Getting enough exercise has always been an issue for me, mostly because I think working out is so incredibly boring. I love the initial rush I get when I hop on my elliptical or take a brisk walk through the neighborhood, but I always wind up counting down the seconds until I’ve satisfied my goal for the day — whatever it is.
The humdrum of repetitive movement is bad enough, but I also struggle to find the time. Not only do I have two kids ages 7 and 9, but I work full-time and I have groceries to buy, meals to make, and a home to take care of. We also have piano lessons, gymnastics classes, and an array of school activities to plan for each week. I love my life, but it’s also exhausting.
My husband and I have tried several strategies to get a workout in each day. For a while, we tried getting up at 6:30 a.m. before the kids get up at 7 a.m., but we would get out of our routine quickly if one of us overslept. We also tried doing our exercise videos in the late afternoon for a while, but we were always so distracted. After all, it’s hard to crank out a T-25 video when the kids are home and asking 300 questions the entire time.
The obvious answer here is one I’ve fought against for as long as I can remember— getting up even earlier. If I could just get out of bed long before everyone else does, I would have plenty of time for exercise without my kids asking for things or any other distractions.
Why I Started Getting Up Earlier
Earlier this year, I decided that I had finally had it with constantly failing to achieve my goals. While I have never been one to get out of bed super early, I started setting the alarm for 5:55 a.m. That’s not so early that it makes me miserable, but it gives me plenty of time to drink some coffee and do 25 minutes on my Bowflex M3 Max Trainer.
And, my oh my, what a difference this has made! Now that I have the hang of getting up early, I have no excuse not to work out. I never feel rushed or distracted, and I am in much better physical and mental shape. I also feel like I’m in a much better mood and much more prepared to handle whatever life throws my way. Simply put, the change has been amazing!
The thing is, this isn’t really all that surprising. I’ve read countless articles about the virtues of rising early for years, and many successful people swear by this practice. For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly gets up at 3:45 a.m., and Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck gets up at 4 a.m.
Plenty of other successful early risers have been profiled in publications like Business Insider and Forbes, and the story is usually the same. People who get a lot done believe that getting up earlier gives them more time and more mental energy to be successful.
And, while a lot of people believe that staying up late can also help them gain more free time, getting up early is usually the more advantageous option. Either strategy can give you more hours in the day, but financial advisor and life coach Natalie Bacon says that waking up early is way more helpful for a few reasons — including the fact that you generally don’t have what she calls ‘decision fatigue’ in the mornings.
“Your brain is ready to go and isn’t tired,” she says. Even if you’re a ‘night person,’ you still run the risk of being more exhausted at the end of the day because you’ve been making decisions all day long.
How Getting Up One Hour Earlier Can Improve Your Life
If you’re someone who wishes you had more hours in the day and more time to get things done, you may be wondering if getting up early is the answer you’ve been looking for. Here are a few reasons you may want to set your alarm clock an hour earlier from now on.
You can live more intentionally.
Bacon says that getting up can give you the time and space to be the creator of your life instead of “responding, reacting, and putting out fires.” When you wake up as late as possible, you’re constantly having to rush to solve problems and prepare for the day, whereas getting up earlier can help you plan your day more intentionally.
While Bacon works full-time as a life coach now, she used to work on her side hustle on top of her full-time financial planning job. Instead of burning the midnight oil to get things done, Bacon said she would wake up at 4 a.m. to brainstorm for her new business. “This way, I knew that I got it done no matter what. Nothing could interfere with it,” she said.
Getting up early helped her be more intentional in this case because she was prioritizing her goals instead of waiting to see if she had time for them later in the day.
You can work toward big goals or your own peace of mind.
Most of us have something we wish we could accomplish, whether that’s exercising more, learning a new language, or pursuing higher education. While it can be difficult to find time to accomplish anything when you’re working and raising a family, getting up early can buy you the time to work on these goals a little bit at a time.
Bacon also said that morning time is excellent for self-care that you can’t find time for during regular daytime hours. If you’re not working on a business goal, you can wake up early to read, journal, meditate, or pray — basically anything that improves your state of mind or makes you happier.
“A morning routine with specific habits, even if they’re small, can compound over time to have a huge positive impact on your life,” she says.
You could finally get in shape.
I already mentioned how I get up early for the sole purpose of drinking coffee and working out. For me, early morning is really the only time I can exercise consistently and without interruption. And since I sit at a computer all day long, I have to work out.
Todd Mitchem, who is a life coach, speaker, and the author of You Disrupted: Seizing the Life You Want by Shaking, Breaking, and Challenging Everything, says that it’s pretty common for fitness-minded people to use their mornings to take care of their health. And really, mornings may be the only time for people like me (who have to force themselves to work out) to make it happen.
“If you have a busy family, the early morning is often the only quiet time in the house for you to take care of you without distractions,” he says. The rest of the day and evening is usually jam-packed with family time and errands, and it is way too easy to put exercise off. But most people don’t face these challenges when they work out first thing.
How to Wake Up Early When You Don’t Want to
While I never like the sound of an alarm clock — and especially not at 5:55 a.m. — I’ve gotten used to hopping out of bed without hitting the snooze button once. I’m a coffee junkie, so I just set my coffee maker to start brewing early and remind myself that a warm cup of my favorite beverage is waiting for me downstairs. That may not work for everyone, but it does work for me.
Mitchem says that if you’re struggling to wake up early, you can start small and set the alarm clock back slowly over time. For example, you could start by waking up just 15 minutes earlier for a few weeks. From there, you could set your alarm back another 15 minutes slowly until you’re getting up at the exact hour you desire.
Also remember that you don’t have to wake up at 4 a.m., like some CEOs do, to have more free time. “A schedule of waking up just 15 minutes earlier each day, for example, will gain you over an hour in just the first week without wrecking your life in the process,” said Mitchem.
Bacon also says that, if you’re someone who’s always struggling to get out of bed until the last minute, you may need to focus on reorganizing your life so you can go to bed earlier.
“Getting up early starts the night before,” she says. “You need to consciously choose to go to bed early enough that you feel good about getting up early.”
That might mean cutting your The Walking Dead binge off earlier than normal or getting in bed and turning off the lights instead of scrolling Facebook on your phone. It may also mean going to bed even if other members of your household are awake, which isn’t always easy.
You may even need to let yourself be exhausted for a while to give your body time to reset to a new sleeping schedule. If you get up early several days in a row, for example, it should start getting easier to go to bed at a decent hour.
The Bottom Line
If you wish you had more time and can’t seem to meet your goals, getting out of bed earlier might be exactly what you need. Whether you dial back the alarm 15 minutes or an hour, that extra time could help you have the time to accomplish simple tasks, take better care of your health, or simply relax and enjoy some peace and quiet for once.
But, don’t take my word for it. Try getting up an hour earlier for a week to see how it feels. Schlepping out of bed at the crack of dawn may not be easy, but you may find that it’s worth it.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.