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How to Become an Early Riser – Part II
Last Monday’s post How to be an early riser obviously struck a chord with many people. This post has 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 wave was decentralized (not attributed to a mention of any main source).
You can get an idea of what this post did for StevePavlina.com’s Alexa traffic (note the huge spike at the end of May 2005). Alexa isn’t very accurate, but it’s good enough to notice general trends.
Last Monday I did a Google search on “how to be an early riser” (in quotes). It returned zero results. Now look at how many results it returns.
OK, so this was an installation. But why? Getting up early is a relatively benign topic, isn’t it? At least I thought so at the time I posted it.
Since this seems like a topic of interest, even if I don’t quite understand why, I thought I’d make a follow-up post to add some more details.
First, on the subject of going to bed when you are asleep…doing this correctly requires a mixture of awareness and common sense.
If you do interesting activities before bed, you will be able to stay up later and avoid falling asleep for a while. In college I used to participate in poker games that went until dawn, and then we would often go to breakfast after that. I can easily stay up later than my usual time in bed if I work, go out with friends, or do other interesting activities.
But that’s not what I meant by noticing when you sleep. I mention the test of not being able to read more than a couple of pages of text without losing concentration. This does not mean waiting until you are about to collapse.
The sleep onset I’m referring to is when your brain starts releasing hormones to knock you out. This is different from just being tired. You actually feel yourself falling asleep. But for this to happen, you need to create the right conditions for it to happen. This means giving yourself some time before sleep. I find that reading is a great way to wind down before bed. Some people say reading in bed is a bad idea… that you should only sleep in bed. But I never have a problem with it, since when I’m too sleepy to continue reading, I can just put the book down and go to sleep. But read on a chair if you prefer.
Another test you can use is this. Ask yourself, “If I were to go 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 set a fixed wake-up time, it may take a little practice to hone in on the right bedtime range for you. In the beginning, you may see some big swings, staying up too late one night and going to bed too early another night. But eventually you’ll get a feel for when you can go to bed and fall asleep right away while allowing yourself to wake up refreshed the next day.
As a failsafe to prevent yourself from staying up too late, give yourself a deadline for sleep, and even if you are not fully asleep, 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 OK as long as I don’t do it every night. The maximum I ever slept was 7.5 hours. Before I started waking up at a fixed time every morning, I would often sleep 8-9 hours, sometimes even 10 hours if I was really tired.
If you consume caffeine during the day, it is likely to mess with your sleep cycle. So the original post assumes you don’t drug yourself to stay awake. If you are addicted to caffeine, then break the addiction first. Don’t expect natural sleep to come at the right time if you’re screwing up your brain chemistry.
The idea of the original post was to explain how to develop the habit of getting up early. So the advice aims to create the habit. Once the habit is established, it runs more unconsciously. You can do interesting activities like work or play video games, and you’ll just know when it’s time to go to bed, even though it may be a different time every night. The sleep test is important to develop the habit, but the more subtle cues will take over after that.
You can still sleep late now and then if you need to. If I stay up until 3am, I won’t get up at 5am the next morning. But I’ll be back to my usual routine tomorrow.
I recommend waking up at the same time for 30 days straight to get into the habit, but after that you will be so conditioned to wake up at the same time that it will be difficult to sleep in. Saturday morning and I didn’t set my alarm, but I woke up automatically at 4:58 am. Then I tried to sleep, but I was wide awake and could not go back to sleep. oh well Once the habit is established, it is not difficult at all to wake up, assuming you will sleep at the beginning of sleep.
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, popping into the room to tell my wife and I about her dreams or sometimes just to talk. . And I know what it’s like to have a baby wake up every few hours. So, if you are in this situation, I say that the rule is to sleep when you can. Babies are not very good at sticking to schedules. 🙂
If you can’t get out of bed when your 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 may only last a few days. Discipline is like a muscle. The more you build it, the more you can rely on it. Everyone has some discipline (can you hold your breath?), but not everyone develops it. There are many ways to build discipline — I wrote an entire chapter on this topic in my upcoming book. But basically it comes down to taking on small challenges, conquering them, and gradually progressing to bigger ones. It’s like progressive weight training. As self-discipline becomes stronger, a challenge like getting out of bed at a certain time will eventually become trivially easy. But if self-discipline atrophies, it can seem like an almost insurmountable obstacle.
Why get up early?
I would say the main reason is that you will have a lot more time to do more interesting things than sleep.
Again, I gained about 10-15 hours a week doing this. This extra time is very noticeable. At 6:30 am, I’ve already exercised, showered, had breakfast, and I’m in my office ready to go to work. I can put in many hours each day of productive work, and I’m usually done with work by 5:00 pm (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 evening for family, leisure activities, Toastmasters, reading, newspapers, 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 every month, keep a blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A little extra time each day adds up. significant amount of money over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours a year. That’s more than a month of full-time work (40 hours per week). Double it if you save 60 minutes a day, and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings were about 90 minutes/day. That’s like getting a free bonus year every decade. I use this time to do things that I did not have time and energy before. It’s wonderful. 🙂
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