Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

My name is Sasha, and I am not a morning person — but I wish I was.

Every new study seems to be on the infinite benefits of waking up early, with endless examples of historical geniuses to prove it. They all seem to get their best work done in the early hours. And while some studies claim that there’s a gene needed to be an early riser, more say that it’s just a matter of resetting your internal clock. 

So, for a week starting on Monday, November 4th, using a set of specific rules and lessons learned previously (see our article on “The 1-Step Plan for Super Productivity”), I am going to do what my mother swears is the impossible; I’m going to become a morning person. And if any of this is feeling awfully familiar to you as well, I want you to join me. If you’re game to take part in the experiment, bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter, and use #labrat on your tweets so others will be able to find you. I’ll be updating and tweeting daily, so why not give it a try? We can do this, or cry through it, together.

Taken from those linked articles above and a bunch right over here, here are the rules:

  1. Must wake up at 6 a.m. You hardcore people can go earlier, but any later and to me it’s just normal wake-up-for-work that the masses have, not real “get sh** done” time.
  2. No snooze button. Not even once. If you are like me and will often hit it, or even turn off your alarm entirely, in your sleep, this will mean putting your phone or alarm clock across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
  3. Must be exposed to sunlight. This can be difficult if you live in a place surrounded by outside lights at night, but getting natural light in the morning is key. You can also buy “dawn simulator” alarm clocks to fake it for you.  For the sake of my sanity (I live in NYC), and this experiment, I purchased this one.
  4. No working allowed in the bedroom. No laptop or cell phone left next to your bed. If your cell phone is your alarm clock, just put it at the farthest point of the room from you before you go to sleep.
  5. A strict-bed time. Since I’m getting up at 6am, in order to get eight hours, I am pledging to be in bed by 10pm. Oof.
  6. A routine starting an hour to half an hour before bedtime, so you can make the most of your early morning. Deciding and planning out what you’ll be working on with your extra time (this is super important!), laying out your clothes for the next day, as well as some down-time before turning off the lights. No blue-screens allowed though, many studies show that looking at laptops or TV screens before bed can make it harder to fall asleep. If you’re gonna read, you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned (though better for reading comprehension) way — paperback! 

Note: You’ll have noticed through reading any of the links above, that most suggest waking up a little bit earlier every day until you hit your desired time, and that you need a full month of sticking with it (weekends included!) to properly switch your cycle over. For experiment’s sake, and because I’ve never been one to “ease” into anything, we’re just going for it.

Make sure to check back here starting on Monday for daily updates all week and a final conclusion on Friday! Follow #labrat on Twitter to see how others are keeping up and offer some encouragement, though something more along the lines of a cup of coffee would be very much appreciated.

Monday: Failed miserably. It start by missing my bedtime. I ended up turning off my alarm in my sleep and going back to bed! New plan for tomorrow: switching out phone alarm for a fake-dawn simulator one.

Tuesday: Woke up on time, no snooze button! It was a slow drag through the morning though. I felt like I was operating with only 20% of my brain on (for some reason it took me around 45 minutes to make and eat breakfast). I did get some work done though, and the major thing I noticed was feeling of no pressure. There’s a lot of freedom with that. I wasn’t hurtling through the street to reach my subway stop or grimacing at every slightly-slower moving human — I was one of those people strolling, taking my time to really look at the surrounding shops and people on my walk. The only downside is I just got to work but feel like half the day is already over, with 8.5 more hours to go!

Wednesday: I started this AM using a fake dawn-simulator alarm clock (this one here). It was really wonderful. I woke up naturally, on my own, with 5 minutes left before my alarm was set to go off. I tried to snooze for those last 5, but found myself wide-awake. Unfortunately I had to leave earlier for work today, so I barely got anything done on my side project, but still started the day at work feeling great.

Thursday: Stuck to my “bedtime” Wednesday night. I dragged myself there, muttering about how this was dumb and I wasn’t even tired, and yet ended up falling asleep minutes later. This morning was a bit of an outlier though, because I had to get some blood work done at my doctor’s before work, which meant fasting from midnight until then. Waking up was fine (up at 5:45am), but trying to stay awake with no coffee or food did not go well. To summarize: I fell asleep on the kitchen table. This seems obvious and like common sense, but today’s lesson is that for morning people, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

Friday: I feel like I’m finally getting into the swing of it. I was in bed by 10pm and read ’til around 10:30pm. Woke up 5 minutes before my alarm went off and, inspired by a #labrat tweet I saw yesterday about staying offline, I didn’t even look at my phone or computer until almost 8am. I sat in front of the kitchen window and enjoyed my breakfast while reading a book. Probably the most relaxing weekday morning I’ve had yet.

