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I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m. for years — here are my secrets to being a morning person | CNN Underscored

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This article is a part of CNN Underscored’s Guide to Sleep, a weeklong focus on everything you need to sleep better. We’ll be featuring new products, tips and exclusive deals all week, so check in every morning to see what’s new.

I’m naturally an early riser. I promise that is even more irritating to me than it is to you! But waking up early really works for me, and so I’ve arranged my life around a 5 a.m. rise and shine time — even if it means winding down before bed at 8 p.m.

Being an early riser didn’t always work well for me — our editorial director Chelsea Stone likes to tell a story about the time I apologetically filed a column at some totally wild hour of the morning because I just couldn’t sleep — but when I decided to make sleep a priority, to work with my tendency to wake up very early in the morning instead of against it, it changed my relationship to being awake early.

Accepting that I’m an early riser allowed me to make waking up early work for me — and to make smart purchases and home design choices to support my unorthodox schedule. These are the products and methods I use to ensure I get the sleep I need — and to maximize the same 24 hours we all have in our day.

A bedroom designed for sleep

Waking up early takes discipline, but not necessarily in the way you might think: Waking up early is actually the easy part, it’s going to sleep early — early enough to get in the roughly eight hours that are key to my health — that requires discipline.

Here’s some basic math that usually ends people’s early rising ambitions: To wake up well-rested at 5 a.m., you have to go to sleep at 9 p.m. Every night.

To take some of the sting out of having the bedtime of a toddler, I made deliberate choices when setting up my bedroom that place a premium on getting good sleep. You will not find clutter, knickknacks or entertainment in my bedroom. Stacks of books are relegated to the living room — whatever book I’m reading at the moment may make its way to my bedroom, but there is no stress-inducing to-read pile staring accusingly from my bedside table. Similarly, I do not have a TV in my room; if I want to watch something before bed, I’ll do so on my laptop. These choices emphasize sleep and serve to delineate the bedroom as a place where sleep, rather than leisure activities, takes place.

Purple Restore Hybrid Queen Mattress

Purple

I’ve always prided myself on having a well-appointed bed, but truthfully it took me longer than it should have to invest in a really great mattress. The Purple mattress changed the way I sleep and has improved my quality of life. If you’re serious about improving the way you sleep, regardless of what time you want to wake up in the morning, a new mattress may be the ticket.

Read our review

$2,399 at Purple

Buffy Cloud Comforter

Amazon

I’ve tried so many comforters — lightweight down-alternative comforters and heavy feather-filled comforters and what feels like everything in between — and I keep coming back to Buffy’s Cloud Comforter. It manages to provide the weight I like without suffocating me or making me feel like I’m sleeping in an inferno.

From $175 at Amazon $145 From $124 at Buffy

Utopia Bedding Throw Pillow Inserts, Set of 2

Amazon

I once read an interview with the astrologer Susan Miller in which she talked rather blithely about the eight $800 pillows she keeps on her bed. I deeply admire a woman who sleeps on $6,400 worth of pillows, but I am not that woman — I’ve got an assortment of eight reasonably priced pillows on my bed, including two Euro pillows that are recent additions. I love propping myself up against the oversized and super squishy pillows to read or watch Bravo in bed.

$34 $27 at Amazon

GuruNanda HaloXL Ultrasonic Humidifier & Diffuser

Amazon

As part of my evening routine, I refill and power on this two-in-one humidifier and diffuser. For sleep, I typically use lavender essential oil. But if I’m feeling frisky I might opt for eucalyptus, which makes me feel like I’m having a sleepover party at Equinox.

$45 at Amazon

Anker Nylon USB-C to Lightning 10-foot Cable

Amazon

One of the tenets of good sleep hygiene is that keeping electronics out of the bedroom is essential; the use of electronic devices is so disruptive to sleep that experts suggest making the bedroom an electronics-free zone. If I were truly virtuous, I would charge my phone overnight in another room, but I’m not quite there yet so instead I charge my phone on the opposite side of the bedroom, using a cord long enough to stretch to my bed should I need it.

$22 $20 at Amazon

A simple nighttime routine to wrap up the day

Using routines to demarcate parts of the day has many benefits, one of which is that routines help us to prioritize what’s important to us. Routines also send signals to the brain that it is time for something — putting on a uniform can send a signal that it’s time to go to work or school, while turning out the lights can signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep. We all use routines in our daily lives, even if we are not aware of them.

Establishing a nighttime routine has been crucial to navigating the tricky space before bedtime. Though waking up early does come naturally to me, going to bed as early as I do often feels weird and wrong. This is especially true in the summer when I find myself crawling into bed while it is still very much light outside. To counteract the fact that my body and the sun (for roughly half the year at least), are like, “Ma’am what are you talking about, it is not time for bed,” I have a simple routine that I perform in the evenings to wrap up my day. My evening routine sends that ever-so-important signal to my brain that it’s time to get ready for sleep, and it provides a built-in block of time to take care of rote household and personal care tasks.

