Published on January 28, 2019

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

I might be one of the few people left who doesn’t have a problem with sleep. In fact, I excel at it. I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, and nothing—short of a glass of water or a tiny missile hurled my way—can wake me up. While my penchant for powering through every external disturbance served me well through noisy roommates and jet lag, it was messing with my productivity. So, one very tenuous New Year’s resolution and one too many days of running late from oversleeping later, I decided that 2019 would be the year I started waking up earlier and becoming a morning person.

There’s plenty of research out there stating the inordinate benefits of waking up early. One such example is a 2012 study from the University of Toronto, which found that early risers across age groups are happier and healthier. There’s also the fact that some of the world’s most successful people get up at the crack of dawn: Apple CEO Tim Cook purportedly gets up at 3:45 each morning, and Michelle Obama’s day starts with a 4:30 a.m workout.   

Data aside, the idea of being a morning person held a superficial appeal that, however false, I was keen to mimic. In my head, morning people were the kind of people whose refrigerators were constantly stocked with organic produce, who probably owned a briefcase, and who had a natural knack for yoga—you know, people who really had it together. I craved that.

So I set aside five days to test some tricks the internet told me would help me wake up early more easily.

The first step was speaking to Dr. W. Chris Winter, a neurologist and author of the widely acclaimed book, The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. On the subject of becoming a morning person, Winter says a lot of it is down to genetics; you’re predisposed to being either a night owl or an early riser.

“The analogy I’ve always used is that it’s sort of like swimming in a river,” he explains. “You can stay in one spot, but it takes a lot of effort. The natural tendency is to relax and let the river take you downstream; but if that’s not what you want, you can certainly fight it. That’s the way it is for being a morning person: You can create a situation where you’re not what you’re genetically predetermined to be, but it takes an effort.”

This effort requires a steady commitment to a schedule, and can take anywhere from 12 to 20 days; while Winter says you can switch your sleep patterns (and even make the transition easier through technology or light alarm clocks), tricks are not the way to make the habit stick. “You’ve got to be very disciplined in your schedule,” he said, adding that weekends were no exception: “The gains that you’ve made from Monday to Friday just disappear when you decide to sleep until three in the afternoon.”

Knowing that a five-day trial was likely not going to cure my aversion to waking up early, I decided to look at this experiment as testing out tips that would make waking up more enjoyable versus looking at it as a series of easy tricks that were guaranteed to transform me into an early riser overnight.

And, in the spirit of longevity, I set a few ground rules geared toward turning this into a habit to supplement the trial:

  1. I was to wake up at 6:30 a.m. consistently…
  2. … which meant I was to go to bed no later than 11:30 p.m. for seven hours of sleep total.
  3. No snoozing. Ever.

Armed with a list of the internet’s most bizarre wake-up hacks and the comfort that if I failed, it wasn’t really my fault—it was genetic!—I began my foray into being a morning person.

Day 1: An Ice Water Face Dunk

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Icing your face is a tried-and-true at-home skincare remedy that can help with anything from de-puffing your face to increasing circulation. I’ve done it. But after reading that celebs like Gabrielle Union and Kate Moss take it to the next level by submerging their entire faces in icy water to wake up faster, I was definitely skeptical. After all, gently massaging your face with an ice cube wrapped in a towel is one thing; Dunking your entire face in a basin of ice water at 6:30 a.m. is another.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Come Monday morning, I found myself trudging half-awake to the kitchen, pouring the entire contents of three ice trays into a mixing bowl full of water, and after briefly cursing the day I ever decided to make this my New Year’s resolution, submerging my face completely. After two more attempts, I did not feel like Kate Moss. I felt royally peeved and a little bit brain-frozen—but I did feel awake, if only momentarily.

The Verdict: While it did wake me up, I suspect that had something to do with the shock of my skin being introduced to a bucket of ice so early in the morning. After the initial jolt, this method didn’t help me feel any more awake—though my skin, on the other hand, had never felt better.

