7 Tips for Meditating Early in the Morning

I am not a morning person but I’m up by 5am almost every day for my morning meditation.
I love a good night’s sleep. I find sleeping 7.5 hours a night followed by a good morning meditation to be the magic combination for emotional balance.
A few facts to get us started: A recent Duke study demonstrated that over 40% of the things we do are habits. [1] Further, we know a higher concentration of habituated actions are taken in the morning.
Research in habit formation has also repeatedly shown that to make a new habit stick, like meditating daily, linking it to an existing habit gives us the highest chance of success. [2]
In my experience, the morning is the only part of the day that I completely control. Once I walk out the door to go to work, all bets are off. I might think I have a sense of how the day will play out, but I’m rarely right.
So, if we want to meditate every day, establishing a morning meditation routine could be the best way to do it.
Here are a few tips for starting an early morning routine: 

  1. Go to Sleep Earlier: It might sound obvious, but it is an important first point. Getting up earlier is easier to do if we go to sleep earlier. We need to identify the actions that lead to late bedtimes. Do we mindlessly watch TV late into the evening? Do we drink coffee too late in the afternoon to fall asleep at a reasonable hour?
  2. Leverage the 90 Minute Sleep Cycle: We sleep in about 90 minute cycles. [3] We find it easiest to wake up after 6, 7.5 or 9 hours of sleep. Try to time your wake up alarm for one of those intervals to get out of bed more easily in the early morning. Read more about 90 minute sleep cycles here.
  3. Put Your Alarm Far Away: When I first started waking up early, having my alarm on the other side of the room was helpful for getting me out of bed. For me, an alarm right next to my bed could be snoozed 15 times before I get up, even after a good nights sleep. Literally getting out of bed is a good way to actually get out of bed.
  4. Dress Rehearsal: Visualizing the first actions of the morning as I’m drifting to sleep is a great way increase my success of getting out of bed in the morning. I picture walking across the room to turn off the alarm, stretching my arms high over my head and then walking to the bathroom to splash water on my face. Some habit researchers actually recommend doing a dry run or two the night before to help build the habit.
  5. Dial Back Slowly: Want to get up at 5am but you are currently get up at 7am? We frequently talk about tiny habits; rolling back your wake up time slowly will be easier than trying to make a dramatic change all at once. Try something manageable like 15 minutes earlier a week.  
  6. Try, Try and Try Again: We’re going to fail a whole bunch on our way to getting up earlier. That’s okay! Enter into this process knowing there are going to be bumps in the road. You’ll work late, there will be a family event that goes into the evening or your favorite book will keep you up to midnight. Don’t fret! Sleep in and recommit to getting to bed early the next day.
  7. Go Back to Sleep If You Need To: I try to get to my meditation cushion before I decide if I need to go back to sleep. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the snooze button is just an intoxicating mistress or a legitimate need. If I get up, shower and start to meditate I can usually tell more clearly if my body actually needs more rest or if I was just slow to wake up.

It takes work to make both a full night sleep and meditation a priority but it is worth it!
May your practice go well!
Anthony A. Cernera, M.Ed.
P.S. There are two slots left for the May 1-3 Silent Retreat. Click here for details.
[1] Habit, A Repeated Performance http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/15/4/198.abstract

[2] Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. and Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. Eur J Soc Psychol, 40: 998–1009. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674
[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201307/your-sleep-cycle-revealed