Mind Over Mattress: How to Wake Early When All You Want to Do is Sleep

wake early

I normally wake at 5am, and have been doing so for some time. In fact, if I didn’t wake early you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now as I simply wouldn’t have the time to write for this blog. This past week, however, I have struggled to wake early and have been hitting the snooze button for the first time in a long time. What’s going on?

One thing I have learned over the past year and a half is that waking early is not just about setting your alarm clock for a particular time and getting up. For example, it is pointless to force yourself to wake early if it leaves you feeling like a zombie for the rest of the day. If you are interested in waking earlier, the following are a few things I have learned that may be of help. And hopefully we can work out why I have been bashing the snooze button so much….

The Evening Before

Avoid caffeine/ alcohol/ sugar. All these things can potentially affect your quality of sleep and make it incredibly hard to wake when your alarm goes off. When it comes to something like sugar, for example, I indulge my sweet tooth during the day. Then in the evening I avoid it because I know it makes me restless during the night.

Wind down. Don’t go to bed with your mind still active. This is one reason I have been struggling to wake early the past week – I have gotten into the bad habit of shutting down the computer and heading straight to bed. I need to get back into the habit of turning off the computer earlier and instead reading a fictional book followed by some meditation.

Visualize. Just before falling asleep, visualize yourself waking at a particular time. It’s amazing how effectively this works.


Get enough. Different people need different amounts of sleep. So the key is to experiment and be aware what amount works well for you. I need at least 6 and a half to 7 hours. When I sleep less than this (such as I did a night or two last week), I always regret it because I am tired all the next day. There is nothing productive about that.

Better quality. I sleep less than I did 2 years ago, but I generally find it easier to wake up. One major reason for this is my quality of sleep is much better (although I am conveniently forgetting the first few months after our son was born). Apart from avoiding the things I mentioned earlier, I usually wear a sleep mask to make things completely dark. Kathryn has nicknamed me Zorro because of this, but it is worth it.

Waking Early

Have a purpose. I usually find it relatively easy to wake at 5am because I have a clear purpose of what I want to do in the morning. Typically I will spend a few minutes the night before making a list of what I want to do. Then in the morning I am able to quickly focus on these.

Find a morning routine you love. Over the past 1-2 years my mornings have changed from waking up and rushing to get ready and out the door, to waking earlier and incorporating some activities/ habits I enjoy into my mornings. To get some ideas, I highly recommend my article 24 Daily Habits. I obviously don’t do everything in the preceding article each morning, but once you have some ideas to make your morning more enjoyable it is easy to incorporate at least one or two.

Be sneaky. A very effective trick I do is to place my alarm on the other side of the room, effectively forcing me to get out of bed to turn it off.

Be disciplined. Of course the above trick is no guarantee that I won’t go back and curl up in bed (as I have done a few times over the past week). I don’t think my problem has been discipline so much as the other things I have discussed in this article. But certainly waking earlier does require you to put “mind over mattress”. Remember: “the price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret”.

Small steps. It took me a number of months to go from waking at 7am to 5am. The key was to take it slowly by chipping away at 15 minutes at a time. Take small steps and be patient.

* * *

Now waking earlier may not be for everyone, but it has been a life changing habit for me. What do you think?

Photo by Ludosphère

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73 thoughts on “Mind Over Mattress: How to Wake Early When All You Want to Do is Sleep”

  1. Over the past few weeks I’ve pushed my waking time back to 4 a.m. I live with and care for (on a full-time basis) an elderly stroke survivor. Without going into a long story, it’s hard for me to work during the day because she feels neglected, which can lead to depression, which leads to little old lady fits [think black spiral of a day leading to the level of hell Dante left out.]

    Anyway, the first thing I do when I get up is hop on the exercise bike and do 20 miles. By the time I’m done with that, about 72 minutes, I’m wide awake and ready to hit my freelance “to do” list and it’s still the crack of dawn. While I’m on the bike I use my iPod Touch to read news and blogs, so the time is very much “me” oriented.

    I’ve never been an early riser, but this new routine has solved so many problems in my life that I’m dedicated to keeping it up. Only rarely do I have issues, and generally a deliberate thought about the consequences of not getting my backside out from under the covers takes care of that. It seems to me it’s all about what you’re trying to accomplish and staying in bed, at least at this point in my life, does me more harm than good.

    1. Excellent! I agree with what you said. More power to you for getting up so early and giving us positive ideas. It is exactly what you said—it’s all about what are you trying to accomplish. Excellent reply and very helpful.

