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Rise and Shine: 10 Steps to Becoming a Morning Person

06/21/2014 11:15 am ET | Updated Aug 21, 2014
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In the perfect world we would all be morning people. We would wake up calm, refreshed and ready to tackle the day. But this isn't a perfect world, and many of us have hectic morning routines that are considered a success only if we're able to make it to work on time and with no coffee stains on our shirts.

Waking up early has many advantages. Not only does it allow more time for both productivity and leisure, but it makes our days less stressful. We know this.

However, try as we might, it seems no matter how early we set the alarm, we always end up hitting snooze (one too many times). We go to bed with the best intentions: We tell ourselves we will wake up with enough time to enjoy a healthy breakfast and put some considerable effort into our appearance.

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But somehow those intentions slip away as we catch our Zzzs, and suddenly making that 6 a.m. spin class seems significantly less pressing when the sun is seeping through our blinds and our warm cloud of a mattress is hugging us.

It is not just how many hours of sleep we get a night that affects our ability to wake up early, happy and productive. All things considered, it is possible to slowly transform yourself into a morning person. Believe it or not, mornings can be the best part of your day.

No deadlines to meet. No children to feed. No emails to answer. It can be your time for solitude, where you are able to relax and check in with yourself -- and make it to work on time. How?

1. Get more sleep. Duh, right? Let's get the most obvious and irritating to hear one out of the way. Not only do many of us wish we had more sleep, we actually need more sleep. Just like we need to make time for working out, we need to schedule 7-9 hours of sleep into our day because it is one of the most essential parts of our health. What we get from a good night's rest cannot be supplemented elsewhere.

Still, people insist they are too busy to make time for more sleep. But if even the busiest of people divvied up the production of their days a little differently, there is no reason why eight hours a night is not attainable. You do not have to compromise health for success. Harvard Health research has found that getting a healthy dose of sleep on a regular basis is linked to:

• Increased memory consolidation
• Better metabolism and weight
• Heightened mood and concentration
• Lower blood pressure and stress levels

When you don't get enough sleep, your body is not going to be good at changing other habits, and your motivation and production levels are nowhere near where they could be.

2. No screens in the bedroom. Or, at least make it so there are as few as possible. For some, yes that means the TV. If this seems too drastic, make it a point to turn it off at a certain time. Similarly, don't use your laptop/tablet in bed. Although I won't go so far as to suggest we leave our phones elsewhere, as many use them as an alarm, don't let that screen be the last thing you look at before trying to fall asleep. Most of us spend our entire days looking at screens and this can be confusing for our brains.

Make your room a haven for relaxation and sleep. Although you may consider watching House of Cards in bed the definition of relaxing, when it comes to going to sleep it is hard for your brain to transition. You can be just as comfortable watching TV from your couch. Restrict your contact with screens at least an hour before bed. If you absolutely need to use your iPhone, at least adjust the brightness settings to as dim as possible.

3. Go to sleep when you are tired. Most of us have a certain time we usually hit the hay around every night. So when we have had an especially exhausting day, we ignore our brains when they are telling us we are drained and tired hours before we normally are. Don't ignore what your body is telling you. Just like waiting too long to go to bed after taking a sleeping pill, powering through your tiredness instead of going right to bed can have adverse effects. It tricks your mind and causes you to feel wired while lying in bed, even when your body is physically exhausted.

4. Create the right nighttime routine and environment. After washing up, I personally like to read (print books!) and sip sleepy time tea (ones with chamomile and/or lavender work best) for a 30-45 minutes before I try to fall asleep. Whatever you choose, make sure it is something that will be a calming experience and one you can repeat every night. Over time, your body will get used to this ritual and know when it is time to shut down and go to sleep. The environment you go to sleep in is also important. If it is clean and uncluttered, it will be easier for your mind to be as well. Again, your room should be a tranquil space used almost solely for relaxing and sleeping.

5. Stop pressing snooze. If we wake up feeling groggy, even after plenty of sleep, it is because a REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle has been disrupted. Our deepest sleep usually lasts between 70 and 90 minutes, and this is the point in the cycle where we dream. It is best to wake up at the beginning stages of a REM cycle where we are in the least deep of sleep.

With apps like Sleep Time, you can set an alarm and it will pick up on your frequency waves of sleep and only sound a (calming) alarm when it knows you are no longer in a the deep stage of a REM cycle.

6. Get moving as quickly as possible. Again, our room should be a tranquil place of relaxation, so when it is time to get going, we need to leave that room ASAP -- even if it means walking to the kitchen for a glass of water. When we lay in bed, checking our Twitter feed, or rolling around yawning, we are allowing ourselves to let the grogginess sit in. The moment you wake up, get up and get moving.

7. Get up at the same time every day. Eventually, you won't even need an alarm clock. Don't set your alarm the night before and base it off of whether or not you have to shower, if you can be a little late, etc. You know when you creepily wake up just minutes before your alarm sounds? That's your internal clock. Don't mess with it. Also try to limit the amount of time you spend sleeping in on the weekends, as this can throw off your body's rhythm.

8. Work out in the morning. Okay, you're probably thinking, "Are you insane? I can barely wake up in time to hit Starbucks, let alone the gym." But doing a regimen such as yoga or a quick jog releases bad toxins in your body, ones that negatively affect our sleep. Obviously, a good workout is something everyone should be fitting into their schedules on a regular basis. But for those of us that are so busy we think we can't even afford more sleep, working out can sometimes be put on the back burner -- which is a huge mistake.

Not only does a quick workout every morning make you more inclined to eat healthier throughout the day, you are also getting it out of the way first thing, so you don't have to worry about it throughout the day. You will have increased metabolism and energy, which increase productivity. When we tell ourselves we'll work out at night after work, we are often physically and mentally drained, making it unlikely by the 6 p.m. finally rolls around. We make excuses for ourselves. When we stop working out and getting rid of those toxins, we get in a perpetual cycle of bad eating and that affects our sleep as well.

9. Expose yourself to natural light. Throughout the day make sure you get a healthy dose of vitamin D. Not a sunny day? At least go outside for 15 minutes to get some fresh air, or sit by a window that exposes you to natural light

In places where it is often gray and dreary, especially during winter months, some might consider investing in a sun lamp. It helps your biological clock and has even been linked to reducing symptoms of depression by regulating your body's chemicals.

10. Always have something to look forward to. Schedule your week so that you have something to look forward to, even if that something is calling a friend to catch up, or trying out a new place for lunch (hey, it's the little things, right?). While it would be an ideal world for everyone to love their job, that's simply not the case. But set up activities or dinners with friends throughout the week you look forward to. Give yourself a reason to hop out of bed. Don't wait for Friday to be excited.

Once you are able to start waking up earlier, the way you spend your time is yours. Maybe you want an extra hour every morning to start a personal side business you've been dreaming about. Maybe you want a peaceful time to enjoy a cup of coffee, completely alone in your kitchen. My suggestion is to take some time at the start of your day to focus on being present in the moment. Life is hectic, and we are constantly being pulled in opposite directions. The morning is the perfect time to catch up with yourself.

As you enjoy your coffee and get ready, name five things you are currently thankful for in your life. Make a list of what you have already accomplished this week that you're proud of. Starting your day with calmness, mindfulness and gratitude will set the tone for the rest of your day. The morning can become a time you enjoy, but in order for that to happen you need to make it a time you look forward to by changing your activities and approach.

The changes shouldn't be drastic, but it is important to recognize that it will be a bit of a change. It will be a little uncomfortable at first, but that's not a bad thing. It will be worth it.