6 Genius & Life-Changing Sleep Hacks If You Have To Get Up Early For Work

by JR Thorpe
Creativa Images/Shutterstock

Awesome job, great routine — but it's impossible for you to get up at 6 a.m. Or earlier. How do you cope? These sleep hacks to help you wake up early have science behind them to help you get up and stay up before the sun rises. They won't work in a split second, but they might well remake your entire relationship to waking up.

If you've tried multiple times in your life to readjust to an early sleep time and can't make it work, there may be a genetic reason behind your need to rest from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Genetic studies in 2017 found that there appears to be a link between a particularly gene mutation and being a "night owl," or a person who naturally stays awake late and sleeps late. The technical term for being a night owl is delayed sleep phase disorder, and it means your natural circadian rhythms — the internal 'body clock' that determines when you sleep and wake — send you to sleep at least two hours after most people are normally in dreamland. It's more common among teenagers than it is among adults, though, and a study in 2018 found that it probably only affects 0.1 to three percent of the general population. So chances are that you can indeed make yourself into a morning person with the right methods at the right times. Here are a few hacks to help you get up even just an hour earlier for work.


Use Natural Light

Scientists have discovered that natural light exposure is strongly tied to our body's wakefulness triggers. Waking with the sun appears to be an excellent way to reshape your body clock. However, if your ideal wake-up time is pre-dawn, you're going to have to get creative. "Allow natural light to wake you up, reinforcing your circadian rhythms and giving you a subtle energy lift," sleep organization Tuck says. "If you use blockout curtains, ensure they leave room on the edges for the sunlight to break through in the morning. Or use a dawn simulator alarm clock to naturally mimic the sun rising in your bedroom." These light-therapy alarm clocks let your body feel as if dawn has arrived, triggering its waking cycles and pulling you out of sleep in a natural way.


Get An App That Uses Your Natural Sleep Cycles To Wake You

Alarm clock apps are common and popular, but for early workers, alarms need to be effective and guarantee results long-term. Popular Science recommends the free app Sleep Better because it harnesses your own sleep cycle and uses it to help you wake up at a good point. "You put your phone on your mattress, and the app uses signals from your movements to figure out when you're sleeping most soundly and when your rest is at its most fitful," David Nield writing for Popular Science explained. "You set a time window for your wakeup call, and Sleep Better then picks the best moment in your sleep cycle to play one of 30 different alarm sounds."

Why is this scientifically sound? All humans have four stages to their sleep: stage 1, 2, 3, and REM or rapid eye-movement sleep. We cycle through these stages multiple times in a night, with stage 1 being the lightest. Sleep Better identifies the period of lightest sleep in the half-hour window you're given and wakes you up then so that your body adjusts more naturally to the wake-up time.


Make Your Bedroom A Sleep Haven

A lot of the work of waking up is begun before you go to sleep the night before. Turn off your phone overnight, cover up your blinking Wifi router and kill the fairy lights. Keeping your bedroom dark when you go to sleep will help you fall asleep more easily, helping you feel more refreshed when you wake up at an ungodly hour. Sleep specialist Dr. Susan Mathison told The Muse, “Remove all blinky lights from your bedroom, or cover them up — especially blue lights, which disrupt your body's melatonin levels, making you feel alert and awake when you want to feel sleepy.”


Change One Minute Every Two Days

Want to make long-term change? Progressive adjustment of your body clock takes time, but it can be achieved incrementally. "One of the simplest, and most effective, ways to ease into the change is to set your alarm just one minute earlier every second day until you've reached your goal," John Rampton wrote for Inc. "It may take a month or so to accomplish your full goal, but you won't notice the difference. Many people think of the one-minute earlier time the night before they start it and find that they will wake up a few seconds before their alarm goes off."

This is an approach backed up by scientific research into behavioral change. Humans respond much better to changes in routine when they happen gradually over time, rather than radically and immediately — which is why so many New Year's resolutions about instantaneously exercising five times a week fail. If you can, ease into waking up earlier and feel your body gradually readjust to the change.


Wake Yourself Up Fully

When you do wake up, you may stumble around feeling sluggish and unable to focus. There are a number of approaches to help you feel more alert. "Consider buying an aromatherapy diffuser for your bedroom. Inhaling a stimulating essential oil can awaken your senses and get you energized," Healthline wrote, noting that peppermint, spearmint, citrus scents and bergamot can increase your alertness. Expose yourself to natural light as soon as possible to increase your wakefulness, put on some tunes and jump around to get the blood pumping, and drink a glass of water, an act which has been shown to increase feelings of alertness.


Give Yourself Social Reasons To Wake Up

Still can't get yourself out of bed? Get sneaky and make it necessary. Sarah Peterson, writing for Fast Company, said that peer pressure can be a very good motivator. "Set a meeting with other early risers first thing in the morning," she said. It works because it "creates accountability", puts "your reputation at stake", and "uses biological signals; studies have shown that when we have something important to do at a certain time, our bodies will wake us up naturally. That’s why you wake up right before your alarm if the task is important enough".

Make it to the meeting and you have the reward of looking like a diligent early riser and getting stuff done early in your work day. Ideally, make the meeting something important or fun, so that everybody else gets a sense of achievement too.

Work on your own or at home? Make other social appointments early with people you don't want to disappoint. Motivation is important, so your friend who'll definitely forgive you if you rock up an hour late isn't a good candidate for this one.


Getting up early can be hard to do, and if your body clock definitely doesn't want to adapt, you may simply be genetically unsuited to early morning life. If, however, you can make it work, over time you'll gradually become one of those people who gets up at 5 a.m. and flourishes.