  2. Great thoughts Peter! I attended a military academy for my college so I had to quickly learn to get up early everyday. For me the key was doing some push ups and sit ups followed immediately by a shower. This may not be for everyone, but for me I’ve found that some exercise and a shower not only wakes me up, but the feeling of being clean seems to help start my day off much better.

  3. Hello Peter

    I read your posts for some time and I find it great. You say so much with simple words and not big amount of text and that is what i like about your posts. Reason why i did not leave comment up to now is because my english is bad :) , but this post about sleeping and wakeing habit is effecting me right now. I am stil a student and i have finished exams and took little break. I really had a habit of waking at 7 and it was great. Now when I should start again with studing after a week of break it is really hard i just do not wake early, I turn of my alarm and keep on sleeping more (even there is no need for that because I go to bed on time).
    When I wake early I feel I do to so much things dureing day and on the end of my day I can say to miself well done. And I think that it is really true as u say that when u get up early first you should have time for yourself, and that will make us get up on time, but also make us feel happy. I like to smile when I get up and look out of my window( I have nice view) and that is where my day truly star. Waking earlier may not be for everyone as you say, but I think that is sentence that people say just to make excuse from themselves. Waking up early can really be a life changing habit. Now that I wrote this I think it will be easier for me to get back to my habit. :)

  4. Peter,
    Your sleep methods are good. Most people don’t pay enough attention on how to improve their sleep, then wonder why they are so tired. I suggest you look at the Dreamhelmet. Its triple sensory blocking system has great advantages over simple sleep masks – and they now come with a free alarm watch which fits in a secret pocket in the mask. It will wake you up and save you a trip across the room. dreamhelmet.com

  5. I really have a problem to get up at a given time. The result is that I have to rush and also get late to school. Of course, I feel really bad about it. Instead of having peaceful morning, I go through a lot of stress and it definitely affects my whole day.
    So I’m gonna improve that. I want to make a commitment, thats why I’m writing here :-)
    Hopefully I’ll make it and write an article with some helpful tips on my own blog.
    Thanks for motivation, Peter.

  6. Yeah, it sure is a tough one, I find it hard to respect myself when I can’t make myself get up at the time I set the night before, getting up 30 minutes later than I intended ruins my mood for the rest of the day and I’m less productive as a result.
    We humans are such strange creatures, we need routine, we get bored with routine, we need a change, maybe its all about balance, so we need balance with variety, omg how?

  7. I’ve done the “put the alarm on the other side of the room” trick for a while. If it worked at the beginning, I’ve forgotten. I’d love to know if it actually works for some people.

  8. You know you’re getting old when…

    You find yourself nodding and interested in a post like this that breaks down sleep into precise objects, schedules and habits…

    …and then you think back on a decade ago when you used to stumble into your room at 3am, crash on your bed fully clothed because you’d partied too much and then passed out for exactly 4 hours of sleep before you had to get up to go to work.

  9. Peter, since coming back from vacation, I really needed to read this article. It has been TOUGH for me to get up earlier, and Ive had so much work to do. “Winding down” has been key for me…and I read at least 20 pages of fiction before I go to bed!
    ps, thx for the link love!

  10. I liked in particular the suggestions on how to sleep better at night by shutting down the computer earlier and reading a book. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and it works great.

    Another suggestion would be to light some candles and watch them flicker until you get sleepy. It has a hypnotic effect on me. Also reminds me of the time when I used to go camping with my family and we watched a campfire until it died down. That was always fun.

    The other thing I liked about this article is finding a morning routine that you like. I have one myself. I love making coffee, reading through my emails, checking the stats of my blog and then responding back to the emails. It’s become a favorite routine for years – I love it! I often feel lost without having access to the internet upon waking up. I guess I’m an internet addict but I enjoy it!

    Thanks for a great article of practical tips.

  11. The funny thing is, I used to be able to get out of bed. I wake up pretty easily and early, too! Unfortunately, ever since I re-arranged my bedroom and even moved my bed, I have started to fail at getting up in the morning. Somehow, I feel much more relaxed and am tempted to sleep again. I guess the change was positive for my sleeping habits but I would need to work on getting out of bed again!

  12. Santiago Pontiroli

    Turning off the computer and going to sleep right away didn’t work for me either :)

    I have been struggling to get up this past weeks because the quality of my sleep is not really good… I think it’s related to my mind being active (full speed), thinking about what to do tomorrow…

    Fortunately today I could wake up earlier, it’s 7 am here in Argentina, and given that I usually wake up at 10 or 10 o’clock this is a huge improvement!

