Before and After: Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier, and Put the Alarm Clock Out of Reach.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Patrik Edblad–check out his site at Selfication.

I used to set my alarm clock as late as possible each day, and then hit the snooze button at least one or two times before getting out of bed each morning. As I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, this sort of morning routine is far from ideal, as your day gets a very stressful start and often leads to being late.


After a couple of attempts at becoming an early riser and having a taste of the benefits it has, I decided to really commit to it and devoted myself to understanding the mechanics of habit creation and how I could re-programme my brain to love 6 am. I learned that a habit consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward and that I needed to optimize all of them have a successful habit change.


I knew from experience that setting my alarm to 6 am when I was used to 8 am wasn’t going to work in the long run, so I instead committed to pushing the time back for just 15 minutes once a week to give my brain a better chance of adapting.


Starting out, my cue was my alarm clock which was neatly put just out of arm’s reach so that I had to get out of bed before I could turn it off. This routine made it much more likely to stay up than if I gave myself the chance to snooze.


As a reward I used the awesome habit app “Lift” and crossed off waking up early. Lift is designed to keep track of your habit-building streaks, and as I put in more and more days without failing to get up on time, the more I didn’t want to break the chain.


As I started my days, I knew that I needed to expose myself to a lot of light to help my brain set its circadian clock to a light-dark cycle of my choice, so I went ahead and turned on a lot of lights as soon as I got up (it’s ridiculously dark in northern Sweden this time of year).


Today I almost always wake before my alarm goes off at 6 am and spend my mornings taking walks, planning my days and doing meditation. This way I’m much more productive, feel better and show up on time.

I’ve noticed that when people successfully change a habit, they often use several strategies simultaneously. We need a lot of fire-power to change our habits! He’s using the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Starting, and the Strategy of Monitoring.

If you’re interested in how people’s sleep habits are affected by light, I highly recommend Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.

Waking up earlier isn’t a habit solution for everyone, but for many people, it’s a great way to get more out of the day. (Want a painless way to get an extra hour in your day? Try this.)

Have you ever tried to start waking up earlier? What strategy did you use?

NOTE: This feature is fixed now, so the link should work. If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Lee Ward

    Light is definitely a big cue for me to wake up. I purchased a sunrise simulation alarm and absolutely love it. It’s so much nicer waking to a gentle light than a screeching alarm.

  • peninith1

    I have found that after going to bed at the same time daily I wake up at the same time, too. I only use the alarm when I have to wake up early early for a plane trip or something like that

  • em

    I hate loud noises in the morning… so what I do is after the second time of itting the radio snooze alarm, I leave the music on. That gets me up!

  • Susann

    Lee, that light simulation alarm sounds fascinating, never heard of it before. Will have to do some research. I have my clock radio set to a good rock station, but I have it in the living room, the volume where I can hear it from the bedroom but it doesn’t startle me awake — ok if you live by yourself in a small house. But if I want to turn it off I have to get up and go into the living room, and that’s halfway to the kitchen & tea kettle (& cat food dish; those of you owned by cats will know what that means), so when I’m up, I’m up.

    But getting into the routine of getting up earlier meant going to bed earlier. I sometimes stay up too late when working (or playing!) on the computer, so I have a clock app that starts popping up a message starting at 10pm telling me to GO TO BED. I can turn it off, but it breaks my focus (& always makes me laugh) and I usually do as it says.

  • Sylvia

    I used to set timers on table lamps at 15 minute intervals. Was so much more pleasant to wake up to light rather than a jarring alarm.

  • Ann

    Doesn’t work with shift work……

  • nielmalan

    When I used to wake up to a radio alarm, I first had it set on a classical music station. That let me sleep again lulled by beautiful music. Realizing that it didn’t really work, I switched to a news radio station. The annoyance with the news quickly woke me up.

  • Stephanie

    I remember the days of being a person who naturally woke up at 7 AM feeling refreshed and ready to go…I want to get back into that habit in 2014! Through the end of 2013 I’m traveling in Europe, and late at night is when I Skype with friends and family in the US, so waking early wouldn’t work to well right now- but it’s worth it to be able to see and talk to people I love regularly!

  • melanie

    I prefer to wake up naturally without any kind of alarm…I usually manage to be up by 7am everyday which is fine for me because I work in the afternoon. Though sometimes id much rather stay in bed all day with a good book.

  • Ellen Mottley Tannenbaum

    I’ve always been an early to bed early to rise person. Once I finished school & started work, it wasn’t that big a struggle to be up in plenty of time to get ready to go. But I “found” an extra half hour or so when I changed jobs & had a half-hour later start time but still got up at the same time. That cushion to have some time to think about or do things other than getting myself out the door made such a positive difference in my days I didn’t give in to the temptation of sleeping later.

  • Connie Foitik Lichtenberg

    I am not a morning person, far from it. The old alarm clocks with the annoying buzzer would stress me out before I was even out of bed. The choice to switch it to music seemed like a logical solution, but somehow my mind would incorporate the sound into my dream. Word hunh? Enter the smartphone into my life. Mine had a gentle wake-up setting. It goes off 5 minutes before the actual alarm. The gentle melody I selected starts off very, very softly &.gradually increases in volume. The difference in my ability to wake up is astonishing. I went from hitting the snooze at least for times, oversleeping & starting my day with stress to waking up immediately, never hitting my snooze button & starting my day relaxed. Finding what works for you makes all the difference in the world. Reading the writer’s story above, I realized that I also utilized the reward idea in developing this habit. By getting up at 5:15, I’m able to have a cup of coffee, watch the morning news, spend a few precious moments with my husband & wake up completely before my daughters get up. I’m more relaxed before the hustle & bustle begins which benefits all of us. Going to find your book asap. I seem to retain more information when it’s from the perspective of real like situations.

  • Kz Vandel

    i usually use an alarm online and when it wakes me up, i just lisent to the music for like 5 min because it is awesome. that wakes me up

  • Tracy Richter

    I just listened to this podcast again and wanted to let you know my method. I like to snooze for 15-20 minutes every morning. I go to bed at the same time every night and have factored in the snooze time to still get my 8 hours of sleep that I require. My snooze time is really my ‘wake up time’. I think of it that way so I still get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep then when my alarm goes off at 6:15am I know I still have some time to snooze.