Day 2: Schedule an Early-Morning Meetup

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According to Fast Company, using peer pressure to wake up on time works. The idea behind this trick is accountability: If you promise to meet someone at a certain point, the threat of flaking on an appointment alone should be enough to make you jump out of bed early. Because setting up a professional meeting at 7:30 a.m. was totally outside the realm of possibility, I instead coerced a friend to meet me for an early (okay, really early) breakfast. We got bagels, and they were delicious.

The Verdict: Is meeting up with friends for a sunrise breakfast every day of the week practical? For the sake of my wallet, the answer is no. But this trick was certainly effective, if only because there’s no way my Greek guilt would allow me to leave a friend hanging after essentially forcing them to wake up at the crack of dawn for me. Plus, it helped start my morning on a strong note: Not only did I actually eat a real breakfast, but I was completely dressed and ready to go by 7:30 a.m.

Day 3: Do Something Creative

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Per Bustle, trying a creative activity like reading is a good way to ease into an early morning. “Writing can also help wake up the brain and the body,” nutritionist Lauren Minchen told the publication. As someone who works in a creative industry, this was the day I was most looking forward to, figuring it would be a piece of cake—and maybe even a way to get ahead of my to-do list.

The reality proved less ideal. When I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and grabbed my computer, I stared at a blank Google Doc for probably 15 minutes, unable to muster the inspiration to write anything. My theory is that, when your hobby is also the thing you are lucky enough to do for a living, it can be hard to use it as a relaxation method; how was I supposed to pen the next great American novel (or at least, the next great American email) when I was exhausted and knew I had a day full of writing ahead? I grabbed a book and read a few chapters instead.

The Verdict: No dice.

Day 4: Turn to Technology

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At the behest of my roommate and the 140k-plus people who reviewed this product and gave it 4.7 stars, I downloaded the Sleep Cycle app. Here’s how it works: The app analyzes your sleep patterns through a microphone that monitors your breathing, and wakes you up within a 30-minute window according to when you’re sleeping the lightest. You input the latest possible wake-up time you can rationalize (so for me, 6:30 a.m), place your phone face-down on your nightstand, and wait to be awoken to a delightfully calming ringtone of your choosing.

The Verdict: My apartment building is an old one, where the heaters make so much noise you’d think someone was breaking in. I also have a bedroom that faces the street—generally not a problem for me, as I am not easily woken up by sirens or traffic noises, but I was dubious as to whether or not this app was actually going to be able to pick up on my sleep rhythm with so much else going on. But the crazy thing is that it actually did: I woke up immediately, with no inclination to hit snooze, and remained awake. I loved it so much that I even cheated a bit and used this method the next day as well, in conjunction with my last trick.

Day 5: Get Outside and Get Moving

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For this one, I combined two of the most popular hacks for waking up early: Getting some sun, and exercising. Both are geared toward energizing your body naturally, instead of using artificial stimulants like technology or an ice bath. In the grand scheme of becoming a morning person, these two tricks seemed the healthiest. However, my plan to try them hit a couple snafus because a) It’s January, which means the sun is typically M.I.A for most of the early morning and b) I loathe exercising.

So instead of waiting for the sun to rise before going on a run, I committed myself to a pre-sunrise jaunt (speed walking is the closest I’ll get to running) to Riverside Park. I had romantic visions of briskly walking through the park to enjoy a peaceful sunrise—visions that were dashed when I remembered that the sun rises in the East, and Riverside Park is tragically situated on the west side.

The Verdict: Of all the mornings, this one was my favorite. True, I didn’t actually experience the sunrise and I don’t think any dictionary would define the way I was moving as “real exercise,” but the combination of being outside and being totally present—even for a 30-minute walk—was invigorating. I returned to my apartment calmer, more awake, and with newfound compassion for early-morning joggers. When I finally do become a morning person, this is a tactic I’ll be deploying for sure.

See more sleep stories:
I’ve Tried Every Trendy Sleep Product—These 6 Actually Work

Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Sleep Ever
I Was a Linen Bedding Skeptic—Until I Tried These Sheets

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