    Thanks for the tips Peter, always welcomed!

  13. For me, avoiding caffeine and winding down seem to be the two most important things I need to do to get a good night’s sleep and be ready to get up early and face the next day. I ride an exercise bike shortly before bedtime to release the tension in my body from a day of work. It works wonders for me. I don’t know what I’d do without the exercise!

    I agree that having a good purpose for getting out of bed helps a lot. Since I’ve started blogging, when my alarm goes off, my mind immediately starts thinking about my writing for the day which wakes me up and gets me going!

  14. I completely know what you mean, especially about the visualization part. I just tried that yesterday and normally I hit the snooze button 10+ times. Yesterday night I visualized and intended myself getting up at 7am feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. I set my alarm for 6:30 and pressed snooze 3 times. Lo and behold I finally woke up at 7am. I know this might not sound too impressive for some, but it’s a drastic improvement for me. Thanks for the tips Peter. =)

    ps. Dugg

  15. I also wake around 5, but I walk out the door heading to work after a quick shower. I have thought about trying to get up earlier and earlier, but cannot seem to mustard up the courage. I get plenty of sleep, but have been thinking about extending my day. Any ideas on how to extend your day in the evening without loosing the needed rest and sleep? A lot of your ideas are correct though and I practice a few of them and will try the rest soon.


  16. I just stumbled on your blog, and read through 10 or so of your old posts–I immediately clicked over to Word and wrote my teenage self a nice long letter, and I’m pondering my mission statement, too.

    I usually find sites about self-improvement to be sappy, esoteric and cliched, but your blog is written in a way that’s accessible to the kind of every day slob who can actually benefit from this stuff.

    Just wanted to say thanks for making me think, and keep up the good work!

  17. Well, I prefer to have a job I can sleep in to a reasonably hour no matter what.

    Nothing comes before sleep as far as I’m concerned. Nothing else is so healthy AND so deliciously enjoyable at the same time (except one other thing I can think of.)

    Probably that’s even why cats have nine lives–because they sleep so much. Sleeping keeps me young.


  18. Hello Peter,

    I visit your blog very often, your blog is great. Everyday while I travel by train from college back home, I check your blog on my mobile phone. Keep on going like this, It’s great.



  19. I made it a rule many years ago to only get up when I felt like it, and for a long time I got up at 11 or 12 most days. Now I’m finding I naturally want to get up reasonably early, and it never feels like a strain (if it is, I stay in bed!)

  20. Excellent sleep ideas, and great comments, too. I’ve been a night owl forever. My doctor thinks I may simply be genetically predisposed to work at night and sleep during the day. Whenever I try to get back to a normal schedule so I can be with everyone else on the planet while they’re awake, my system gets really messed up. So… I could be a night time police dispatcher, a night nurse, a newspaper writer on swing shift….

    Anyway, thanks for your wealth of great ideas!

  21. Great blog, I have subcribed my Google… I enjoyed your refreshing and informative posts. Check out my travel blog sometime, I think you would enjoy it.

    Pura Vida


  22. Excellent post on sleep. Quality of sleep is by far more important than quantity of sleep. This is such an insightful post… I’ve had sleep problems my entire life and found the answers I needed from Dr. Barry Krakow. He’s written a book called “Sound Sleep, Sound Mind,” and it’s excellent. I highly recommend it.
    Thanks again for the great post.

  23. Thanks for the article. I come back to your site on occasion to read an article here and there, as I’ve been in a bit of a slump at times lately. I’ve been finding it difficult to wake up early for the past few years, mostly because I have a hard time forcing myself to go to bed at a decent hour. Rarely am I in bed before 1am–that’s my main problem.

    I made a new year’s commitment to get to bed earlier and it worked for a couple of weeks. It felt good too, but then I fell back out of it. Your site inspires me to refocus on that goal.

  24. Great article! Thanks so much, Peter.

    For about 10 months, I have been very diligent about the time I work up (usually 5 or 6), and while I will never be a morning person, I felt that I got a ton accomplished and was proud of my achievements. Lately, however, it’s been harder and harder getting up.

    Your article gave me some great tips (& I got up early today!)

    Monica Hamburgs last blog post..‘Twas a Good Year, I Remember it Fondly

  25. The only trick I know is visualizing to yourself before sleep, what time your clock is going to be the moment you open your eyes in the morning. I normally do not use an alarm clock because I wake up at the same time everyday — without fail. My cat helps too, precisely 5 minutes after I’ve opened my eyes. My problem is, I really don’t have enough discipline to stand up and not go back to snooze land. The weird thing is, I sometimes just abruptly wake up even while immersed in dreams, just because my sleep time is up.

