Don’t be Alarmed. Waking Up In the Morning Shouldn’t Be That Hard.

Make use of fear.
Let me explain.

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My neighboring dorm room back in Freshmen year of college. Hope that stuff on the left wasn’t mold.

After all the years of being unable to control not going to bed late (or early, depending on how you look at it), I have done it — I have solved one of the most challenging obstacles in my life. No, I did not figure out how to get better at Mario Kart. For my entire life, even through all four years of college, I could never wake up on time. In fact, during my freshman year of college, I had to drop a class because I missed five classes over the course of three weeks, simply because I had a hard time waking up. Even though I was a stereotypical first-year student who took college way too seriously and did not understand what having balance in life was — I went to all TA hours even though I didn’t need it, did all the assigned readings even though I already knew it, stressed myself over everything even though I didn’t need to be — I was never able to wake up early. I retook that class a year or so later in the afternoon session, and I did a lot better then (because small liberal arts colleges count attendance as a part of your grades). However, dropping the class almost barred me from completing my second major due to scheduling conflicts. I got lucky. Still, the fact that I almost couldn’t complete one of the two majors I worked very hard on didn’t scare me enough to make me wake up on time.

Self-improvement is sexy and I want to get right to it but I also want to take the time to emphasize that literally nothing made me wake up on time until a few months ago. Do keep in mind, I am referring to the inability to wake up for routines. In other words, I rarely missed exams or other important meetings due to oversleeping because I either stayed up all night (definitely not cramming a semester worth of studying in one night), had my friends wake me up, set up three different alarms in different locations of my room despite having a roommate, or a combination of the three. I have tried numerous times setting up regimens to wake myself up out of sheer willpower, but those never lasted more than a week. I even got an app where I had to solve a math problem or a puzzle to turn off the alarm, an app that tracked my sleep and nudged me awake during my non-REM sleep, and I even went so far as to stagger three alarms at different locations. None of them worked long term. So, how’d I manage it this time? Simply put, I instilled fear in myself.

In order to solve the problem, it was important to ask myself why I needed to wake up on time — I went beyond the surface-level answers of “I have classes to go to” or “work starts at 8 am, duh.” I dug deeper. It’s important not to think about the benefits of waking up early, but to focus on the negative aspects of waking up late instead. I eventually came up with a list, here’s why I don’t want to wake up late:

  1. I want to avoid the rush hour — I made all this effort to wake up on time, only to be stuck in traffic? Absolutely a waste of effort.
  2. If I arrive late to work, I have to stay later at work — I have nothing against staying later at work, but messing up my own schedule due to my own doing is infuriating.
  3. My supervisor sits right next to my desk — pretty self-explanatory.
  4. I don’t get to use the bathroom in the morning — I would have to use the communal bathroom at work. I feel insecure about the smell and the sound I produce during my bowel movements because I apparently poop sewage water, and I don’t want to subject this to others. Trust me on this.
  5. I talk to my aunt, who’s on the other side of the world, on my phone during my commute — Nothing says “I love you” more than not picking up the phone.
  6. The wrath of my neighbor — the walls in my apartment are uber thin, and I don’t want to be yelled at by her.

Corresponding Benefits

  1. On average, I roughly save 15 minutes commuting if I leave 45 minutes earlier. Less time on the road means more time in bed.
  2. I go to the gym directly after work. The gym becomes a lot busier the later it gets. The busier it gets, the less motivated I am to go. Now, making sure I go to the gym regularly is a whole different issue.
  3. My supervisor won’t think I’m a knucklehead. Well, she might for other reasons, but it won’t be for being late.
  4. I get to fart in my own living quarters and not make others faint. My roommates don’t count.
  5. I can assure my aunt that I have not been kidnapped between yesterday and today.
  6. My neighbor will only dislike me for leaving laundry in the dryer for way too long, but not for waking her up with my alarm.

Once I had established why I could not wake up late, I needed a plan. There are two major puzzle pieces that must fit together in order for this routine to be successful: waking up on command and sleeping on time.