Here’s how today went for other lab rats:













Conclusion: Though I only got one work-week of this experiment in, the “extra” time I had was surprising. The separation between that, of work and creative side projects, was refreshing too. I do think the bedtime (and thus the start time) has to be pushed back a little bit for myself, as 10pm can be hard to stick with. I also wish I had been able to do it the gradual way, of moving up fifteen minutes every few days until you hit your desired start time. Regardless, as a previously sworn night owl, there’s been something really inspiring about seeing the sun rise and get brighter as I wake up; a kind of lightness that I carry with me for the rest of the day.

If you’re coming to this #labrat a little late and just reading this now, please still feel free to join! There’s a large amount of other lab rats using the #labrat hashtag on twitter with their updates, which I’m always looking through, and I’ll still be checking the comments section as they come in. You can do it!

  • timeoutofmind

    go. do it .. i have constantly tried to evolve myself to turn into a morning person …when i get up early, i feel great. when i sleep in late, i feel like guilty dogshit.

    good luck.

  • misterparker

    The trick is discipline to get to sleep early, or taking power-naps (15min) during the day, when you feel your energy level dropping

    • Sasha

      Or coffee! So much coffee. It made me realize that I don’t know anyone who is a morning person that doesn’t love caffeine haha.

  • calvinalibra

    I was having a bit of a problem getting up in the morning due to some serious insomnia. Like up at 3am insomnia looking at the stupid green blinking light on the smoke alarm (wide awake). I’d doze around 4:30 or 5, then try to get up and do an early morning workout but i’d be miserably dogging it in the gym because i was so tired at that point. It was pretty miserable. I’ve since decided to embrace this insomnia problem and when I’d wake up with that “can’t go back to sleep” feeling, i’d just head straight to the gym (even if it was at 3am), i wouldn’t even try to go back to sleep. So if you can try doing something to get that blood pressure going you’ll do ok. Doesn’t have to be the gym obviously but anything that will knock those cob webs out (stretch, washing your face with semi cold water, turning on all the lights, having an early morning playlist assuming you won’t wake up people living with you) all of that works.

    The alarm on the other side of the room is a great idea. Maybe put it close to the light switch and turn that light on as soon as you turn your alarm off. The burst of light should be a nice punch to the gut of that sleepiness you’re feeling. Just whatever you do, don’t stop, you definitely got this!

    • Sasha

      Thanks Calvin! Has that helped you so far — just getting up and going no matter the time?

      • calvinalibra

        Yep, till this day. My time is usually 4am but I get up and go whenever i get up. You always know when you wake up during a sleep cycle, I think naturally my sleep cycle ends around 3:30/4 if i go back to sleep at that time and wake up around 5:30 or 6 (via alarm clock), it almost feels like my eye lids are incapable of opening. I have to really struggle to get up. So for me it’s best to just get up naturally and start my day. Honestly, getting out of that warm and cozy bed is the hardest part. Once you stand to your feet, you’re good. Try it tomorrow and let me know how it goes.

  • Rocky Roark

    I get up every morning at 6am already, before I moved closer to work I was driving an hour and a half to work each day and so getting up past 6am wasn’t really too much an option (at least to me). Then after I moved closer I still got up at 6am and started coming into work way earlier to get more things done and be more productive which really really works!

  • http://www.midnightcheese.com/ Cale Mooth

    #5 is really the one item that has to happen. That’s the only way I’ve been able to adjust to my 5am schedule. It’s not going to happen in a week, either. It’ll take several weeks to adjust, but if you keep at it, it will happen.

    Feeling yourself get tired at 8pm is an odd thing, but it makes sense if you’re getting up that early.

    • Sasha

      Very odd for sure, might be one of the hardest parts of this experiment! However it has given me and my Nana a lot of new things to talk about. Haha.

  • Mario

    For a head start, do this cheat:

    1. Don’t eat dinner. If anything have a weak portion/soup/salad (for dinner eat like a peasant, remember?). This will do two things, 1) will allow your body to not through an all out digestion and 2) you’ll wake up to break-the-fast. Try it, its not for everyday but it’ll give you a head start.

    • Sasha

      I also read that you can swap out your after-dinner dessert or snack for ones that will make you sleepy: popcorn, cherry (w/no sugar) juice, and cereal.

  • J.W. Jessy Forsyth

    I started getting up early (4-5am) this summer to get a jump on the day. It has worked out great. There are a lot less distractions and I get to leave early 🙂

    • Sasha

      I always seem to wake up (a little) earlier in the summer too, those mornings are so bright but still cool and comfortable. Have you been able to keep that now that’s it’s getting colder out? I struggle with leaving my warm bed the most.