    This is a good tip, and I’m really interested what other good things I can do to change/improve myself.

  26. “The price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is so very true and something I’ve been dealing with lately. I needed to hear (or shall I say read) that!

  27. Peter,
    Great list and strategies. I have incorporated the alarm clock in the next room technique for a while now. I am struggling to get out of bed at 5am and head straight to the gym. This is a new one for me. I will be a little forgiving and realize it may take me some time to get to that.



  28. Oh my goodness – you are a godsend! I’m incredibly productive, emotionally energetic, and have flexible hours and minimal responsibilities now, work from home and feel happy most of the time – and I could sleep til 11 every day if I let myself. It seems like my best sleeping hours are in the 7-10 range (though I force myself up much, much earlier).

    And we have a habit in our family of watching John Stewart and Stephen Colbert – so we don’t go to sleep early enough – and I’ve always loved staying up late and working (writing) into the wee hours…

    I’m going to try this. I often think that if I get up early – even 7 – I’ll instinctively do better (perhaps even 6). And then , like my husband, get a nap in in the afternoon if need be until I can get a new routine going…Thank you! Sarah

  29. This is a really great post.
    I have to try this and to try to organize my hole day or to creat a hole new day.
    I like your page a lot, one of the best pages in the web.

  30. Hi Peter .. great ideas .. and Ilike the idea of writing out and planning for tomorrow a.m., as well as feeling better for having done it – achieving those things that need to be done .. over and above the norm.

    I used to hit my head (gently!) at the hour I wanted to wake up .. and this seems to work .. as well as the alarm clock ..

    Thanks I’ll get my head over my mattress .. while it’s light in the mornings
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters

  31. For us in the working class, we have no choice but to wake up even when we don’t want to. When my shift changed to start at 6am, I had no choice but to wake up as early as 4:30am to get myself ready and insure no tardiness.

    I think getting used to a routine takes the pain out of this exercise. After 3 months, I usually wake up naturally before the alarm clock goes off. And I found that I naturally feel sleepy now at around 9 am. In my previous normal office hours shift, I hit the sack at 12 midnight with or without caffeine.

  32. This article couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me! I have been struggling to change my habit of going to sleep late and waking up late also. I am a total night person, and much more productive at night, which is why it’s been so hard to break this habit. But I also know that when I get up early (and my early could never be 5 am!, that I just couldn’t do), I get so much more accomplished, and it is a great feeling…

    Thank you for sharing these tips! I will try to incorporate some for sure!

  33. Dear,

    I am from India, having job in MNC, basically doing (Gas and Oil) pipeline construction projects and I am manager – project cordination and planning. my usual professional life starts from 7:30 Am which have no rule to end on which time it is followed by discussing, managing, monitoring, planning, presentation prepration, invoice preration, liasioning, site visit, or some time site supervision of various deciplines like mechanical, electrical, civil, instrumentation. We dont have a regular rutine type of job. Even some days of week i have to go out of station.

    Kindly advise how i keep my life regular and deciplined.


    Dushyant Sharma

  34. Good ideas. I kind of find it hard to wake up at around 7 in the morning since I usually sleep waaaay past midnight and I’m a sort of a busy student. I’d love to try finding a morning routine though. :)

  35. Hello
    Well written post and good tips. I just would like to emphasize one point. It is very important that you get up right after you hear the alarm clock. Lounging around in bed will make you even more sleepy. I know, it is not an easy thing to do, but it is worth trying.
    Best Regards

  36. Hi Peter! I can relate on your post. I am early bird person. I usually wake early no matter what time I’m going to sleep at night. But what I usually avoid during night time is I only drink just enough water for me not to wake in the middle of the night just to pee. I want my sleeping straight till morning. If I wake in the middle of the night I will get a hard time going back to sleep and the result is when i wake up in the morning feeling like don’t wanna go for work and just sleep the whole day.

  37. One of the suggestion can be to Put on some candles and watch them flicker until you get sleepy. All of us think that late hours of night are useful as most of the time of the day is utilized in office or routine jobs. But we can still make full use of morning hours if we sleep early. The only point is that how you are going to convince yourself for changing the lifestyle.

  38. Peter, I’m new to your site, but after reading just two posts, I’m a fan and maybe your most recent “like” on Facebook. Keep up the good work.

  39. I used to wake up as soon as my eye opened back in high school (5:30am). My motivation was a computer game I would leave a shop running overnight and wake-up excitedly to see how much it made. 30 mins on the computer than it was 6 am and time to get ready for school.

