I’m lucky enough to have the Empire State Building in my direct sightline from my bed. What most people don’t realize about this New York landmark, though, is that its bright lights actually turn off each day around 3am. So, when the early morning sky is still dark in the dead of winter and my alarm goes off at 6am for the gym, the typically brightly lit skyscraper looks as asleep as I feel.
The bottom line: it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning for a workout. Sure, colder months with a later sunrise make it harder, but it’s always hard. So, how do you make logging an AM workout less of a struggle?
“It’s not an answer that anyone loves, but some people are morning people and others are night people. These are habits we build and develop, and — while they can be broken — it takes time to adjust,” says fitness and nutrition expert Adam Bornstein. “Your routine is programmed and your body reacts based on expectation. So if you’re used to going to sleep at a certain time and waking up at a certain time, these behaviors seem normal.”
However, there is hope. Bornstein says that any behavior can be reprogrammed, and it just takes time.
Step 1? Ditch that beloved snooze button. While getting more sleep isn’t actually bad for you, the kind of sleep most people get from hitting the snooze button (five or 10 minutes) doesn’t equate to the same kind of sleep you get from a full 90-minute sleep cycle.
Ditch that beloved snooze button.
What and when you eat can also make it harder or easier to get up for the gym.
It’s best to separate sleep and your final meal of the day by at least an hour or two if possible. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, snacking at night can hurt your overall sleep quality.
“Eating too close to your sleep can offset the benefits of a carbohydrate-based meal because after you eat, a protein called c-peptide is created to help insulin do its job and store nutrients. C-peptide is linked to lower levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep,” Bornstein says.
So what’s safe to eat for dinner? Bornstein recommends drinking milk, which earns its role as nature’s ambien thanks to calcium’s ability to boost melatonin.
“Fish is helpful — shrimp, cod, and tuna being best examples — because they are high in the amino acid tryptophan,” he says. “Turkey is usually known as tryptophan king, but these fish have more.”
So once you have the night before covered, how do you master the morning? Jeanie Tinnelly, a co-leader of NYC’s November Project, a fitness movement that hosts free workouts in various cities, wakes up to lead workouts that start at 5:28am on a regular basis. She says that she has to lay out her clothes to the point that every single layer, down to each sock, is ready to slip on before she heads out the door.
“Time is super important in the morning,” she says. “So there’s no room to mess around. I look at the weather the night before and I’ll see that it’s raining and I lay out everything I might need or want.”
She also puts her phone away from the bed, as does Bornstein, so when the alarm goes off, they actually have to get up.
“It forces me to get up and move,” he says. “Preferably, I place it right next to my bedroom door, which is a reminder to leave the bedroom and start my day.”
But what helps more than anything is being held accountable.
But what helps more than anything is being held accountable. Tinnelly runs to every workout with her fellow co-leader, so she always has someone depending on her and vice versa. It also helps to find a workout that you enjoy so you’re not just being held accountable but you don’t want to miss anything.
November Project includes goofy warm ups like hugs and a signature group bounce to wake everyone up and remind people of the fun, positive effect a fitness community can have on anyone’s day first thing in the morning.
“If you have a group of people who are holding you accountable, then you know you have to do it, and your goal is going to be in your brain saying: don’t you want to be there?” Tinnelly says.
There are other kinds of accountability, too.
“We would rather avoid losing something we have than gain something we value,” Bornstein says. “So if you can create circumstance where loss is involved such as frustrated a friend that is willing to go to the gym with you or losing money on a trainer, then you are creating an equation that helps you take action — even if your desire is to head back to bed.”