  • Lou Shackleton

    Great experiment! It’s something I’ve played with myself recently.

    I agree with Cale that it takes longer to adjust – seven days is a great start to see if it’s actually possible for you, but to really get your body to shift to the new habit I’d say you need the recommended 30 days. I recently completed my own 30 Day Sunrise Photo Challenge. You can read my thoughts from seven days in here: http://theyoucanhub.org.uk/2013/10/08/why-danger-lous-goal-is-to-get-up-earlier/

    You can also see the full photo set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/loushackleton/sets/72157636079840105/

    I’m in the progress of writing up the thirty things I learned in those thirty days – the biggest is that it’s funny how changing one thing can lead to a lot of unexpected changes.

    Sleep hygiene is key, and sticking to the regular earlier bed time. I’m still seeing the benefits now. Having an incentive that wasn’t just about starting work early was also a key part of it, and being kind to myself. Good luck!

    • Sasha

      Thanks “Danger” Lou! 🙂 Do you try to switch around your incentives? That’s such a good point; if I didn’t have a set project to work on or chore to do, I spent a lot of time trying to make excuses for why I should go back to bed.

      • Lou Shackleton

        Hi Sasha!

        I have to say that this is the first time I’ve tried this incentive approach. And I think you’ve hit on the essence of it. You say in your response to my comment, “If I didn’t have a set project to work on or chore to do” you would find it hard to get up and in your learning at the end you say “there’s been something really inspiring about seeing the sunrise and get brighter as I too wake up, a kind of lightness that I carry with me for the rest of the day.” Some of your fellow #labrats agree – what awesome photos!

        This is exactly what worked for me – I had a real sense of lightness and space from being outside at that time of the morning. And it’s a case of “What are you getting up earlier for?” So for me, there’s no way I’d get up early for a chore – but getting up earlier to do something else gave me more focus which meant I got more chores done over the course of the day.

        The early start combined with the photo challenge was a statement of intent – this is my time, just for me, to give myself a creative space. I put myself first – not my work, or my emails, or my chores – me. And that gives me greater focus in my day, and a greater sense of achievement at the end of it.

        Thank you for prompting this reflection Sasha! Really helped me to think more about what I gained from my experience!

    • Mary Maru

      Danger Lou! I so thought of you when I saw this article so not surprised to see you here. Sasha, great ideas. Bookmarked and ready for Monday.

  • Jalmari Eskelinen

    Love this idea. Coincidentally, I started this very same experiment this week, and only now stumbled across your article. I’ve been surprised how easily I’ve been (so far) able to adapt to waking up a 6am, since I’ve always considered myself an anti-morning person. I think the key is to get to bed early, latest at 10pm, so you’ll get enough sleep (and keep it constant, so your body and brain develop a habit of it). My morning trick is to prepare my coffee machine in the evening and put my alarm clock next to it, so when I get out of bed I can just switch the machine on and wait for the sweet caffeine to wake me up properly. I definitely recommend this, it’s been great to be able to work in an absolute peace for a couple of hours before other people start waking up and contacting you.

    • Sasha

      Genius!! I tried a version of this last night (since I’m using that fake-dawn alarm to wake up) by leaving my cell phone next to the coffee, as that’s the first thing I always want to check in the morning. Thanks for the tip!

  • Pål Strøm

    I’ve also tried a similar experiment, getting up early to work on side projects. But I did it with a biphasic sleep pattern, which lets you not go to bed at 10pm, because that sucks. So basically you go to sleep at 12:30, and get up at 5am. That’s 4.5 hours of sleep. Then you sleep for 60-90 minutes at 5-6pm. Which in total is about 6 hours. I did this for about 4 months, and it worked really well. I would recommend this instead of just getting up early and going to bed early. The reason I fell off the pattern was after work activities, which wouldn’t let me get that one hour nap in the afternoon. http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2011/03/biphasic-sleep/ <- some more info on the biphasic sleep pattern.

    • Sasha

      That’s super interesting, but seems really difficult to hold when working the eight-hour work day! I always wish we could have nap-breaks at work, especially right around 3 or 4pm.

  • Hillary Steinau

    I am just joining now, great convo and idea. I find if you stop eating after 7 pm it is easier to get up early. And NO screen time after 8pm period. It is paper books for me.

  • Nicola Murphy

    Great idea! I got up early this morning and did a 30-minute aerobics DVD before coming to work – I think I’m still buzzing and it’s almost the 3pm slump! 🙂

    • Sasha

      Dang, you are hardcore! I’m trying to get to that place, of having so much motivation, but still fighting the zombie-brain all morning.

