Waking up when you’re NOT a morning person

I hate waking up. A lot. Conversely, I love staying up late. This does not for a happy morning make.

As I have struggled with this for most of my life, I thought I’d enumerate some of the coping mechanisms I’ve developed to deal with getting up in the morning.

But first, a quick story about people who have trouble waking up. Someone once told me that mystics believe[citation needed] dreaming is your soul leaving your body to wander the spirit world. Your spirit sees sights and has experiences in this world, and sometimes you’re able to remember what your spirit sees. People who have trouble waking up, in this belief system, are simply those whose spirits are slow to return to their body from wandering… they have to wait a little while for their spirits to re-acclimate to the body and physical world. I don’t know why, but that’s always been beautiful and oddly comforting to me.

Tip #1: Have a something worth getting up for in the morning

Wow, that got judgey real fast.

But I actually don’t mean it in a philosophical way – though of course I also hope you have Meaning in Your Life. But really what I’m talking about is having something you’re looking forward to doing in the morning.

I’m writing this around the holidays, and as someone who celebrates Christmas, I’m reminded of a nice example that might also appeal to you. When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was an Exciting Time. Because presents. For me. My parents, of course, wouldn’t let me open presents until Christmas morning, so it’s one of the few nights of the year I was eager to go to bed. Like, I couldn’t get to sleep fast enough. And in the morning, I was out of bed like a shot.

Now, maybe we can’t make every morning like Christmas, but you can plan to have nice things waiting for you – whether it’s a good book, the next episode of your favorite show, or even a literal present you buy yourself for getting out of bed on time.

(There can be dangers to this – as someone who works from home, I’ve lost entire mornings to a good book rather than getting things done. So, have several motivators and modulate your morning motivation to your current willpower and workload, if possible.)

Tip #2: Wake up slowly

If there’s one thing I hate worse than waking up, it’s waking up quickly. It gives me a headache. And makes me grumpy. And ruins the first few hours of my day. Worst of all, there’s nothing that makes me want to stay in bed more than knowing I have to get up quickly.

Instead, I prefer to wake up slowly. Even if it means less sleep.

I’ve always thought it’s better to confront things as they are rather than wishing they were different, so I readily admit that I love to sleep past my alarm. Consequently, I give myself a long time after my alarm before I actually need to get up. This allows my brain to wake up over the period of a half hour or so. The danger to this is probably exactly what you think it is: if you don’t have to get up when your alarm goes off, it’s really easy to fall back asleep. To counter that tendency, I employ the next two tips…

Tip #3: Drink a cup of water first thing

~Science~ says that drinking water helps to wake up your organs, and start the process of becoming active again. This takes a few minutes, however, so don’t expect it to immediately pop you out of bed. Instead, when that first alarm goes off I drink a cup (or a half of a cup) of water to get things going. Then I crawl back into my warm, cozy bed and wait for the water to work its magic. At the same time that I drink the water, I’ll also do the next tip…

Tip #4: Open the blinds (or turn on a light)

Humans are diurnal – that is, our bodies are more or less wired to wake up with the light. As ANNOYING and FRUSTRATING as it is, flipping a light switch or opening the blinds can help keep you from falling back to sleep, as well as help the water along to wake you up. You don’t need to over do it (I mean, unless you do), as sometimes just cracking the blinds or turning on a light in another room is enough to make a difference.


You may be wondering: if you can get out of bed to open the blinds and drink water, why don’t you get out of bed for good? Alternatively, how do you expect me to get out of bed to open blinds or drink water if I can’t get out of bed in the first place?? I have two responses:

  1. I put a glass of water next to my bed before I go to sleep so I don’t have to leave my bed to drink it.
  2. I have the cord for the blinds right next to my bed, so again, I don’t have to get up to let some light in.

I also have a wifi connected light that I can turn on with my phone. But, what if you aren’t able to arrange these things? Well, similar to tip #1, I use my cozy bed as a reward for doing something I don’t like. So, if I get up and drink water/turn on some lights, I get to snoozle for a little longer. That’s usually enough motivation for me to actually do it.


Tip #5: Music

Somewhere during my water-drinking-light-making time I’ll also turn on some soft music as a sort of gentle, ongoing alarm. I actually have a Spotify playlist that I’ve constructed over a few years that contains some slow but bright piano music that, with each passing song, gets a little more uptempo. This helps me ease into the waking world and prevents me from immediately falling back to sleep.

Tip #6: Breathing exercise/meditation

Sometime in those 20 minutes to half an hour that I’m snoozling (technical term), I’ll get around to doing either a breathing exercise or a meditation. Which I do depends on my mood and how much sleep I got. For meditation I might do a 10 minute Headspace session. For the breathing exercise, I use some of the techniques from Sudarshan Kriya, which my friend Jackie introduced me to.

Tip #7: Automate what you can

As I’ve already mentioned, I struggle with becoming awake. As a result, doing any of these things is difficult in the morning. Automation helps with that. I’ve written about an app I built that helps my control my various internet connected devices; one of the features is it can execute a series of tasks at a certain time of day. This is what starts my music, turns on a light for me, and begins my coffee, which really helps when I’m exhausted or lacking in motivation.

I know I know, this isn’t for everyone. But if you have a smart hub like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, you can arrange something similar (if you have a Facebook Portal, drown it in holy water then throw it in the garbage disposal).

Tip #8: Treat yourself

This is where that first tip comes back into play. After I’ve successfully dragged myself out of bed, I pour myself some coffee or steep some tea and read the New York Times morning briefing (or play NPR’s top headlines). Then, I eat a small breakfast of skyr and plan my day using an app I wrote. After that, I read a few pages of my current book, before starting to execute on my day’s plan.

This is, so far in my life, how I’ve managed to get up in the morning in the most reliable and pleasant way. What strategies have you employed? Let me know! (We’re all in this together.)

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