Winning the Wake Up Battle

I have spent my entire life struggling to wake up.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

It wasn’t just getting up when the alarm clock went off, my problem stemmed far deeper than that. I didn’t feel truly awake for hours, sometimes after half the day had passed. Waking up made me feel physically ill: headache, nausea, body aches, the whole works.

For years, I took to proclaiming that I was simply a night owl, and waking up early was at odds with my circadian rhythm, though of course, I had no idea what that was at the time.

This philosophy didn’t change until I noticed that the successful people around me had some habits in common, one of which was rising with the sun (or at least the ability to do so).

I realized that I didn’t want to be held back my inability to do anything. Even if I woke at noon daily, I wanted it to be a choice, and not because I couldn’t wake at dawn.

The vision board version of my early bird goal looked like those happy, refreshed people in the cough syrup commercials waking up all bright-eyed and ready to tackle anything. And yes, I even tried cough syrup. No, it did not work.

In fact, I tried a whole collection of both tried and true methods as well as pretty random stuff to get myself up with the sun.

Here’s what I learned.

One alarm to rule them all

This didn’t work on the first go-around. Or the second. I tried a lot of different alarms and alarm systems to help me get past the initial pain of getting out of my insanely comfortable bed.

I tried so many alarms. There was the math alarm that had to be solved before it would shut off; turning off the phone turned it off though. There was the location alarm that required you to scan a barcode before it would shut off; Let me just scan this toothpaste barcode and go back to bed. There was the motivational quote alarm that I was supposed to inspire me to take on the day; my best me is asleep in my bed. Don’t even get me started on regular, old clock alarms.

I even built a multi-alarm system on my phone, structured by my motivation to become an early bird:

  • 6am: This is the day. You can do it!
  • 7am: Wake up now for special breakfast!
  • 8am: Last chance to shower…
  • 9am: Now you don’t get to wear makeup
  • 9:15am: Seriously, get up!!!
  • 9:30am: YOU’RE LATE

Yes, these are actual messages I wrote to myself… as a mixture of spirited encouragement, outright bribes, and tough love. Surprisingly, it worked! Sometimes. Occasionally.

That was the real problem with all of my ‘alarm solutions’. They weren’t consistent, but they worked often enough that they became my very own gambler’s fallacy. It didn’t wake me up this morning, but maybe tomorrow…

The bigger issue is that I was choosing alarms and systems when I was awake and optimistic about waking up right on time tomorrow. Yet, my sleepy alter ego was on a mission to not get up no matter what.

So, I deleted all of the alarms. All but my regular phone alarm.

It wasn’t an overnight success. I didn’t immediately jump out of bed after deleting my extra alarms. In fact, I overslept my one alarm on several occasions and ultimately missed not one, but two important appointments.

That was a huge blow to my overarching goal: build a more successful life. And as both my optimistic self and sleepy alter ego realized I could lose face, clients, and relationships for an extra 15 minutes of shut eye, only then were both motivated to get up when that alarm went off.

Snooze is the devil

Even after saying goodbye to my many beloved alarms, I clung to my snooze button.

I already had a pretty terrible habit of snoozing any and all alarms, but we can say that I then developed an unhealthy dependence on the snooze. The alarms and systems that had worked (even if inconsistently) all depended on a level of snooze-ability, ergo snooze is working, right? Wrong.

I was afraid to give up my snooze and subsequently miss yet another appointment.

By giving up my snooze addiction, I was allowing myself to fail. The whole reason I pursued the early bird lifestyle was to be more successful in life – so, why in the world would I allow myself to fail in order to succeed?

It really wasn’t until I literally asked myself that question out loud that I put a ban on snoozing.

We all know – logically – that the path to success (in any endeavor) is paved with failures. Easier said than experienced, right?

It reminds me of the writerly advice kill your darlings, in other words, get rid of those perfectly written, self-indulgent lines for the greater benefit of the overall piece.

I needed to remove this clutch that yes, would be painful initially, but would lead me to greater success and help me achieve my ultimate goal.

From one snoozer to another: by getting rid of the perfect, comfortable systems I had built, I was on track to becoming an early riser and more successful human.

8 isn’t always the magic number

Over the years of battling alarms and snooze buttons, I became an amateur sleep scientist. I consumed as much information as the internet could serve up on sleep hygiene, REM cycles, circadian rhythm, and sleep hormones.

I excitedly followed all of the top recommendations to get those magical 8 hours of sleep. I didn’t use my bed for anything except sleeping. I turned off electronics hours before bed. I went to sleep in total darkness. I scheduled my bedtime to achieve optimum rem cycles.

None of it worked for me, because I didn’t need more sleep.

This importance of 8 hours is everywhere in our culture; even the sleep science community tells us 8 is the magic number. I was regularly getting 8 hours of sleep, oftentimes more, but it wasn’t until I started sleeping less and going to bed later that getting up became easier.

When I started to sleep less than 8 hours is when I began to wake up without a headache, nausea, or body aches.

Everybody has a different magic number. It’s probably not even 8.

If the typical doesn’t work for you, do the atypical

I mentioned earlier that I tried some extreme stuff. Before that, I tried what everyone recommends. But there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; I had to create my own.

It turned out that there wasn’t anything special I needed to add. No fancy alarm or sleep style. In fact, it was the removal of the cushy systems I had built that helped me win my wake up battle.

Do I jump up as soon as the sun peaks up out of the night? Absolutely not. But I think it’s safe to say that waking up on the first alarm without a snooze or feeling like I might be sick qualifies me as an early bird.