How To Wake Up Early — Take the 30 Day Challenge
How to ditch your annoying alarm clock and harness the power of your natural circadian rhythms to wake up early.
Kramer is right, you really do have an internal alarm clock! I will often wake 1 to 2 minutes before my alarm, and apparently this is not uncommon.
This is due to something in your brain called a circadian rhythm. It’s a biological clock that follows a 24 hour cycle and determines when you feel sleepy and when you feel alert. There’s even something called the “alarm clock gene” that produces a protein that rises when it’s time to wake. This protein ramps up your metabolism and starts physiological processes that tell your body that it’s time to rise and shine. The cool thing is, this little mechanism is trainable. It loves patterns. If you learn how it works and train it (Sit, Ubu sit! Good dog!), you can learn to wake up early without an alarm clock.
Step 1. Remember Your “Why”
Why would you want to commit to waking up early? Is it worth it? It might be hard to make these changes. Like anything in life, it’s a cost/benefit calculation.
Remember the three pillars of the good life. Health, wealth, and wisdom are the foundation of everything else.
You want to be healthy and strong, right? Do it for your kids so you can play basketball in the driveway. Do it so you can enjoy active recreation (hiking, biking, Scuba diving, wake boarding, or whatever). Do it so you can just “feel good” every day.
You want to have your finances under control, right? Do it so you can quit living from paycheck to paycheck. Do it so you can have enough and to spare. Do it so you can be generous. Do it so you can live with a sense of abundance. Do it so that one day you can be financially independent.
You want to be wise, right? Do it so you can know how things work. Do it so you can be be more productive with your time. Do it so you can learn from history’s great minds. Do it so you can develop yourself.
Getting the most important things done first is like a superpower. I’m addicted to how I feel in the morning when I’ve done all the most important things–like money in the bank. It’s the best legal high you can have.
Step 2. Create a Rhythm
Remember your biological clock loves consistency. If you are always changing your routine, it’s no wonder that your biological clock is always a step behind.
I think a lot of this is cultural. Maybe you associate waking up early with being an “adult,” and therefore the end of fun. You stayed up late in college. This when you could watch Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. You want to stay forever young, so you keep up this routine.
If this is how you feel, then it’s time to re-brand getting to bed early. It’s not caving to the system, it’s a way to make more of your life! You deserve a good life, right?
Waking up at different times on weekdays and weekends messes with your circadian rhythm. Without consistency, your body clock does not know when to trigger. So when your alarm sounds, you are going to feel that foggy/grumpy feeling.
So, the answer is to train your brain alarm by going to bed and getting up at the same times every day–yes, that includes weekends. I’m not saying that occasionally, you can’t stay out a bit later. But I am saying that you stop thinking that you have to treat weekdays and weekends differently. That’s just a weird first-world/cultural thing–it’s not in your DNA. I know some of you are doubting me here, but I assure you it is all in how you are framing it. You have convinced yourself that sleeping late on the weekends is so great. I’m here to tell you it’s not all its cracked up to be, and it might be what is keeping you from being able to wake up easily.
Step 3. Go to Bed Early
If the secret of selling is in the buying, then the same is true of sleep. The secret of getting up early is going to bed early. No one feels good without adequate sleep.
Most people need somewhere between 6.5 to 8 hours of sleep per night to feel good consistently (I need about 7). So, if you want to get up at a certain time, just subtract backwards to calculate your bed time. For me, since I want to get up at 5am, I need to be in bed by 10pm. If you want to get a bit more sophisticated and take into account sleep cycles, you could use a simple online sleep calculator (sleepyti.me).
Going to bed should have its own ritual (aka good sleep hygiene).
- No screens for 2 hours before bed. Studies have shown that electronic devices emit light that miscues the brain and keeps you awake. As adults we are subject to these influences and our children are particularly susceptible.
- No phone in your bedroom. Surveys conducted by YouGov and The Huffington Post found that 63 percent of smartphone users between the ages of 18 and 29 actually sleep with their phones or tablets in their beds. Com’on people! Get rid of that phone. Who can relax with alerts of incoming calls, texts, and emails. You’ll avoid the temptation to play games or check all your social media channels.
- A few minutes to wind down. Reflect on the day and clear your mind with some relaxing music. If you have a hard time falling asleep right away, try reading in bed for a few minutes (but not the next installment of your favorite book series). Avoid any activities that could be emotionally upsetting (not the time to discuss “issues” with your spouse).
- Optimize the sleep environment. A comfortable bed is an important investment. You spend a third of your life laying there, so don’t skimp. I recommend a good mattress on the slightly firm side with a pillow top and a micro-plush mattress pad. It’s the perfect mix of support and comfort. Add a nice medium weight comforter, high-quality sheets, and a really nice pillow, and you will have a place you can really relax in and get great rest.
Step 4. Wake Up!
Even with all the right preparation, the ultimate test is actually getting out of bed. While getting up without an alarm is the goal, here are some tips while you are retraining:
- Rip the band-aid off all at once. Some people suggest slowly changing your wake up time by 15 min increments to allow yourself to adjust. I’m not sure that really helps. Go to bed earlier the night before (wake time minus 7 hours), and then set the alarm for the target wake up time. It’s like getting over jet lag–you just have to start living the “new” time. If you are tired the next day, that is normal. This is a natural encouragement to get to bed earlier the next night.
- You snooze, you lose. Resolve now that the snooze button is not an option. You may even consider using deliberate practice. This may sound weird, but it works. During the day, set the alarm for 1–2 minutes forward, lay down, and then when the alarm goes off, jump right out of bed. Do it several times in a row. Like Pavlov’s dog, you can train your subconscious. Alarm goes off, I get out of bed. Alarm goes off, I get out of bed. Over and over. Say to yourself, “It’s just what I do.”
- Put the alarm out of reach. If you’re someone who struggles with getting out of bed with the alarm, then try putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room.
Step 5. Have a plan
If you are successful in getting up early, you need a plan/routine. Review 5 Morning Rituals For Success for what to do next.
30 Day Challenge
For the next 30 days, I challenge you to become an early riser. Start tomorrow. Come back periodically and post your experience below in the comments. What are you struggling with? Is it easier or harder than you expected? Have you ever had a “Kramer” moment when you just wake up without the alarm?
Originally published at www.thefirsthabit.com on January 28, 2017.