Chronotherapy and Getting Up Early

The Dead Sea before dawnGetting up early is one of the best ways of counteracting depression. This intervention has been shown to have a robust antidepressant effect (it is called Chronotherapy). But it can be a challenge making a change in your sleep cycle, especially if you have always been a late riser. And especially when it is winter and it is dark and cold and rainy outside.

This article will talk about how to get up early.

If you want to read more about why you might want to make this change here are some articles on the topic:

For most of my life I felt sure that I was naturally an “owl” – late at night was my best time of day, and I hated the morning. It was only when I had to start getting up to take care of my daughter that I made a serious effort to change this pattern.

I now know that you can change what seems like a life long pattern.

But if you don’t have the motivation that comes from needing to take care of your child, how can you make the change?

For the last ten years I have been collecting tips.

1. Prepare

Many people think that the key to making a change is something called “willpower.” I don’t believe it. I can tell who is going to succeed and who is not by listening to how they have prepared for the change. It has very little to do with willpower.

Get your bedroom and house ready for your morning awakening. Think about how you can quickly enter a world that is welcoming.

Light.jpgLight. How can you have plenty of light, even if it is winter and you are getting up before dawn? I recommend buying a bright light (a therapy light) or a dawn simulator to put at bedside. That way you don’t even have to get out of bed to start the day – although you do have to open your eyes…

Coffee and Breakfast. Prepare the coffee maker, and get some special food for breakfast. Cup of cappuccinoOne of the things that got me through the transition to waking early was buying an espresso machine that allowed me to have a ritual special cup of latte in the morning.

Clothing. Set out your clothes so that you don’t have to figure out what to wear. If you want to go exercising in the morning this can be especially important. The idea is to have things ready so you don’t have to think… just roll out of bed and into your clothes.

Activity. Create a compelling plan for what you will do in the morning. At the beginning, it Runningmay be helpful to set up an engagement that will be hard to miss. Arrange to meet someone for breakfast, or go for an early morning walk. Even a phone check in with a friend or relative back East can be a motivation.

A Wake Up Call. If you have trouble because you have learned to hit the “snooze” button without even waking up, consider changing your wake up alarm… maybe have that friend back East be the one making the wake up call. Or use one of the free internet phone reminder services, like

Here is an idea that combines activity and a wake up call… sign up for a morning workout or morning run with a friend, or a trainer.

This may sound like a lot of work, but the more you do the night before the better your chance of success.

2. Set a Realistic Goal

You are more likely to succeed if you are not trying to change your wake up time too much. Few people can wake up two hours earlier, and a half an hour change may be the ideal first step.

The point is, you want to change the pattern of behavior first (sleeping until the last minute)… once you are confident that you can make some change, you will find it a lot easier to build on that early success and move the rest of the way to your desired wake up time.

3. Go to Sleep with the Plan in Mind

It can be surprisingly powerful to go to sleep thinking about what you plan to do when you are woken up in the morning.

Don’t Think. Get Up. The longer you think about whether you should get up or not the less likely you are to succeed. Most of what we do when we are lying in bed thinking about getting up is a futile internal argument that tends to deplete our energy and motivation. Make the decision that you will get up and do something before you try to decide whether to stay awake. For example, decide that you will get up and slip on your work out clothes before you think. Or that you will turn on the coffee maker.

Here are some more thoughts to consider –

Jump out of bed. Yes, jump out of bed. With enthusiasm. Jump up and spread your arms wide as if to say, “Yes! I am alive! Ready to tackle the day with open arms and the gusto of a driven maniac.” Seriously, it works.

Put your alarm across the room. If it’s right next to you, you’ll hit the snooze button. So put it on the other side of the room, so you’ll have to get up (or jump up) to turn it off. Then, get into the habit of going straight to the bathroom to pee once you’ve turned it off. Once you’re done peeing, you’re much less likely to go back to bed. At this point, remember your exciting thing. If you didn’t jump out of bed, at least stretch your arms wide and greet the day.  

4. Use the Morning Time Well

Don’t turn on the computer or glance at your phone and check your email. Email is an energy drain. And don’t watch the news, also a source of pessimism rather than optimism in the morning.

Do something health and pleasurable. Go for a morning walk. Meditate. Eat a healthy breakfast. If you want to convince yourself that getting up in the morning makes sense you need to treat yourself well in the morning.

Here are some other ideas –

Drink a glass of water. You’re dehydrated from not drinking any water all night. Drink a full glass of water if you can. It’ll make you feel more awake.

Meditate. Even just for 3 minutes. It’s such a great way to start your day — doing nothing, just sitting, and practicing mindful focus.

Write. Or do some other kind of creating.

Exercise. Go for a walk or a run, or do a home workout. Even just 10 minutes.

Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Either one of these makes the morning better.

Use Circadian Rhythms

All of us cycle through relatively regular 90 minute cycles of deeper and lighter sleep throughout the night (relatively regular… the usual range is 90+/- 10 minutes and disturbances in the night can have a big impact on how regular the cycles are.

In theory, finding a way of aligning your wake up cue with this natural sleep rhythm may make it  easier to get up. A number of products try to use that fact to choose the best time to wake up. But we aren’t sure how effective they are, although there are lots of enthusiasts on the internet…

WIthings Aura is the ultimate geek’s toy, combining a light and sound alarm clock with a REM sleep sensor that you tuck under your mattress.

Other options include the Beddit Sleep Monitor, Jawbone’s Up3 or Up4 wrist monitors and an app on your cell phone (like the ever popular SleepCycle) which monitors movement on your bed if you lie it next to you on the bed while you sleep.

Having worked with a number of people who have tried all of these variants, I am not impressed with how durable the results are.