If you genuinely want to start waking up early up but have been struggling to do so, then you’re at the right place. In this article I will share simple and easy to follow, evidence based tips which will help you modify your internal clock so you can wake up early every day.
So let’s begin right away, by first understanding the mechanism that helps us wake up early or sleep on time – the Circadian rhythm.
What is the Circadian rhythm
What time we wake up and go to sleep is not arbitrary. In fact, it is governed by our internal body clock or the Circadian Rhythm. Most living beings on the planet have this internal 24-hr clock in the brain that governs many functions such as release of certain hormones and even the time you sleep or wake up. When it comes to sleep, two hormones that influence this rhythm are Melatonin and Cortisol. Melatonin makes you sleepy, and Cortisol keeps you awake.
When the circadian rhythm is working well, your cortisol levels and body temperature will naturally start rising in the morning to help you wake up. Think of Cortisol like the body’s natural alarm clock, which starts buzzing at the right time every day. Likewise, your melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening, and your body temperature starts dropping, making you drowsy and ready for bed. Think of Melatonin as your body’s natural sleeping pill.
When you want to change what time you wake up and sleep, you’re essentially trying to change the timing of these hormones. So, let’s dive into the actual techniques to shift your circadian rhythm so you can wake up early
Three Morning Rituals to wake up early
1. Get some sunlight immediately after you wake up
Every cell in your body needs information about light to function properly. And the only way to provide this information is through your eyes, by stepping out in sunlight. Therefore, aim for at least 2 to 10 mins of sun exposure when you wake up. If it’s a cloudy day you may need more time outside than on a bright sunny day. You need to get direct sunlight outdoors and not through sunglasses or windowpanes (prescription lenses are fine). Also, you don’t have to ‘look’ directly at the bright sun which can damage the eyes, just being outdoors is enough.
This is effective even if you wake up way past sunrise – just make it a point to get some sunshine whenever you wake up. Usual sun protection protocols should be followed to keep your eyes and skin safe from damage.
Morning sun exposure is the most powerful way to influence your circadian rhythm. There are some other ways too like timing of food intake or exercise, but nothing compares to the impact of natural light. It will help you wake up early.
2. Exercise within 30 mins of waking up
Exercising increases your body temperature and stimulates the release of cortisol which helps you wake up early the next day. It also helps you get deeper and better quality sleep.
How this works? Your body temperature is closely linked to the circadian rhythm. Body temperature starts rising in the morning as you wake up till around 4 to 6pm. After that the body naturally starts to cool down to prepare you for sleep. Exercising releases cortisol, regularly exercising at the same time everyday will train the body to release this cortisol around the same time everyday. Thereby syncing your circadian rhythm to an earlier wake up time.
For the same reasons exercising just before sleeping will leave you feeling wide awake as that is the time for cortisol to decline and melatonin to increase. Your body temperature also increases after exercise and can remain elevated for 1-2 hours after physical activity. Therefore if you do want to exercise in the evening, it’s better to do so a few hours before bedtime.
Typically, body temperature starts rising around 6am, by exercising in the morning you increase your body temperature and trigger this mechanism which helps you advance your circadian rhythm to wake up early. Additionally, being disciplined about our time of exercise also conditions the brain to release hormones that prepare you to exercise at the same time everyday. So, you have to rely less on motivation to get meet your daily activity levels.
3. Take a cold shower
Cold showers increase circulation, and heart rate which helps you feel more awake and invigorated immediately. However, that’s not it, this rise in temperature also has the power of advancing your circadian clock which means taking a cold shower in the morning will make you sleepy earlier than usual at night. This will make it easy to get up early the next day.
This is because cold showers also help you increase core body temperature. This might sound counterintuitive as when you take a cold bath the body feels cold. However it’s the extremities and skin surface that become cold and blood circulation indeed reduces there. But your core gets warmer as body is unable to release heat through the skin. Due to this reduced heat loss, you will soon feel very hot again and increased blood circulation will help you release the excess heat through the skin. So, yes, after a few initial minutes of discomfort, a cold shower will make you feel warm and a warm shower can help you feel comfortably cool.
The body needs to be warm when it wakes up and cold when it needs to sleep. Our circadian rhythm governs this natural temperature change in our body through the day. By taking a cold shower we develop a pattern of warming the body in the morning which which helps you reinforce the natural rhythm.
What about taking a cold shower at night? There’s a lot of conflicting research around this and it was a popular trend a while back. It might be beneficial for athletes, but in general, cold showers at night aren’t considered very helpful. Though feel free to try and see what works for you.
Four evening rituals to wake up early
Now let’s look at some evening rituals that can help you in waking up early the next day.
4. Watch the sunset
While morning sunlight is great to wake up early, evening sunlight is also useful for good sleep. It indicates to the body that the day is ending and helps you sync your clock to the time of day. Watching the sunset can even help counterbalance the impact of blue light from late night mobile or computer screens. So, if you can’t avoid but work late in the night, then you should definitely make it a point to be outdoors at sunset or one hour before sunset.
Sunlight therapy is not only good for sleep, it was also found effective in those with ADHD.
5. Switch to warm light instead of bright fluorescent lights
Three Japaneses scientists won the Nobel Prize for discovering LED lights – while they are a remarkable achievement and are highly energy efficient, they can disrupt our sleep cycle because they emit blue light. The receptors in our eyes that communicate ‘daytime’ to the brain are most sensitive to this blue light. In fact, the evening blue light exposure is more disruptive than warm yellow light of old bulbs.
Since LEDs are very powerful at emitting this blue light it’s better to switch to warm yellow lights in the evening. It’s also useful to dim the lights in the evening to mirror the loss of light in the environment.
6. Use floor lamps instead of overhead lights
The light sensitive cells in our eyes are more sensitive to overhead sun light. Therefore, if they detect the overhead lights in your environment, they may give incorrect information to the brain and delay your sleep time. Instead keep dimmable, warm yellow light lamps on the floor or desk. Our eyes are less sensitive to lights below eye level. It’s good to start minimising overhead lights after around 4pm.
7. Avoid bright light between 11pm to 4am
This is important not just for sleep but also for our mental health. Bright blue light exposure at this time is associated with lower dopamine levels which impacts our mood as well as our ability to learn and function optimally. Remember that dopamine is the motivation hormone and less of it means, less motivation and drive or zest for life. And as I shared in my previous blog on sleep – every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Even in Ayurveda, it is suggested that one must sleep before 11pm, when the pitta dosha hour begins. You can learn more here.
Want to improve your quality of sleep? Check out our article Twelve Tips for Better Sleep and why they work
Summary of how to wake up early
Here’s what you need to do to wake up early in the morning
- Get outdoor sun as soon as you wake up
- Exercise within 30 mins of waking up
- Take a cold shower in the morning
- Be outdoors around sunset to sync your internal clock
- Switch to warm yellow light in the evening instead of blue LEDs
- Use floor lamps instead of overhead lights
I hope you’ve gathered by now, that all of these evidence-based findings are ultimately giving us a simple message – align yourself with nature as much as you can for greater health and wellbeing. Age old wisdom of praying to the sun as it rises, having a set of morning rituals to start the day, and finishing our meals before sunset have now also found scientific basis. So, remember, to get your morning dose of sunlight, get some exercise, and follow it up with a relaxing shower. When the day starts to end, start dimming overhead lights, switch to more warm mood lighting, preferably via floor or desk lamps and if you can, watch the sun set over the horizon or simply step outside or stand by the window allowing some soothing evening light to wash over you.
On that note, I hope you have a deep restful sleep and wake up refreshed and charged up to take on the day!