I almost never wake up to an alarm. In fact, I stopped setting an alarm a long time ago. What’s more, I wake up alarmingly early—usually between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.
No, I don’t have insomnia. Yes, I am employed. And, no, I don’t go through the day feeling like a tired zombie. The funny thing is, this isn’t actually a very difficult habit to cultivate.
What follows is my simple advice on how to consistently wake up early and not feel tired during the day. I can’t promise this will work for everyone, but it’s actually quite simple.
The Benefits of Waking Up Early
Before we jump to the “how” let’s talk about why you should wake up early.
The pre-dawn hours are my favorite of the entire day. It is in these quiet, undistracted moments that I spend time with the Lord in prayer and Bible study, I catch up on my reading, do my writing, and exercise, all before the work day begins.
It is even said of our Lord that he would rise very early to spend time in prayer. Mark 1:35 says, ” And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” What an excellent example to follow!
In his book, The 5 AM Miracle, Jeff Sanders offers a compelling vision of what you can accomplish if you just wake up a little earlier. He also gives a road map of how to get there. It’s a good read if you want a kick in the pants to get going. But since you’ve read this far, I don’t think I need to keep convincing you of how great it would be to add even just a couple more uninterrupted hours to the beginning of your day.
So, how do we learn how to wake up earlier? And how can it be possible to consistently wake early without even using an alarm clock?
Know Your Sleep Needs
If you want to learn how to wake up early, even as early as 4 or 5 a.m., you first need to assess what your sleep needs really are. Most sleep studies confirm that people need somewhere between 6 and 9 hours of sleep per night. But that’s a big range. So ask yourself, to be fully functional throughout the day, do you need 6 hours, 9 hours, or somewhere in between?
I find that my sweet spot is between 7 and 8 hours a night. When I was in seminary I did between 6 and 7 out of necessity. But these days I range closer to 8 hours a night. My wife, on the other hand, genuinely needs between 9 and 10 hours of sleep to be fully operational.
The key here is to not try to be a tough guy and convince yourself you can get by on 4 hours—we aren’t talking about getting by, we’re talking about what you need to be at full capacity. This is a lifestyle change, so it needs to be sustainable for the long haul. You also don’t want to make the opposite error and, out of sloth, convince yourself you need more sleep than you really do. Being lazy and a slave to ease, ironically, only makes life harder. “The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.” Proverbs 15:19.
If you really aren’t sure how much sleep you need each night, try taking a week or two at 8 hours and see if that feels like too little or too much. You may also want to consider your current health. When people consistently engage in moderate exercise they actually need less sleep because the quality of their sleep increases. If you’re not exercising, a great first step to learning how to get up early would be to reintroduce exercise into your life.
Go to Sleep Sooner
But let’s get around to the point. How do you actually wake up early not feeling tired and do it without needing an alarm clock?
The answer is actually painfully simple: You need to go to sleep earlier. The old phrase, “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” has stuck around not just because it rhymes but because like all proverbs it is generally true.
“The answer is actually painfully simple: You need to go to sleep earlier.”
Success in any area of life is aided by learning to rise early. This includes our spiritual lives. Proverbs 10:13 says, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.” And waking up early directly correlates to how early you go to sleep. Ergo, if you want to wake up early. Learn to go to bed earlier.
If this seems like overly simplistic advice, that’s because it is. But it genuinely works.
Here’s the simple math. Take the number of hours of sleep you need and count backwards from the time when you want to wake up. That is the time you need to go to sleep. So, for example, if I want to wake up at 4 a.m. and I want about 7 hours of sleep a night. Then, I need to go to sleep at 9 p.m. Because seven hours back on the clock from 4 a.m. is 9 p.m. It’s that simple.
But how do you do this without an alarm clock?
If the goal is to learn to wake up early, not feeling tired throughout the day, and doing it all without the use of an alarm clock, then you need to get into a routine.
The key to all of this is consistency. When you go to sleep and wake at the same time every day (even weekends!), your body learns your rhythms. This means better sleep each night. It also means that, over time, it becomes both easier to fall asleep at the designated time and easier to wake up when you want. This consistency will eventually mean you can forego the use of that annoying alarm clock.
To get to this point of consistency, you will likely have to start by using an alarm clock in the beginning. Only after you’ve grown confident with the consistency of your wake time, should you forego using an alarm.
You’ll know it’s time to ditch the alarm when you find yourself waking up naturally before the alarm goes off.
Also, since we are trying to wake-up very early, the consequences of oversleeping a little (i.e. being late to work) are mitigated by those extra several hours of buffer time between your preferred wake time and when you need to be at your job. So, if you need to be at work at 8, and you’re waking at 4, if you accidentally oversleep one day as you’re learning to wake consistently, you’re not likely to oversleep so long that it will make you late. It will just mean less time for yourself in the morning.
Often early on in retraining my sleep patterns, there are mornings in which I really just don’t want to wake up. In those moments I often hear Proverbs 6:9 pestering me to get out of bed, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” There is so much to be done, and so little time in which to do it. I want to be well rested, but I do not want to be slothful with the Lord’s time.
You can do it. You can learn to wake up early without being tired. It’s worth it. Just know your sleep needs, go to sleep sooner, and keep it consistent.