  1. Set an alarm. One alarm. Disable the snooze function. This is crucial. I was going all in. There is no plan B. If I don’t wake up when the alarm goes off, not only am I going to be late, but be very late. So, I know I have to get up when the alarm goes off.
  2. Put the alarm source, be it a clock or your phone, far away from the bed. Far enough to make me walk a few steps to get to it. Additionally, this helps me limit my phone usage prior to sleep.
  3. Do not go back to bed or create a new alarm once you’re awake. I have to be mindful about this because it’s what I usually end up doing. I remind myself to not plop back onto the bed for five more minutes, because it’ll never be just five minutes. It’s helpful to remember the fears I have instilled in myself. This is by far the hardest part for me, but just the thought of a work colleague sitting next stall while I do my business jolts me right up.
  4. Immediately go do something else. I usually go straight to the bathroom and use the toilet. I let my brain untangle while I mindlessly browse my phone. Once 15 minutes are up, I am ready to begin the day.

Sleeping on time is a fundamental part of the puzzle that allowed me to wake up early. The method I’ve adopted is popularly known as the “military sleeping technique”, which in itself was an excerpt from Lloyd Winter’s Relax and Win: Championship Performance. I don’t think the technique is special because it’s “military”, I think it’s special because it works. Over time, I have modified the technique to make it work for me, and I have listed them below.

  1. During the day, try to tire yourself out. Either emotionally or physically, I do something engaging during the day. Going to the gym, studying how to code, being depressed, whatever it may be, I do things that require my active participation.
  2. Figure out how long you need to sleep. For the 23 years that I have been with myself, as far as I can remember, I have found that I need to sleep between 7.5 to 9 hours to feel well-rested. With this new regimen, I finally get enough sleep.
  3. Block out time for sleep and the time to prepare for sleep. I have my beauty sleep hours put down on my calendar. I also blocked out 15 minutes prior for preparing to go to bed. I tend to procrastinate and think to myself, “I can push back 5 more minutes… I will just brush my teeth really fast” or “I won’t wash my face, it doesn’t look good anyway.” That’s when I try to remember the fear of waking up late.
  4. Set up the one alarm, and go to sleep. The sleeping process usually takes me about 5 minutes to completely snooze, as opposed to their supposed claim of 120 seconds in the “military sleeping technique”, but this is still light-years better than having to take an hour to fall asleep.

The technique is detailed in this article, and in case you’re too lazy to read it, here’s a modified summary:

  1. Relax your whole body. Mentally scan your body from head to toe, and relax all tensed up muscles.
  2. Now, relax your facial muscles. You’ll notice squinting or frowning on your forehead, release that tension and let your face muscle drip.
  3. Notice your eyes completely fall into your eye sockets. (Yeah, I didn’t like typing that out either)
  4. Drop your shoulders as low as you can, followed by your arms and hands.
  5. While slowly relaxing your body, keep going back to the parts you have relaxed to make sure that they haven’t tensed up. If they have, start releasing the tension again.
  6. Be mindful of your breathing, but don’t concentrate on it.
  7. Almost always, I am asleep by this point.

And that’s it! It’s easier said than done, but this has worked for me, and I’m really glad it has. I feel a lot better at work because following my schedule makes me feel productive, and in turn, the feeling of accomplishment creates a domino effect into staying positive, patient, and relaxed over the course of the day… for the most part.

Unfortunately, I admit that this method is not inclusive. I am privileged that I am able-bodied, single, independent of dependents, and have a job that allows me to have some wiggle room with my hours. Additionally, intentionally bringing up anxiety in order to stay productive probably isn’t the best for my mental health, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I weighed my options and I feel that my mental health improvement from being productive far outweighs the possibility of damaging it. Again, take this with a grain of salt. If you’d like to try this for yourself, mould this method to fit you, not the other way around.

I may not have figured out my life yet, but I don’t have to — I can’t worry about my problems and responsibilities if I’m asleep anyway.

One of my best friends said, “Life sucks and then you die.” We are all out here just trying to figure out how to die at a later time and make life suck less.

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