With winter’s relentless drudge petering to a dank close, and the coy emergence of spring on the way, early mornings no longer resemble a barren ice-scape from The Day After Tomorrow. And with that optimistic sliver of sunlight through the blinds first thing, that nagging feeling that I should be making a whole lot more of my mornings surfaces once more. A Morning Person I am not, instead regarding those that greet the breaking dawn with boundless enthusiasm and happy heel clicks as sinister beings, far too buoyant at 6am to be trustworthy.
But what could be achieved if I managed to join their virtuous, wholesome ranks? What - instead of pelting towards the Tube half-dressed and hysterical, coat asunder, hair like Phil Spector and missing a shoe – I could manage to rise with the larks, summon the gusto to whip up an acai berry smoothie, start that novel, hit the gym, go for a bracing run? I regard managing to put a wash load on before leaving the house a crowning achievement, but how easy is it to adjust your attitude to early morning productivity?
"Look, mornings are tough. For everyone. Even personal trainers," says Carl Martin, Personal Training Manager at Equinox gym, Kensington."No one likes getting out of bed at the best of times, especially not for exercise of all things. The trick is firstly to remind yourself why you are doing it. Have a goal in mind. If you have something to aim for, the sound of the alarm becomes less about exercise and more about achievement of the goal." This applies whether it’s rising early for a work out or to complete that personal project (Ernest Hemingway famously rose at 6am and wrote furiously until noon).
Martin continues: "You are getting up early to achieve the thing that you want the most. And this makes wiping the sleep out of the corner of your eye and stumbling for the light switch all that more manageable."
It’s a sentiment echoed by my friend Henry, who I turn to because of his Herculean ability to blast out of his bed on even the blackest of mornings - despite a jam-packed work schedule and heaving social life – to hit the gym, rising between 5.30am and 6am. The practicalities of ritual and habit are key, he says. "It sounds simple, but I make sure that absolutely everything I need for the day is packed and ready to go – clothes, work stuff, everything I need to shower. I wake up to the radio, which I think helps as it isn’t an offensive, blaring alarm; it’s quite a sedate way to come around. The essential thing is not to spend any time at home in the morning – get out that door immediately. Brush your teeth at work or at the gym. Force yourself out and don’t dawdle."
When it comes to the nuts-and-bolts practicalities of shifting my old carcass out the door at first light, Martin also has some tips. "Try putting your alarm at the other side of the room. Actually having to get up to switch it off is a start. Having an appointment also helps, whether that be a class, a personal training session or even meeting a friend to work out with, the feeling of letting that person down and being accountable can spur you on."
Adjusting the conditions of your sleeping pattern can also work wonders, according to Professor Colin Espie, a world renowned sleep expert andco-founder of Sleepio (an online CBT-based sleep improvement course). "The best way to wake up early is to improve sleep." He recommends a wind-down period before bed that involves switching off electronic devices and avoiding any exercise in the evenings, instead slotting it in during the day. Espie also notes that it’s essential to try and avoid hitting the snooze button, because of the psychical effect it has on the body; "Your body begins preparing you to wake up before your alarm goes off, releasing hormones that promote alertness. By hitting the snooze button, we confuse this process as sleep-promoting hormones are released into your bloodstream, making it even more difficult to wake up."
And once you find yourself leaping out of bed with gusto? It’s essential to stick at it for a minimum of 21 days, says Martin. "Habits are hard to break because the things we repeat are literally etched in our memory and neural pathways. It’s similar to muscle memory. Something has to be repeated for the body and mind to realize ‘this is normal, this is routine’. General thoughts centre around having to do so for 21 days for it to become a habit."