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How to wake up early and not be miserable

Is it even possible to wake up at ungodly early hours in the morning and not be miserable? Jay, a physician training in plastic surgery, thinks it is. In a video on his YouTube channel, Med School Insiders, he shares some of his top tips on how to wake up at ungodly hours in the morning and not hate it. After hearing what Jay had to say about our sleeping patterns and how we can adjust them in order to lessen our hatred of early mornings, I was inspired to do a bit of further reading on the subject and thought I would share some of what I found as it may help those of us that struggle to drag ourselves out of bed in order to make it into college in time for those 9am lectures.

Sleep Hygiene. By strict definition, sleep hygiene refers to your patterns of behaviour leading up to sleep, so in layman’s terms it involves what you do before you go to bed. Naturally enough, the better one’s sleep hygiene, the better one’s sleep. So the first point here would be to take steps and make changes to your before-bed routine in order to improve your sleep hygiene and thus lead to a more substantial and sound sleep. For example, one way in which to improve one’s sleep hygiene would be to be consistent in terms of bedtimes and waking times; Jay tells us that consistency with his bedtime and waking time was the most important key factor in improving the quality of his sleep and in making waking up early in the morning an easy process; for those that struggle to relax enough before bed in order to fall more easily into sleep, Jay suggests meditation and/or writing; “Meditation and writing down any lingering thoughts can calm a racing mind.” Other nice before-bed ritual ideas include a nice hot shower, lying down to listen to some calming music (spotify have some great chill, sleepy-time playlists), or even some light reading can really help to settle the body and mind before bed, and prepare it for an easier drift off to sleep.

Limit screen use. This has become a huge problem for us in today’s technology and social media dominated world. Really, you shouldn’t be on your phone or working on your laptop for at least 30 minutes before you go to bed, as both mental activity and light exposure promote wakefulness. I know, this is a tough one as so many bedtime routines include scrolling through group chats or Instagram or whatever else before putting the phone down just before closing your eyes and nodding off. There is some very interesting reading on the effects that screen use before bed can have on your sleep on sleep.org. It was here I discovered that the gadgets we use so often such as phones, computer screens and TV’s suppress the production of melatonin; “The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.”

Be consistent. Adjusting one’s sleeping habits in order to improve one’s ability to function decently early in the morning is no quick fix – it takes time, effort, and after that dedication. It takes at least 2 weeks of consistent routine in order to reap any significant benefits, really. It may take a while longer to form a solid habit of it, however; “Recent research led by a team at the University College London think they have uncovered just how long (on average) it takes for something to become habitual. They do not think it takes 21 days to form a habit. They believe it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit.”

Amit Pandey from Med School Insiders talks about the power of habits in a very interesting article on medschoolinsiders.com. He explains how “the neural circuits that govern our behaviours enjoy repetition and patterns, particularly those that are gratifying in some way to our sensorium”. Although good habits can be difficult to form, they are also difficult to break, which makes good habits such as healthy eating, exercise and waking up early worth the effort of making. Ensuring you stick to your decided bedtime and forcing yourself out of bed at that dreaded early hour in the morning may be difficult and, frankly, awful at the start, but “once this is achieved and a certain threshold is crossed, the behavior becomes routine to our bodies and minds, part of our normal existence. To deviate from it, though “easier,” feels abnormal and causes us to revert back to the habitual behavior.”, so basically, the longer you keep up this good routine and the more you work at it, the easier it will become, so much so that it will eventually come naturally to you. Before you know it, you’ll be loving 9am lectures and calling yourself a certified Morning Person. (Well, maybe, probably, not, but you’ll be closer to it than you used to be! And your early mornings won’t be as awful anymore…).

Get organised. If you are not at all a morning person, then it will really help make mornings a lot less stressful if you use your time wisely the evening before having to wake up early. Pre-plan all that you can; have your lunch/meal prepared and packed, as well as your bag with all that you need for the day, so that everything is for you to just grab it and go. Plan what you are going to be wearing and have it all laid out for yourself, so that all you have to do in the morning is dress yourself, without having to think about what to wear or what goes with what top etc. Even having a little checklist on a stick-it note to tick off all you need to do in the morning as you go will help to ensure that your still-half-asleep mind doesn’t forget anything.

Quality is better than quantity. We’ve all heard this phrase before, it is said about a lot of things, but I bet you never really thought about it applying to sleep, did you? Well, it does. As Jay, or Med School Insider med student explains, “getting 6 or 7 hours of high quality sleep will do more good than getting 8 or 9 hours of low quality sleep. Studies have shown that average sleep quality is more important than sleep quantity in terms of health, balance, satisfaction with life, and feelings of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion.” Ensure the quality of your sleep by eliminating or reducing the risk of being disturbed by anything that you know yourself disrupts your sleep. If you have housemates that stay up late chatting, then maybe ear plugs might be a good investment, and maybe get some black-out blinds if street lights or sunlight creeping into your room bothers you.

Power naps. I never would have thought that as a student in my 20’s napping would be such a regular thing yet here I am, convinced I take more naps now than I did when I was a toddler. The healing and reviving powers of a decent nap though cannot be denied. Instead of turning to coffee for that caffeine boost to replenish your energy levels, try having a power nap if you can, proven to boost your memory, cognitive skills, creativity and energy levels. Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life tells us that we can “get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping… You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.” As sleep occurs in stages, shorter power naps are best (lasting approximately 15 to 20 minutes). This will prevent one from falling too deep into the stages of sleep and reaching REM sleep (rapid-eye movement) which, after wakening, will only leave one feeling groggy and most likely worse than before the sleep. Jay outlines another reason why naps that are too long are a bad idea; “taking naps that are too long won’t only leave you feeling groggy, but will also decrease the sleep debt necessary for sleep onset. That means it will be more difficult for you to fall asleep at night”.

Put your mornings into perspective. Why do we all seem to collectively hate and dread early mornings? It’s as though we are hardwired to do so, kind of like the way we seem to be hardwired to hate Mondays and look forward to the weekend; “Thank god it’s Friday!”. Not only are the things we do from day-to-day habitual, our feelings towards things and the way we think about them can also be broken down to pure habit. Perhaps you’ve allowed yourself, through the influence of the general public and society as a whole, to fall into the habit of hating early mornings and thus convincing yourself that you are not a morning person, when in reality you’ve never even given early mornings a proper chance. Elise from slothstorm.com shares a simple technique that she used to change her regular wake-up habit; “The first thing you need to do is change the sound on your alarm clock, and the reason why you need to do this is because you subconsciously associate the current sound you wake up to with the thoughts, feelings, and actions of your old habit.”

Hopefully this information and the few tips included will help some of you in dealing with the early mornings you have been struggling with so far. As for the early mornings that are accompanied by a killer hangover or just a general morning-after-night-out grogginess, you can find some helpful tips provided by Lucas in his article “Alcohol; A Fresher’s Guide” (included also are tips for mornings-after-nights-out for non-drinkers).