Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
It’s easy to see why sleep has so many dedicated sayings in our society, like “The early bird catches the worm.”
Our society is built around waking up early and immediately starting our day. We seem to praise this behavior as it ostensibly leaves most of the daylight for us to achieve maximum productivity.
One could be forgiven for thinking that most people are morning people, but upon closer inspection, this is certainly not the case.
Studies show that about 25 percent of the general population are, in fact, early risers, while another 25 percent naturally prefer to go to bed and wake up later. The vast majority of the population falls somewhere between these two sleep chronotypes. However, the fact remains that, for now, the world is built around the early birds.
Can a Night Owl Become an Early Bird?
So you have a tough time getting up early in our 9 to 5 world and wonder if it’s even possible for you to become an early riser or at least not struggle with getting up in time.
Well, the answer is ‘yes’; like anything else, change takes effort, practice, and time. The key is training your circadian rhythm to reset your desired time.
However, intentionally shifting your body clock to become an early riser comes with a warning: Research has shown that if you naturally prefer to go to bed and wake up late, the shift could negatively impact your mood and overall feeling of well-being.
In light of the research, attempting a chronotype shift is only recommended if necessary, such as for a new job. Keep reading to learn 10 tips for shifting to an early bird chronotype.
10 Tips for Waking Up Earlier
1. Keep a Consistent Sleep-Wake Cycle: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including on weekends. Certainly not an easy one, but well worth the effort if the prize is feeling better every morning.
2. Limit Caffeine: There is no reason to give up what many of us feel is the elixir of life, but try to stop having any caffeine after 3 pm. It’s why we drink it that interferes with our bodies’ sleep signals – its power to keep us alert.
3. Say Goodbye to Naps: Reserving sleep for your ‘official’ bedtime is a way to ensure that you are sufficiently sleepy when you want to go to sleep. If you have to nap, keep the naps as short as possible.
4. Forget the ‘Snooze’ Button: This tip can be challenging for night owls, but a practical step in shifting your sleep habits. Using a snooze alarm prolongs sleep inertia compared to a single alarm, likely because snooze alarms induce repeated forced awakenings.
5. Morning Light: Whenever possible, going outside for at least 20 minutes in the morning will help suppress your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and an increase in cortisol which is crucial for wakefulness and alertness.
6. Evening Light: Think of this as number 5 above but in reverse. Avoid bright light and the light emitted by electronic devices, such as tablets and smartphones, as these can interfere with melatonin production. In fact, electronics should be avoided about 2 hours before bedtime.
7. Increase Physical Activity in the Morning: Exercise elevates the heart rate and stimulates the nervous and endocrine systems – all helpful for shaking grogginess in the morning.
8. Go to Bed Earlier: If you need more than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep to feel that you have slept sufficiently, switch your bedtime to earlier if possible. The biggest challenge here is FOMO – the fear of missing out – but you are on a mission here.
9. Slow and Steady: Don’t try to wake up at the desired, earlier time than usual right away. Set your alarm clock a little earlier every few days for your body to get used to earlier wake-up times. Gradual change has been shown to stick better than if we suddenly try to make a change.
10. Reward Yourself: Speaking of change, the greatest motivator for any change is the reward. So, find something that makes you want to get out of bed earlier, such as a favorite breakfast or morning beverage.
There are various reasons why someone who’s not an early riser would want to become one. After all, wherever you look, the world seems designed for the morning person. While making that switch with practice and time is possible, staying within the framework of your circadian rhythms and sleep chronotypes is always best.
If you cannot switch to being an early riser due to sleep problems such as insomnia or long sleeper syndrome, it is best to address that root cause before attempting any active change. After all, the goal is always to have restful sleep and wake up refreshed and ready for the day.
- Fischer, D., Lombardi, D. A., Marucci-Wellman, H., & Roenneberg, T. (2017). Chronotypes in the US – Influence of age and sex. PloS one, 12(6), e0178782. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178782
- Ogawa, K., Kaizuma-Ueyama, E. & Hayashi, M. Effects of using a snooze alarm on sleep inertia after morning awakening. J Physiol Anthropol 41, 43 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40101-022-00317-w
- Leproult, R., Colecchia, E. F., L’Hermite-Balériaux, M., & Van Cauter, E. (2001). Transition from dim to bright light in the morning induces an immediate elevation of cortisol levels. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 86(1), 151–157. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.86.1.7102