    First year uni was the same story. This time I would wake-up to talk to my bf who went to Australia for a few months.

    Atm I wake up early to learn about real estate investment options.

    I find if I have some sort of hobby/interest I’ll jump out of bed and occupy myself with that. Also, big things happen on the following morning actually give me a hard time getting to sleep because sometimes I get anxious (first day of school/work/Christmas).

  40. I love the idea of putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room :-) My problem is that I am a night owl – love to potter and get things done late at night when it is peaceful :-)

  41. I tried visualizing my wake up and it worked! Next I’m going to make a list of things I will do when I get up as you suggested! Thanks for the tips!

  42. Nice article, some very useful tips here.. thanks for sharing!

    I habitually use my computer until late at night, usually watching some streaming TV episodes on it before I go to bed, which I know is a big no-no. I’m going to try winding down with a good book from now on to help improve my sleeping habits.

    With that being said, there are times when you’ve got a project you simply have to finish, or you forgot about an email you need to send before you go to bed and you need to turn on the computer. There’s this program called “f.lux” (www.justgetflux.com) that controls the “temperature” of your computer screen so that it emits warmer lighting once the sun goes down, theoretically enabling you to get better sleep by stopping the harsh glare from your computer screen from interrupting your circadian rhythm. It’s been working pretty well for me actually, and it’s definitely worth looking into.

  43. Peter, I know this article has been up for a while, but I’m sitting here reading a handful of your posts for the first time. I’m in the “change my daily routine” stage of my life. I own and operate a small web consulting business and my day is washed away before I even know it as we take on more work, means longer days, less time for ME. I think the main take away from this article, for me, is that it is essential to creep from your 7am to 5am wake up times like you inform us. I tried the jump of a whole 2 hours, even though I didn’t get to bed 2 hours earlier and it was devastating. This was last week. Monday, I woke up at 5am and felt awesome all day, then 4pm hit and I was done. Slept like crap Monday night, didn’t want to get out of bed Tuesday, felt like crap all Tuesday, slept ok that night and so on. It ruined my first part of the week. So, now I’m going to approach it the way you did. Chunking away 15 minutes at a time, while also being mindful of the other tips you note as those do have a direct connection to making it all work well.

    Another question, how did you do this with your wife sleeping next to you? Did she get up at the same time also? Do you wake her up? Disrupt her sleep? I’m curious, as I’d like to respect my wife’s sleep as well, so any tips you have here or maybe even a new article broaching this subject would be nice to learn about how you handle this :) Thanks for sharing your insight and for letting me share my approach and questions. Look forward to your response. – Patrick

  44. I think discipline may be my issue, as it stands I wake up at 8.30am Monday – Thursday and 7.30 on a friday due to staring work early, I then lie in bed for about 15 minutes and then force myself to get up so that I’m not late for work. I will always be able to get up for things that are absolutely essential, work, flights, etc. Unfortunately if my morning brain doesn’t deem something as essential then i can’t get myself out of bed. For a couple of weeks now I’ve been wanting to go from a morning run, I’ve set my alarm early but then I can’t get up and have to re-set my alarm for 8.30. Its driving me mad, I get 9-10 hours sleep every night so its not like I’m not getting enough sleep. I eat healthily and drink loads of water, why is waking up so hard?

  45. I’ve been struggling in waking up early these past few days. After reading this, I was struck with that caffeine-intake the night before. I just can’t resist in taking coffee every night. I don’t know but I must try less coffee during the night. Thanks for this Peter!

  46. I get up at 6:20 and leave the house at 7:00 to start work at 8. I only get up that early because I have to. There’s absolutely no way I would want to get up any earlier than that. 6:20 is a struggle.
    I go to bed at 10 and read until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. My husband switches the light off (briefly waking me up) at 10:50.

  47. I need about 8 hours. When I sleep less than 8 hours, I feel tired in the day time. I agree with peter, when I maintain the discipline, I can wake up from the sleep timely. Even its a weekend. My wife has a problem, she cannot sleep timely and also cannot waking up if she takes a couple of coffee. But it’s not changed my sleeping time. I just control my mind and stop thinking and try to sleep…

  48. Apples can be surprisingly good to wake anyone up. So if you want to jumpstart your body without caffeine apples would be a good solution to your problem. Also, the best way for Mind to overcome Mattress is to have good ones =)

  49. Thanks for this. I just started looking for a new mattress, and yours is one of the few sane opinions i’ve come across. There’s a lot i can compromise with, but i need my beauty sleep haha. 

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