Make Waking Up Early a Habit | 52 Weeks of Habits52 Weeks of Habits


Wake up early habit

Waking up early out of habit is commonly desired and rarely adapted. We fail at developing these better sleep habits because we lack a good structure for doing so. Through the cue-routine-reward system from The Power of Habit, I’ll explain how you can develop it relatively easily, and enjoy all the benefits that come with being an early riser.


First off, there are a few things you need to be aware of. Unless you’re the 1% of people that can subsist on less than 7 hours of sleep, you’re going to need to be going to sleep 7-8 hours before you want to wake up. Having a clean diet, exercising regularly, meditating, and staying hydrated will also all help.

Sleep Habits? or Alarm Clock Habits?

I’ll assume you’re not trying to wake up early without some sort of alarm. Even if you are, you’re going to need to use an alarm at the start because you’re changing the time you wake up at. This makes the cue for this habit very obvious: it’s your alarm going off. But there’s a problem…

You Probably Have Bad Alarm Clock Habits

If you don’t normally wake up early, you likely hit snooze a lot. This is a problem because after years of hitting snooze when your alarm goes off, you’ve developed an “alarm clock habit” where every time your alarm goes off, you hit snooze without thinking about it. Even if you go to sleep early, drink a lot of water, mentally prepare yourself, you’ll probably still oversleep because you’ll immediately hit snooze when your alarm goes off.

Fix Your Alarm Habits, Fix Your Sleep Habits

If you want to change your sleep habits then, you need to change how you react to your alarm clock. If you immediately jump out of bed when your alarm goes off, it’s going to be a lot easier to get yourself to adapt to a new sleep schedule. There will be no mental fighting with yourself in the morning, and you’ll feel less groggy because you have a new routine you need to jump into in response to your alarm clock going off.

Wake Up Routine

What you need to do is find a new way to respond to your alarm going off. This could be any number of things: maybe you jump in the shower, maybe you put on your gym clothes and go running, if you’re like me then you immediately start making some coffee, but you need something you can realistically do every morning when you wake up that is rewarding and makes you feel good. The feel good part is particularly important because it needs to be comparably to the cozy feeling of curling back up in bed. It should require next to no effort on your part to do, and make you feel really good.


Now that you know what you want to do in response to your alarm instead of hitting snooze, you need to deeply ingrain this new routine. This part will seem kind of funny, but you need to do this while you’re still awake. Steve Pavlina discusses this in his famous blog. When you’re just waking up, you have very little willpower and you’re kind of groggy. We all know how hard it is to get ourselves to do anything in the morning, so you have to practice your new response to the alarm going off while you’re still awake.

To do this, get whatever you need for the first step of your first routine. Maybe it’s setting up the coffee pot, or turning on the water in the shower, or putting on your gym clothes. Then get in bed, set your alarm for one minute, and wait. When it goes off,¬†immediately¬†throw off the covers and go do the first step of your new routine. Do this as many times as you can stand–the more you do it the more you ingrain it as your new alarm clock routine.


You’ve successfully practiced your new routine, and now you need to apply it. Set a realistic new time for yourself to wake up tomorrow. If you wake up every day at 9am, waking up at 6am is probably unrealistic. You won’t get tired early enough, and will oversleep and get frustrated. Make small incremental changes. When I was adapting a new sleep schedule, I started with 8am. Then after a week moved it to 7:30. Then next week 7:15, then 7:00, and so on until 6:00am. Yes this takes a while and isn’t the instant results you likely want, but it’s sustainable and won’t make you an unhappy tired mess in the meantime.

The Reward

Be proud! You’ll have adapted a habit that tons of people want and fail at developing. Waking up early has tons of benefits: it makes you more productive, less rushed during your day, happier, helps with weight loss, more motivated to exercise, and the confidence boost you get from adopting the habit will aid you in developing many more. Charles Duhigg considers waking up early to be a “keystone habit,” because its a habit where once you develop it, a number of other highly beneficial habits frequently follow.

Update: 6/11/13

I’ve started waking up at 5:30 now, and I have to say each time I start waking up earlier my day feels better. Waking up at 5:30 gives me enough time to have some coffee, read, get ready for work leisurely, and still get to the office before traffic and everyone else. I’ll likely try to move my exercise to the mornings before work, now that I’ll have enough time for it while still beating traffic.

For more info on sleeping better, check out my eBook Sleep Mastery!

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11 Responses to Make Waking Up Early a Habit

  1. Pingback: Kick Insomnia's Ass: How to Fall Asleep Instantly | 52 Weeks of Habits

  2. 666 days ago by Frank

    I love your blog!
    I am a fan of reading in bus/subway, it would be great if you could add a printer friendly feature icon! Also, I feel like we share the same interests. The 3 only book I’ve read this year were the power of habits 4hour workweek and 4 hour body haha

    • 666 days ago by Nat

      Thank you! If you read 4-hour workweek and 4-hour body you should pick up 4-hour chef too–it’s about a lot more than just cooking =). Let me see what I can do about that printing button.

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  8. 573 days ago by Mike Hatch

    What usually happens, even if I set the alarm clock (my cell phone) on my desk so that I have to get up walk to the desk, I’ll shut it off and then walk back to my bed. I haven’t tried this before about practicing getting up to the alarm. I don’t see how it’s going to make a difference though if I already do get up when the alarm goes off. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that I walk like a zombie to the alarm and walk back into bed like a zombie. In that very decisive moment when I’m out of the bed, I wish there was a way for me to say “stay up!”

    • 570 days ago by Nat

      This happens to me from time to time too–I know the feeling! The way this helps is it trains your body to do something else after turning off the alarm instead of getting back in bed. You want to get in the habit of a routine like: turn off alarm, start boiling water, clean up desk from the night before, make tea, set goals for the day. That way you have a set number of things to launch into when you get out of bed instead of just getting back in =)

  9. 525 days ago by Ethan Thane

    I just discovered your site and been exploring here. I liked your article. Waking up is an easy way to bring more time to your life and a great habit. I struggled to get up early, but was finally successful by turning it into a challenge. Here are my results: