Here is your guide to success in break-of-dawn classes.

Sarah Kirby is a senior Psychology major at Abilene Christian University and is also working on a minor in Business Administration. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, Sarah hopes to obtain a PhD in Clinical Psychology, become a licensed therapist, and teach college students as well as lead them in psychological research projects.

Known by friends as “Dr. Phil” since the 6th grade, she loves providing advice and insight. She likes to have stimulating conversations with her peers, do puzzles, read, cook, and learn. Sarah was the 2012-2013 ACU Psychology Club Research Co-Coordinator and a charter member of the club in 2011, is a current member of League of Wildcats (a League of Legends club at ACU), and works for a firm that helps high school students find the right colleges.


Most of us have been there or will be there at some point, and if not, consider yourself lucky – 8 AM classes! Ugh. Yes, they suck… But they don’t have to!



  1. Wake up early.

You should probably wake up at least an hour-and-a-half before your class starts, depending on how long it takes you to get from your home or your dorm to the classroom (and how long it takes you to actually get ready). So if your class starts at 8:00 AM, you should plan to get up around 6:30 or earlier.

Waking up earlier than you think you have to means that your body has plenty of time to fully awaken. It also gives you some leeway in case you hit any snags in the morning (like the time I was late to class because I didn’t know my windshield had frozen over during the night). Extra time is never a bad thing!


  1. Go to bed early.

Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. Meaning if you need to wake up at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning, you should go to bed by 11:00 PM to get at least seven hours of sleep. Early to bed, early to rise!

If you are eager to respect your circadian rhythms, you can download the Sleep Cycle app for iOS or Sleep as Android for Android devices. These apps track your movements during sleep in order to determine what stage of sleep you are in, then wake you up during your lightest stage and as close to your wake-up time as possible.


  1. Get up as soon as your alarm goes off.

Your brain has a difficult time switching from deep sleep to being awake and it will try to negotiate more sleep time. In order to prevent this, you should ignore that voice in your head begging for more sleep. Instead, turn your alarm off as soon as possible, get a good two-second, full-body stretch, sit up, and get out of the bed. The sooner you’re up and moving, the easier it is for your brain and your body to wake up. “You should feel pretty good, and be functioning at a high level, within 30 minutes to an hour after waking up” (and actually getting out of the bed) says sleep expert, Clinton Marquardt. So up, up, up!


  1. Gradually get used to your early alarm at least a week before your classes start.

You should get up about 15 minutes earlier than usual for 2 days, then another 15 minutes earlier for 2 more days, and so on until you reach your desired wake-up time and are accustomed to waking up that early.

Going from your summer sleep schedule, sleeping until noon, to waking up at 6AM is rough, so you need a smooth transition. Don’t expect to be able to do it on the first day of classes if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to transition to your new schedule. It doesn’t matter how much self-discipline you have because at six o’clock in the morning your body is in charge and your brain wants to stay asleep because that’s what it is used to. You have to practice waking up early!


  1. Develop a morning routine (and incorporate some sort of exercise).

Routines will help you stay organized and on-track in all areas of your life, especially in the mornings. Your morning routine should include anything you need to do in order to get ready for your day at school, work, etc. My morning routine goes something like this: wake up, eat breakfast, yoga/exercises, brush teeth and hair, get dressed, doll myself up, pack my backpack, look over my daily planner, and check my email.

Light-to-moderate exercise actually energizes your body, gets your blood pumping, and induces the production of endorphins in your brain, which make you more alert and will help you feel happier. Exercise is also a known stress reliever, so it can help you feel more relaxed – what a great way to start your day! Try doing some stretches, jumping jacks, and crunches to start out.


  1. Don’t sit down until you’re done with your morning routine.

Avoid checking your email or playing games first thing in the morning – or doing anything that requires you to sit too still – because not only will it distract you and slow you down, the lack of physical activity will make you sleepy again! I even suggest eating your breakfast while standing up – you’ll eat faster and stay awake.

Put all of your technology away until you are completely ready to go for the day and are feeling awake. I have other priorities in my morning routine that I put over checking my email. If I still have time before I need to leave for class, then I’ll check my email. If not, then I’ll do it when I get to the classroom.

Some people will argue that you should check your email before leaving because your class might be cancelled, but even if you get to class and there’s no one there, you have an extra hour to get things done (and a quiet place to do it). There is no downside to productivity!


  1. Get to class early.

First of all, it’s a good habit to get into. You know what they say – if you’re 15 minutes early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late!

Secondly, getting to class early ensures that you have time to get your supplies and assignments out without being a distraction, you have time to ask your professor any questions, and you’re all ready to go by the time class starts. That’s not to mention that your professor will see you as a responsible, eager student. Can you say “brownie points”?!


These tips are designed to get you up and running, to arrive at class on time, and to keep you focused during class. If you can commit to all of these things (and to your assignments), you will succeed in your early-morning classes! Good luck!




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