How to Make Yourself Wake Up Early, According to Neuroscientists

How to Make Yourself Wake Up Early, According to Neuroscience

It's so easy it'll feel like cheating.

Have you always dreamed of waking up early (pun intended)? 

True, there are some lifestyle benefits of waking up early in the morning. 

Instead of snoozing in the morning, waking up early means that you can dedicate more time to yourself.

You can work on your personal projects, read a book, take a course, do a morning exercise, go jogging, meditate, and so on. 


And because you’re able to get a lot of things done early, it builds the feeling of confidence and accomplishment. This goes a long way to improve your mood throughout the day.

“This is all good and nice,” you say. “But I’m not a morning person.” 

Don’t worry. You don’t have to be an early bird to wake up early, at least according to neuroscience. 

Let’s take a closer look at the most important tactic you can use to make yourself wake up early in the morning. Before we do that, let’s first understand how the brain works in general.

How your brain can help you wake up early

The part of our brain responsible for changing our moods based on substances is dopamine. When you take sweets (sugar), alcohol, drugs, or even have sex, dopamine responds.

Dopamine is a common chemical neurotransmitter, according to Stanford researchers. When it gets into the brain’s pathway, dopamine seeps into the emotion, pleasure and memory parts of the brain.

It’s also critical in learning, forming new memories and rewarding our actions. 

Take drugs for example. Drugs can increase the amount of dopamine by up to 10 times.


This reduces the natural amounts of dopamine the brain releases over time, according to Stephanie Fine Sasse. Steph is a Harvard-trained researcher. She’s also the Executive & Creative Director at The People’s Science

So why is all this important if you want to get out of bed early? Stay with me because it gets better.

The one thing that’ll make waking up early easier

Here’s the thing: if you want to wake up early in the morning, you can take advantage of the brain’s reward circuitry. Do it the same way dopamine does! 

You can pair the goal or desirable behavior of waking up early in the morning with a reward.

The reward from the brain is to reinforce choices that help us survive, according to the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. 

A paired reward will make you feel good about waking up early. But it doesn’t end there.

Over time with reinforcement, the bond gets stronger and almost natural. Associate a reward you want with the action you want to take.

How to make yourself wake up early if all you want is to sleep

So if you want to make yourself wake up early in the morning, pair that action with a reward.

For example when you wake up early at six, reward yourself with dark chocolate at lunchtime. Or when you wake up early for two consecutive days, reward yourself with your favorite snack, chocolate or take-out,


Over time, you’re conditioned to associate the reward with waking up early.

There are 3 things to be mindful of when choosing the reward:

Convenient. Choose a reward with close enough proximity. A reward too far out becomes less attractive.

Don’t use your vacation next year as a reward. Pick a reward that can serve you in the next few hours or days. Part of convenience is physical access. You should be able to access this reward easily, preferably without travel.

Affordable. Choose a reward you can afford. The goal is to be able to sustain this habit over time.

Expensive rewards can drain your wallet over time. Nobody wants an expensive habit.


Sustainable. Does the reward have a positive effect on the long run? Think 3 to 5 years from now.

If you can sustain that paired reward and habit, skip it. The goal is to be able to maintain consistency and wake up early each day, consistently.


You can make yourself wake up early by tapping into the brain’s natural way of working. Don’t fight dopamine. Embrace it. Let it work for you this time.

It’s critical to learn about yourself in this process and know what really makes you happy. And use that as a reward.