Welcome to I Tried It Month, where we'll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article every day in January that features a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including everything from going without a cellphone for 40 days to trying the polarizing low-rise pants trend.
I'm a huge fan of Dolly Parton. Not only is she a musical genius, but she's also a really great person. So when I found out that she naturally starts her day at 3:00 a.m., I knew I needed to get a piece of the action. Turns out, a lot of the greatest minds have an early wake-up routine: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, to name a few. If all of these brilliant people I idolize start their days before 6 a.m., why couldn't I? I decided I'd give it a shot—for 30 days, I'd wake up at 5 a.m. After all, What would Dolly do? It wasn't easy, but the results didn't disappoint. After 30 days, I felt more productive, healthier, and overall less anxious.
Now, I love sleep. It's my favorite part of the day. But I also know that I function best in the early hours of the morning thanks to years of figure-skating training at the crack of dawn. But it's been over a decade since I've competed, and I have now fallen into a routine of going to bed late and sleeping in. This lifestyle has left me feeling rushed in the mornings—even while working from home during the pandemic—which sets the tone for the day on a funky note. I knew that, if I wanted to switch things up, I needed to find a routine that would allow me to wake up early without compromising the quality of sleep I get. Keep scrolling to learn how I streamlined my nighttime routine and how the extra hours in the day have affected my overall well-being.
How I Did It
#1: Set a Wind-Down Routine
Your wind-down routine is just as important as your morning routine. As someone who usually gets to bed around midnight, I first needed to set a bedtime and stick with it. I require around eight hours of sleep, so I decided a 9 p.m. bedtime was essential. In order to enforce this, I needed to limit screen time at least one hour before it's time for shut-eye—not an easy feat for someone who is very guilty of getting sucked into watching TikTok videos for hours on my phone before bed. Many studies have shown that the blue light from our electronic devices messes with our circadian rhythm and quality of sleep, so putting all phones and laptops outside of the bedroom was also essential. My fiancé also purchased an automatic red-light dusk-to-dawn sensor night-light that turns on as soon as dusk rolls around. Having a phone-free, red-lit bedroom creates a calm environment that lets my body wind down from the day and gets it ready for sleep.
#2: Prioritize Quality Sleep
I want to start off by noting that waking up early isn't for everyone, and it doesn't need to be. If your schedule doesn't allow for an "early to bed, early to rise" routine, then it's safer to stick to your normal sleep schedule. Getting enough quality sleep is just as important to your overall health as a well-balanced diet—just figure out what is best for you. I am notorious for tossing and turning all night long, so this is the area I needed to focus on the most in order to get a good night's sleep.
Starting with the basics, make sure your mattress is good for you. I've been using the Casper Nova Hybrid Mattress for about a month now, and my quality of sleep has drastically improved. I'm a side sleeper, and this mattress is equipped with layers that provide enhanced pressure relief and contoured support for my shoulders and hips. Better yet, I also run warm, so the perforated, breathable foam helps in keeping me cool all night long.
Another sleep essential I swear by is a sound machine. As someone who usually has racing thoughts or will be jolted awake from thinking about that one thing I said four years ago, having constant white noise helps my brain relax. Ensuring my sleep basics were met helped me stay asleep throughout the night and allowed for me to wake up feeling rejuvenated.
#3: Step Outside
This was a suggestion from my fiancé to help me refrain from hitting the snooze button. Since I started this challenge in winter when it's pitch-black outside at 5 a.m., I got into the habit of turning on the lights as soon as my alarm got me out of bed. Then, I'd step outside to get cool air and sunlight as soon as the sun came up. I think this is what really did wonders for my body and for kick-starting my circadian rhythm. Enjoying the calm stillness of the early morning with my water or coffee while breathing in the crisp winter air has become one of my favorite moments of the day.
Now that you've reached this part of the story, you are probably thinking, "But what's the point?" Well, we know a well-rounded morning routine sets the tone for the day, and this challenge finally allows me to have that. Speaking from my personal experience, adding a couple of extra hours before I need to start my workday has been incredible for my productivity. I like to use this time to do things for myself, like take a walk, meditate, or just hang out with my fiancé. I can squeeze in a workout, take a shower, and make breakfast and still have an hour or two before I need to start my workday. I'm also able to do the mundane things I've been too exhausted to do after a long day of work, like tidying up or doing laundry. Integrating these productive moments into my daily routine sets the day up on an energetic and efficient note so I can tackle the rest of my to-do list.
#2: Mental Health
I love the productivity aspect of waking up early, but its effects on my mental health have been the most enjoyable. Studies have shown that those who are programmed to wake up early may have a lower risk of mental health disease. I have anxiety that can be pretty debilitating at times, so I'm always looking for new ways to help mitigate my symptoms. This challenge, in addition to regular therapy, has helped in reducing the chronic fight-or-flight responses that usually fire up for me during the mundane day-to-day. Adding a couple of extra hours to my day allows me to take some time to ground myself and self-regulate before I get swept up by the workday. I also try to meditate for 15 minutes while I'm still in bed, which helps set the tone for the rest of the day.
#3: Physical Health
The last significant benefit I've experienced during this challenge is an improvement in my overall physical health. During the pandemic, I've unintentionally let my self-care routines go down the toilet, specifically exercise. Pre-pandemic, I was motivated by fitness studios and group classes, so I've needed to find fun, new ways to exercise at home. Now, nearly one year into California's stay-at-home orders, I'm notorious for setting time aside to work out in the evening and then completely blowing through it so I can work a couple more hours from my home office. Waking up four hours before my workday begins has been the kick in the butt I needed to get back into a fitness routine simply because it helps fill the extra time I have in the day. I can now get my workout done first thing in the morning, so I don't need to plan the rest of my day around it.
Overall, 30 days of having an early-morning routine has changed my outlook on how I can thoughtfully spend my days. I can confidently say I am now a morning person.
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