It’s alpine running season, which means to avoid afternoon downpours, it’s alpine start season.
In the summer months, my alarm is set for 4 a.m. Monday-Friday; getting up early is the name of the game. Even with the prospect of enjoying my breakfast on a mountain top at sunrise, it takes some serious self-convincing to get myself out of bed every day, even though I know I will be glad I did when I turn my headlamp off to watch the mountains glow pink.
I’m a morning person, but that 4 a.m. alarm cuts like the cold air on the other side of my sleeping bag.
However, I also know the early morning is a golden opportunity to work out, especially during the short window that is the high-alpine season. Even while I was teaching, committing to early morning training sessions helped me maintain greater training consistency.
Fortunately, there are some practical wake up tips you can use at any time of year to make getting out of bed more bearable. Here are a few tricks I have been using to make that alpine start suck a little less.
1. Skip the dinnertime boozing.
I’m not a heavy drinker, but especially in the winter months I find myself drinking often, usually enjoying a glass of wine or two with dinner most nights. Since setting my alarm back a few hours, I’ve noticed a profound difference in the mornings after I’ve opted for an evening seltzer. Alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, but you pay the price through reduced sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts your REM sleep, which is the more mentally restorative sleep, and disruptions can lead to grogginess in the morning.
2. Skip that afternoon cup of coffee, too.
Coffee is the most popular drug in the world, and for a good reason. That afternoon cup of Joe (usually with a brownie or piece of dark chocolate) is as solidified in my routine as brushing my teeth. But caffeine taken as much as six hours before bedtime has been shown to reduce sleep time significantly. Cutting my overall caffeine intake back to one cup in the morning and eliminating my afternoon caffeine indulgence has helped me fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the early hours of the night. If you choose to indulge in your afternoon coffee, make sure you still have plenty of hours left before bedtime if you plan on getting a good night’s sleep.
3. Go to bed dressed for success.
The cozier the pajamas, the harder they are to peel off in the morning. Strangely, the thing I dread most in the morning is taking off my favorite PJs and changing into running clothes. To mitigate the extra five minutes I spend in bed thinking about how nice my sweats are (and how awful my spandex will be), I have started sleeping in my running clothes. At the very least, I’ll sleep in my running shorts and set my sports bra and running-tee at my bedside so I can change while still, mostly under the covers.
While setting your clothes out might not seem like it will help much, taking away any small barrier between you getting out of bed and out to your workout can make a big difference early in the morning when everything feels more difficult. Plus, you’ll save yourself a couple of minutes, so you don’t have to wake up quite as early.
4. Don’t hit snooze!
When you hit snooze, you’re setting yourself up for failure and likely a very groggy morning. When you lay back down and fall asleep, you’re just prolonging a period of non-productive sleep. The best, more restorative sleep was REM sleep, but it is unlikely you’ll gain REM sleep during a snooze interval (about 10 minutes on most alarm clocks). When you hit snooze, you’re not getting that much more rest, and you’re cutting into your limited time in the morning.
5. Put your alarm across the room and near a light switch.
This is a simple trick to make yourself get up out of bed and move around, which will help you shake any sleepiness. Once you’re vertical and out of the warm covers, you’re far more likely to stay up and get moving. Once you get up to turn off your alarm, flip the lights on immediately.
6. Natural light is nature’s caffeine.
Even if you’re not getting up at dawn, exposure to light plays a role in lowering melatonin levels and raising cortisol in the morning, helping you feel more alert and awake. Many athletes associate increased cortisol as a negative result of training stress, and typically want to reduce cortisol levels as a means of post-exercise recovery. But cortisol levels naturally rise and fall throughout the day in correlation with circadian rhythm and naturally peak in the morning. Some theorize that the morning spike in cortisol could be an anticipatory response to the coming day.