Last year I found that while I’ve never had a problem staying up late, it was absolutely awful to wake up early. Some of my friends at university suggested that I counteract my early morning drowsiness with coffee, but I avoided it. I knew I would develop an over-reliance on the expensive on-campus cafés, which my wallet wouldn’t appreciate. The result? I was constantly drowsy, unable to shake the feeling that I should still be counting Zs. This year I figured enough was enough. I wanted to start waking up earlier on my own, without caffeine. Over time, I figured out some simple routines that helped me get up and stay up on the mornings of early-hour classes.
Maybe you, too, find waking up early to be a daunting task. If so, the following tips and tricks might help. These suggestions are things that have worked for me, but if you often feel tired upon waking or have trouble sleeping, please consider speaking with a doctor—there might be health-related causes that need to be addressed. That said, hopefully these decaffeinated tips will make it easier for you to rise and shine.
Drink a glass of water as soon as you can after waking up. Often when I get up in the morning, I’m slow, sluggish, and very, very thirsty. The first thing I like to do when I get up, right after I finish brushing my teeth, is drink about half a bottle of water to get rid of that dry feeling in my throat. Not only does the routine help me feel ready to start my day, but it also usually gives my mind a gentle wake-up and eases me into a more alert state. Water also helps to flush out waste that might have accumulated in your body and kickstarts your metabolism. Knock back a full glass of H2O with your favorite accoutrements—a squeeze of lemon, maybe—to perk yourself up. There’s a whole roster of benefits and reasons to staying hydrated, so it’s a good idea to drink water regularly throughout the day in general.
Get lots of (preferably natural) light into your eyes. Scientists have found that exposure to light—less so the light that comes from phones or electronics and more like the kind of light found in nature—induces wakefulness. Why? It has to do with the sleep cycles built into all of us. Our bodies know when to wake up and go to sleep based on 24-hour internal systems called circadian rhythms, which is why even if the world were completely dark we would still generally wake up and go to bed at the times we normally would. These rhythms, though, are assisted by the appearance of certain elements in the environment, like light and sound. We’re innately wired to wake up when we see daylight, because it’s a signal that alertness is required.
Stretch or do some light exercise right after getting out of bed. Some people like to schedule a morning workout into their earliest hours, but if that sounds like it’s not compatible with your schedule or temperament, don’t worry—you don’t need to run for miles or anything like that to wake up effectively. Some quick stretches will suffice, or you can do some jumping jacks or other simple movements. The point is to get moving so oxygen and blood can flow to your brain, which will make it harder for your brain to persuade your body to go back to bed.
Play some quick-tempo music to trick your brain into making your body pick up the pace. If you’re already kinda-sorta up and want to stave off the idea of collapsing into bed again, play some upbeat, high-BPM (beats per minute) songs to get your brain in the fast lane. If you listen to quicker music, you may want to instinctively move faster, too.
Splash cold water on your face. Personally, I dread doing this in the morning—I always have a long, extended pause before biting the bullet and dousing my face in frigid water. A bit unpleasant for a few seconds, but an icy splash can be a quick, effective way to wake up ASAP if you’re at all tempted to return to the warmth and comfort of your sleep-haven.
Eat breakfast. Not everyone can stomach a full plate of bacon and eggs in the morning—I personally feel sick if I try to down too much food too soon after waking up. But even if you don’t like the thought of eating breakfast, you may want to consider at least having a small snack. Eating breakfast can improve cognitive function, mood, and, depending on its contents, can help replenish some vital nutrients. To get around my aversion to eating a lot right away in the morning, I like to have a banana or a small smoothie before I head out the door. I find that my head is a little clearer and I’m more alert after having a bite to eat.
Gradually get up earlier. If you know you want to be able to roll out of bed on your own by a certain time but don’t want to immediately start getting up like three hours earlier, you can set your alarm to go off just a few minutes earlier every day until you hit your goal wake-up time. This isn’t super scientific or anything—it’s just a way to gradually train yourself to get up earlier and earlier without any sudden changes to your routine.
Rise to a new sound. To switch things up and keep yourself from hating the sound of your alarm, you might want to change the sound that you wake up to every once in awhile. That might mean trading clocks with someone you know or adjusting the sound on the phone or device you’ve programmed your wake-up call onto. It seems like a small detail, but after I switched the sound I’d woken up to for seven years—a blaring, confrontational beep! beep! beep!—to a more soothing, gentle trill, I found that I ended up hating waking up a little less.
Resist the snooze button. Continuously waking up and falling back into short sleep stints may reset your natural sleep cycle over and over, which makes you feel even more tired with every subsequent alarm. It’s helpful to set one alarm, sleep fully and completely until it goes off, and wake up for good once it rings. You may feel more refreshed and better rested, and your body and mind will thank you.
Hopefully at least some of these tips will help you beat morning drowsiness and resist the urge to head back to bed. They might not be insta-solutions, but with persistence and a little bit of extra willpower, you may be able to throw back the covers and seize the day with abandon. Rest—and wake—easy, Rookies. ♦