  • Paulo Mrcookie Blanco

    I´m a brazilian one, that receive the brieffing and payed attetion.
    Think there are something for me.
    I use to procrastinate and wake up early is a part of this morbid desease
    I´ll try to read all the thing …
    Thanks !

  • Kevintnguyen

    Oh snap, I want to hop on this experiment

  • Phil Winkel

    Struggled with this forever but you can do it if you stick to it. It’s going to take longer than a week however.

    First of all, if you’re on the computer or phone late, the light from your monitor can be affecting your sleep and keeping you awake. I would highly recommend installing F.lux (http://justgetflux.com/) on your computer. If you’re on Android phone there’s Twilight (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.urbandroid.lux).

    All of the standard sleep hygene stuff applies, some of which you mentioned – don’t work in your bedroom, don’t lay in bed for a long time reading or watching tv before bed, etc. Don’t drink caffeine too late in the evening.

    Light therapy can help, get one of those natural light / full spectrum lights.

    Another thing is don’t do anything that really works your brain before bed – like for me, I can’t play an intense game of Battlefield or Starcraft before bed as some games get your adrenaline going.

    Don’t exercise before bed, etc. It can be done but it takes discipline (and more than a week of it). The only way I ever switched over to the morning was when I got a “real” 9-5 job, instead of freelancing at home.

    • nina76

      Yeah, I think your eating habits affect your sleep a lot. I’m not a morning person by any means (I get to the office about 11.30-12 am! Luckily I’m my own boss) and I usually stay up late until 2 am. I really hate mornings and I feel groggy right up until midday. I don’t drink coffee but I’m addicted to Red Bull. However I’m discovering that my eating habits and what I eat at every given time matters. Digestion rules our bodies. You feel more tired and sleepy if you’re not digesting well, like myself. I have a new found intolerance to gluten, so that might be it. Investigate your body and give it what it wants. However I think I’m at disadvantage since I’m Spanish. Here everyhting is late by default. We have lunch at 2.30-3 pm, we finish work at 7-8.30 pm and have dinner around 10-11 pm. When we go out at nights, clubs are not full until 3am! So you get it now… very difficult to be a morning person when I get home about 8.30pm, prepare my dinner an hour later and end up eating at 11pm! Of course I won’t go to bed until digestion is done which means at least 1am!

      • Sasha

        That kind of schedule sounds both lovely and frustrating. My boyfriend studied in Madrid for a summer and always struggled with being hungry right during the “siesta” hours where everything would close down because of the heat!

    • Sasha

      I love Flux! And the no video games or “thrilling” things before bed is a good call. I use to think I could read one of the books from the Song of Ice and Fire series (also known as Game of Thrones) before bed, but then wouldn’t be able to sleep for hours!

  • Saundra Davis

    Willing to start on 11/11. I was a morning person for the first 30 years of my life, now…not so much. Looking forward to this.

    • Sasha

      What changed to shift you off that schedule?

      • Saundra Davis


        I realized that I had “become” an early morning person as a result of external influences (my mother, the military) and found that I actually did my best work in between 10 and 2. So, being self employed I started working in blocks of time based on my “creative ” or “operations” needs. That has worked but I find the I now need to adjust to meet the changing needs of my business.

  • RoxStar

    I decided 3 years ago that i needed to be a morning person. I am a very joyous person and pleasant to be around, of coarse after I have been awake for at least an hour. It took me around a year of getting up a little earlier, going to sleep a little earlier(which by the way was the hardest for me), and changing my morning eating habits before I can honestly say that I shed the grumpy morning routine. People who have met me within the last two years would automatically think I was a morning person. I am one of the few who are in the office before it opens, ready to greet with a smile!
    I would still say that I am a night owl, but my attitude in the morning has changed for the better. If you want to change, that is half the battle. It is possible, stick with it!

  • deniz

    I am in the in between period of finding a job and leaving my past behind and cleaning my mind in progress. I was sleeping till very late since I moved back to my parents place because things went very bad:( and since two-three days I have been thinking about and trying to wake up a bit earlier but I need a big transformation and this seems the most radical one. Thanks for the inspiration. I am starting immediately. 🙂

    • Anneke

      How did it go this morning Deniz?

  • sarcasticprincess

    i move to a new place this sunday afternoon, its a big room with a lot of natural light in the morning and have no curtain yet —-> but i read this post and wanna be a morning person too, so im sure i will let the sunshine…. :))

    • Sasha

      Nice! A good trick our Editor-in-Chief does is she has lighter colored, kinda breezy curtains so she still gets privacy but they won’t block the light.

