Back to School: 10 Ways to Prepare for Early Mornings

Posted by Dr Sophie Bostock - Sleep Expert on 25th Aug 2023

Back to School: 10 Ways to Prepare for Early Mornings

Does your morning routine feel like a distant memory? The summer holidays mean many of us have gotten used to getting going later in the day. If getting up for school or work fills you with dread, what can you do to help your family once again embrace those early morning starts?

Young children, and their grandparents, are often ‘early birds’, bounding out of bed at dawn. In contrast, most teenagers and young adults have a delayed body clock . This means their bodies are programmed to wake up after 9am, and they don’t feel sleepy until after midnight. Around 1 in 5 of us maintain this ‘night owl’ pattern into adulthood. Waking up for school at 7am feels more like 4am for the average teenager.

So what can you do to ease a night owl into earlier mornings?

1. Plan a gradual transition 

Graphic image featuring a man climbing a ladder to adjust a clock with day on one side and night time on the other

Our body clocks can adjust by about 1 hour every 24 hours, so use an alarm to shift your wake up times by 30-60 minutes each day, so that you’ve got a jump of less than an hour before your first day back.

2. Use natural light to help you get out of bed

A woman standing in a field of wheat stretching her arms up high as the sun rises

A master clock in the brain is sensitive to natural daylight, especially first thing in the morning. Bright light banishes melatonin, the hormone which signals sleep. Open the curtains, get outside, soak up some natural rays, or use a bright light alarm clock in the winter.

3. Get moving in the morning

A man running down a tree-lined street as the sun rises in the early morning

Exercise in the morning will signal your body clocks that it’s time to be alert. Take the dog for a walk or just stroll round the garden to feel energised.

4. Eat breakfast 

A woman eating a breakfast of berries and bran flakes after her morning exercise. Her weights and water bottle lie on the floor beside her

Food is another time giver, or Zeitgeber, that puts your clocks on their daytime setting, so eat breakfast within an hour or two of waking.

And if you wan to be able to fall asleep earlier in the evening, reverse these 3 steps. Learn more below.

5. Switch off bright overhead lights, use lamps instead

A candlelit bedside table featuring lavender and a mug of herbal tea. A purple bedspread lies on an empty bed in the background

6. Avoid vigorous exercise immediately before bed

A little girl sat in a home-made den adorned with fairy lights while doing some bedtime yoga

7. Finish your evening meal at least 2 hours before getting into bed

A family of 5 (2 grandparents, 2 parents, and a child) sat eating dinner together while the sun still shines outside

8. Make a plan for screen time, and keep tech out of the bedroom.  

A father sat enjoying some screen time with his three children outdoors

Most of us have heard that the light from phones or laptops can interfere with melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. This true, but the effects are quite weak. Probably a more important impact of screen time is displacing sleep time. Social media and video games are designed to be addictive, and when you’re tired, it’s harder to stop. So make a plan for when you’re switching off, and then ideally, leave screens out of the bedroom.  Try reading a book instead.

9. Avoid long lie-ins

An empty bed as the morning light floods in through the window

The more days a week you wake up at the same time, the more your body learns to anticipate wake up time with a boost of cortisol, helping you wake up naturally.

10. Make time for sleep a priority

A A lady asleep peacefully in bed, the time on the clock on the bedside table reads 2:55 and the lighting suggests that it's 2:55AM

Most teenagers need 8-10 hours sleep, and most adults need at least 7 hours sleep. No-one sleeps for 100% of the time after lights out, so for 7 hours of good quality sleep you might need to protect 7.5 or 8 hours in bed.

To shortcut these steps, research shows you can also just go camping for a few days away from artificial lights, which will help to sync your body clock with the natural light-dark cycle of the sun, and wake you soon after dawn. 

authors profile
Dr Sophie Bostock
Sleep Expert
Sophie brings a wealth of expertise to the role having spent the last six years researching and championing the importance of sleep science in NHS and corporate settings. Sophie was responsible for improving access to the award-winning digital sleep improvement programme, Sleepio, as an NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow. She has delivered hundreds of talks, including for TEDx and Talks@Google, and regularly features as a media sleep expert.
Read more from Dr Sophie Bostock