your body as you start moving up your wakeup call—going from 9 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. might take two days to get used to, but going from 8 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. might take longer—and that’s okay. It’s better to spend a few extra days (or weeks) getting used to waking up at a particular time than to set your alarm even earlier and hit the snooze button over and over again.
I gave myself a jump-start before even getting out of bed.
My two secret weapons: stretching and water…and I didn’t get out of bed for either. Stretching is a great way to wake up—it increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, and gives you an instant energy boost. The only problem? I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my pillows and blankets to do it. So I didn’t. Instead, I stayed in bed the whole time, treating my stretches as a sort of meditation, starting with my toes and working my way up my body, imagining every single muscle waking up one at a time.
I also kept a bottle of water by the bed. Even mild dehydration—so mild that we don’t know we’re thirsty—can make us sluggish, and I’m bad at drinking enough water even when I’m awake and alert. So I filled a bottle of water every night and put it by my bed so I could grab it as soon as I opened my eyes without making the loooong trek to the kitchen. And since I’m not a huge fan of plain water, I added sugar-free flavor drops to the bottle to make it more enticing. It’s an easy adjustment to your routine—and you can do it while you wait for the coffeemaker to do its thing.
I stuck to the same bedtime and wakeup time every day.
This is the biggest hurdle for night owls who want to start waking up earlier. If you feel your most creative at night (as many night owls do, research shows), for example, then you probably don’t want to leap into bed at 9 p.m. But the good news is that you’re an adult, and that means you get to decide what being a morning person means to you—and that goes back to my first step, figuring out why you want to get up earlier.
For some, it’s getting up at 5 a.m. to do Pilates, cook, read the paper and watch some TV before going to work. Maybe for you it means having a peaceful 30 minutes just to yourself before giving the rest of your morning and day to your job, friends and family. Either way, pick a wakeup time—and a bedtime, according to how many hours of sleep you need to feel your best—and stick to it on both weekdays and weekends.
I adjusted my evening routine.
Tweeting before bed means exposure to blue wavelengths—which messes with your circadian rhythms, making it even harder to transform yourself into a morning person. I addressed this with an app called Sleep Cycle—not only does it work as a gentle alarm clock and a sleep tracker, it doesn’t start working until you set it and place it on your nightstand, so I was discouraged from picking up and using my phone once I did that. Apps not your thing? Charge your phone out of reach (you’ll be less likely to grab it out of habit if you have to get out of bed to do so), and place a stack of magazines and books by the bed to read before bed instead.
I also got blackout curtains, which I closed in the evening and opened first thing in the morning. I live in New York City, which meant light from street lamps and neighbors’ homes easily made its way into my bedroom, making it harder to fall asleep. Survey your nighttime routine for similar roadblocks—perhaps your partner watches television in the living room and the sound carries (get wireless headphones for them or earplugs for you), or you need to turn down the thermostat (some research suggests 65 degrees makes for the best sleep, but you should adjust according to what works best for you).
I didn’t expect perfection.
Know how when you’re on a diet and you slip up, you sometimes just say “screw it” and go to town on everything in the snack cupboard? We tend to overindulge on an old habit when we mess up sticking to the new one—so avoid that trap by expecting to fail. It’s unlikely that, on your first attempt to start waking up earlier, you’ll never again in your life sleep a bit too late, right?
So instead of beating yourself up for it, just move on. Next time you wake up 20 minutes too late to make it to that dawn yoga class, don’t make it worse by saying “screw it” and going back to sleep for three more hours—it’ll only make it harder to get to sleep on time that night, which will make the next morning even tougher. Instead, get out of bed and jump right into the next step of your routine.
This post originally appeared on Care2.com.