      • sarcasticprincess

        moved into this nice room for 8 days, and love it! i didnt have any curtain yet, but can get privacy, cause its on the 5th floor. 😀 every morning – since i moved in – get up early, and have a lot of time to study before work, and what is really important: im not more tired at the end of the day, just have 2 plus hours a day 😀 😀 but, you are right, if later i wanna have a curtain, i try maybe a white or pastell coloured light curtain. 😀

      • sarcasticprincess

        i see everymorning this from my window

  • Alex

    Absolutely disgusting. Our society feels a need to enforce a notion that morning people are good, productive people and night persons are somehow lazy. This is despite scientific knowledge of circadian rhythms and the physical and mental benefits of waking naturally.

    I get far more done in the peaceful stillness of the night than mornings in the company of holier-than-thou morning people. The early bird gets the worm, but the night owl is an apex predator.

    • Anneke

      You’re right Alex: morningpeople are not “better” people then “evening/night-people”. Stil… the people I know who are not morningpeople (including myself) are also procrastinators and have problems with “discipline”/persistance/endurance. And therefore have a bit trouble in achieving longterm goals. Maybe the whole getting-up-early is also an exercise in the acceptance of not feeling comfortable every minute of the day. It helps with a positive active mindset throughout the whole day 🙂

      • Jillian

        I wouldn’t say it is about good or bad either. But certainly owls are nocturnal and being up all night is natural for them. Humans…not so much. I would think for most humans, sleeping at night and waking in the morning is most efficient.

      • Sasha

        Agreed, when I follow my natural impulses of being a night owl, very rarely are those late night hours spent doing anything productive.

    • Sasha

      I agree completely in that the ideologies attached to each are entirely wrong and was in no way doing this to be a “better” person! But I personally saw that at the end of the day, after coming home from work, I would still stay up late but get nothing productive done. I zoned out – for hours. This was me trying to take that time and put it in a part of the day where I wouldn’t be intellectually spent.

    • Dchocolateman

      Bullshit! The thing is before you claim to be a ‘night person’ what real effort have you put into it to try to be a morning person? If your ‘Im a night person’ is based on being a lazy ass, then you are only looking for excuses to stay lazy. Morning people don’t just become morning people, they put a lot of effort into achieving that due to the understanding of the benefits attached to it

      • ann177

        “Morning people don’t just become morning people, they put a lot of effort into achieving that due to the understanding of the benefits attached to it”

        This may be true for some people, but all the morning people I know just wake up early, naturally. My best friend wakes up very early, all days of the week, and has done so since we were in 6th grade. She doesn’t “work” at waking up early. It’s her natural rythm. Same for my college roommate (who couldn’t stay up late to save her life), my mother, my brother, etc.

        So chill out on the rage kool-aid and acknowledge that some people naturally wake up early, some naturally sleep in, and some realign their “natural” sleep cycle because of perceived benefits or necessity.

  • Fannie Lam

    Starting Nov 2nd, I’d been challenging myself to wake up at 6AM to do a sketch or something creative, taking advantage of the end of Daylight Savings (meaning I didn’t REALLY have to adjust my clock….). So far, I’ve been able to hit it every morning, documenting my progress on a daily blog (www.makosaur.com). There was the temptation to take the extra hour of shuteye the first 2 days….but now I find myself sort of looking forward to rolling out of bed and splashing out ideas. As an inhouse designer, I’ve always found myself creatively exhausted by the time I reach home after work, so I’m learning to treasure that extra hour in the morning. Will be following along with other labrats. Keep it up!

    • Sasha

      That’s awesome, Fannie!

  • sandra jackson

    mom said, “an hour in the morning is worth 2 in the afternoon.”
    So far, she’s right (for me).

  • Sasha

    How did your first day go??

    • http://gsoma.us/ Levi Patrick

      Not a strong first attempt… feeling like I’m ready for tomorrow though!

      • Sasha

        Awesome, let us know how it goes!

  • http://www.weboutsourcing-gateway.com/ Web Outsourcing Gateway

    This blog about productivity seems to be very helpful. Thanks for sharing. Enough sleep can give great result in terms of productivity and creativity.

  • http://michaelxander.com/ Michael Xander

    Morning’s are quite an interesting subject and I’m obsessed with morning routines. This is why I co-created mymorningroutine.com in 2012, which provides you every Wednesday an inspiring morning routines to set you up for a more productive and enjoyable day. I would be happy to welcome you on MMR if you seek further inspiration.

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