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How to Become an Early Riser – Part II
Last Monday’s post, How to become an Early Riser, obviously touched a lot of people. That post generated more links than I can count, sending more new traffic to this site than any other post or article I’ve written. And the traffic logs indicate that the increase was decentralized (not attributable to a mention in any major source).
You can get an idea of what that post did for StevePavlina.com’s Alexa traffic (note the big spike in late May 2005). Alexa isn’t very accurate, but it’s good enough to spot general trends.
Last Monday I did a Google search on “how to become an early riser” (in quotes). It returned zero results. Now see how many results it returns.
OK, so this was a setup. But why? Getting up early is a relatively benign topic, isn’t it? At least I thought it was at the time I posted it.
Since this seems to be a topic of interest, although I don’t quite understand why, I thought I’d make a follow-up post to add more detail.
First, on the subject of going to bed when you’re sleepy…doing it properly requires a mixture of awareness and common sense.
If you’re doing stimulating activities before bed, you’ll be able to stay up later and avoid sleep for a while. In college I would participate in poker games that would last until the wee hours of the morning, and then we would often go out for breakfast. I may stay up later than my normal bedtime if I work, hang out with friends, or do other stimulating activities.
But this is not what I meant by noticing when you are sleepy. I mentioned the proof of not being able to read more than a couple of pages of text without losing concentration. This doesn’t mean waiting until you’re about to drop from exhaustion.
The onset of sleepiness I’m referring to is when your brain starts releasing hormones to knock you out. This is different from being tired. In fact, you feel like falling asleep. But for this to happen, you need to create the right conditions for it to happen. This means giving yourself some downtime before bed. I think reading is a good way to relax before bed. There are those who say that reading in bed is a bad idea…that you should just sleep in bed. I’ve never had a problem though, as when I’m too sleepy to continue reading, I can put the book down and go to sleep. But read in a chair if you prefer.
Another test you can use is this. Ask yourself, “If I went to bed now, how quickly could I fall asleep?” If you think it would take more than 15 minutes to fall asleep, I say go ahead and stay up.
Once you establish a fixed wake-up time, it may take some practice to hone in on the right bedtime range for you. In the beginning you may see some huge swings, staying up too late one night and going to bed too early another night. But eventually you’ll get an idea of when you can go to bed and sleep right away while allowing yourself to wake up refreshed the next day.
To avoid staying up too late, give yourself a deadline for going to bed, and even if you’re not completely sleepy, go to bed at that time no matter what. I have a good idea of the minimum amount of sleep I need. 6.5 hours a night is sustainable for me, but I can do 5 hours in a pinch and be fine as long as I don’t do it every night. The most I sleep is 7.5 hours. Before I started waking up at a set time every morning, I would often sleep for 8-9 hours, sometimes up to 10 hours if I was really tired.
If you consume caffeine during the day, it’s likely to mess with your sleep cycles. So the original post assumes you’re not drugging yourself to stay awake. If you are addicted to caffeine, break the addiction first. Don’t expect natural sleepiness to occur at the right time if you’re messing with your brain chemistry.
The idea of the original post was to explain how to develop the habit of getting up early. So the advice is geared towards creating the habit. Once the habit is established, run more unconsciously. You can be doing stimulating activities like working or playing video games, and you’ll just know when it’s time to go to bed, even though it might be a different time each night. The sleepiness test is important in developing the habit, but the more subtle cues will take over later.
You can always sleep late once in a while if you need to. If I stay up until 3 in the morning, I’m not going to get up at 5 the next morning. But the next day I will go back to my usual routine.
I recommend getting up at the same time for 30 days in a row to keep the habit going, but after that you will be so conditioned to waking up at the same time that it will be hard to sleep. I decided to sleep later. Saturday morning and I didn’t set my alarm, but I woke up automatically at 4:58am. Then I tried to sleep, but I was wide awake and couldn’t go back to sleep. oh well Once the habit is established, it’s not difficult at all to get up, assuming you go to sleep at bedtime.
If you have children, adapt as needed. My children are 5 and 1 years old. Sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night; my daughter has a habit of doing this lately, showing up in the bedroom to tell my wife and me her dreams, or sometimes just to talk. . And I know what it’s like when there’s a baby that wakes up every few hours. So if you’re in that situation, I say the rule is to sleep when you can. Babies are not very good at keeping to schedules. 🙂
If you can’t get out of bed when the alarm goes off, it’s likely due to a lack of self-discipline. If you have enough self-discipline, you will get out of bed no matter what. Motivation can also help, but motivation is short-lived and can only last for a few days. Discipline is like a muscle. The more you build it, the more you can trust it. Everyone has some discipline (can you hold your breath?), but not everyone develops it. There are many ways to build discipline – I have written an entire chapter on this topic in my upcoming book. But basically it’s about taking on small challenges, conquering them and progressively moving on to bigger ones. It’s like progressive weight training. As your self-discipline becomes stronger, a challenge like getting out of bed at a certain time will become trivially easy. But if your self-discipline has atrophied, it can seem like an almost insurmountable obstacle.
Why get up early?
I’d say the main reason is that you’ll have a lot more time to do things that are more interesting than sleeping.
Again, I gained about 10-15 hours a week doing this. That extra time is very noticeable. By 6:30 a.m. I’ve worked out, showered, eaten breakfast, and am at my desk ready to go to work. I can put many hours into a productive workday, and I usually finish work by 5pm (and that includes personal “work” like email, paying bills, picking up daughter from preschool, etc.). This gives me 5-6 hours of discretionary time every night for family, leisure activities, Toastmasters, reading, journaling, etc. And best of all, I still have energy during this time. Having time for everything that is important to me makes me feel very balanced, relaxed and optimistic.
Think about what you could do with that extra time. Even an extra 30 minutes a day is enough to exercise daily, read a book or two a month, blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A small amount of extra time each day adds up to significant amounts over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours in a year. This is more than a month of full-time work (40 hours per week). We double it if you save 60 minutes a day and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings was about 90 minutes/day. It’s like getting a free bonus every decade. I use this time to do things that I didn’t have time and energy to do before. It’s wonderful. 🙂
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