After shutting down the living room and kitchen for the night, I brush my teeth, do my skin care routine and put on my PJs — all told, this routine usually takes about 20 minutes. By the time I get into bed, the “It is not time for bed” feeling has passed and I can relax with a book or one of my Bravo stories in the final hour of my day before it’s time for lights out.

CherryNow Extra Large Black Rope Storage Basket

Amazon

My nighttime routine begins at 8 p.m. in the living room, where I pick up and put away anything I’ve used during the day including, crucially, my couch blanket. (The hardest part of this routine is surrendering my couch blanket.) After interviewing experts for a story about blanket storage, I opted for a large rope basket that makes it super easy to put my blanket away at the end of the day.

$38 $30 at Amazon

Pledge Everyday Clean Multi-Surface Cleaner, 3-Pack

Amazon

Then, it’s over to the kitchen to take care of any dirty dishes lingering after dinner, wipe down the stove and countertops, turn on the dishwasher and grab a seltzer for the road. I discovered this Pledge antibacterial mist at a friend’s house last year and now I’m totally devoted to it — I think its mistiness makes it feel like it should be part of my evening skincare routine.

$17 $14 at Amazon

I Woke Up Like This Hydra Luxurious Rose Oil

I Woke Up Like This

Speaking of evening skincare routines! I have been devoted to this lightweight, hydrating rose oil since I discovered it at a Nordstrom K-Beauty popup in 2017. I use it on my face, lips, neck, chest and hands at night before bed to keep from drying out in the night.

$42 at I Woke Up Like This

Leikar Women’s Button Down Pajama Set

Amazon

Another way I prioritize sleep is by dressing for the occasion: I wear a proper set of pajamas to sleep each night. These inexpensive PJs from Amazon are my go-to sleepwear, and I always stock up on a few new sets when they go on sale during Prime Day.

$35 $33 at Amazon

Making morning a time to look forward to

Morning people, when asked why they are the way they are, will probably tell you they enjoy the quiet of early mornings. This is certainly true of me — not only am I an early riser, but I actually look forward to being up early. I know. I’m truly so, so sorry.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen regarding waking up early is to have something you look forward to; this could be your morning cup of coffee, the promise of a big breakfast, a brisk workout or simply some quiet time to read or do the crossword puzzle before anyone else is awake to interrupt you.

I love the quiet that comes with being awake before anyone else, and I greatly enjoy my morning time. But I have also put effort into designing my mornings to make the time the best it can be, to set my entire day up for success and to mitigate stressors that can make the morning feel hectic or overwhelming. While these things may not inspire you to be a morning person, some of the tips might be ones you can incorporate into your own morning routine, regardless of what time your day starts.

Bormioli Rocco Romantic Cooler Glasses, Set of 4

Amazon

As a native of Boston, I drink iced coffee year-round as decreed by my sovereign, His Majesty Ben Affleck. More than anything else, the promise of that iced coffee is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and I like the entire ritual of it: Taking out one of my green glass tumblers, filling it with ice cubes, pouring the coffee and topping it off with creamer.

$29 at Amazon

GE Profile Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker

Amazon

My iced coffee routine is such an important part of getting my day started off right that I’m considering upgrading my ice situation — I love ice in general, not just in my morning coffee, and I’ve had my eye on the super-popular GE Profile nugget ice maker for a while now. Will I take the plunge in 2024?! Probably yes, let’s be honest here!

$679 $549 at Amazon

4U’Life 32-Ounce Microwavable Plastic Deli Container and Lid Combo Pack, 8-Pack

Amazon

The flip side of the coffee ritual coin is this: I discovered that, though I am a person who likes to cook, I am not a person who likes to cook in the morning. The solution to that problem, and to my lifelong struggle to eat breakfast consistently, turned out to be pretty simple — I prep the elements of my breakfast in these humble food storage containers. These homely containers won’t make me a #FridgeTok star, but they allow me to meal prep like a champ, which in turn helps to make my mornings run more smoothly.

$15 $12 at Amazon

Day Designer 2024 Daily Planner: Black Stripe

Day Designer

I debated where to put my planner in this roundup because it is such a crucial element of my entire day: At the end of my workday, and then sometimes before bed, too, I take a look at my week so I know what I have to do tomorrow, and the next day, too. This technique, called “Tomorrow+2,” is one I learned from the time management expert Julie Morgenstern, whose advice has helped me hone my own routines to maximize my time — and minimize my ever-present anxiety. My planner covers everything, from work assignments, meetings and events; to daily and weekly to-do lists; to personal engagements, obligations and travel. Having an easy-to-review snapshot of everything that’s on my plate on any given day or week helps me manage my tendency to fret, which can cause me to toss and turn instead of getting in my precious eight hours of sleep.

$68 $34 at Day Designer