I am a recovering night owl. I have been a night owl my entire life. There’s something about being awake when most others are asleep that makes me feel I’m getting more out of life or something. Little did I know (or realize), but people who wake up earlier than me get that much more time out of life. What an epiphany! Yeah, took me a while to figure that one out.
If you’re a night owl and have to wake up fairly early like me, you feel my pain. Grogginess throughout the morning that not even coffee can cure, and irritation from being tired ring a bell? Even if you’re not a night owl, these side effects from lack of sleep probably happen to you too.
It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to those around us who feel our wrath when we’re short-tempered. So I devised a Kaizen solution that has been working for me, and may work for you too.
7 Sleep Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Waking Up Earlier
1) Have a process for winding down before bedtime
I’ve been meditating before going to bed for two reasons: I want to get better at meditating (kill two birds with one stone), and it calms my mind.
I don’t talk a lot about my A.D.D. on here because, to me, it’s not a real problem but rather something I have to learn how to live with (without medication). My mind goes 100 miles a minute, and that’s the main reason I have a hard time getting to sleep before midnight. Meditation really helps with calming my mind, which calms my body as well.
Your process could be taking a bath, drinking some chamomile tea, or reading a chapter out of a book. Whatever you choose, try it for the next two weeks. Repeat the same process every night about 30 minutes before the time you want to go to sleep.
2) Avoid caffeine or sugar after 5pm (or 2pm if you’re really sensitive to it)
I love my coffee, and I love chocolate. Unfortunately those are two of the leading causes of keeping you up at night. They’re also the cause of you not sleeping well (see #4 for more details). As much as it pains me, I’m getting rid of those two things after 5pm.
If you typically have coffee or chocolate in the evening, don’t just quit cold-turkey. That will cause you to fail. We’re trying to trick the mind and body here, so no abrupt changes. Still have your coffee or chocolate, just cut back by 30 minutes each day over the next two weeks.
3) Brainwash yourself before going to sleep
As you’re trying to fall asleep, tell yourself that you’re going to wake up at [desired time] and that you’ll be wide awake, refreshed and ready to start the day. This may sound odd, but it works. The more you do it, the more it will work. You’ll eventually start waking up about a minute before your alarm goes off. It’s so interesting how the mind works. Give it a shot for the next couple of weeks and see what happens.
4) Get enough quality sleep (6-10 hours depending on the person)
Now don’t go choosing 6 hours if you know you really function best off of 9 hours. This is a natural thing, and it behooves you to go with what your body needs. Your body needs recovery time, and that’s exactly what it’s doing while you’re sleeping.
It doesn’t matter if you sleep for 12 hours, your body and mind won’t be repaired if you don’t have that deep restful sleep. A couple of ways to improve restful sleep is to avoid caffeine and sugar, and also avoid eating anything within a couple hours of sleeping. All of these have proven to lead to insomnia.
5) Get an alarm clock or smartphone app that wakes you up slowly
Alarm clocks that jolt you out of your sleep are bad for your health. They trigger your “fight or flight” response, which increases adrenaline levels and puts your body into a state of shock. In addition, it leads to high blood pressure, stress and anxiety throughout the day.
I use an iPhone app called Sleep Cycle. It starts to wake me up about 30 minutes before the time I actually want to wake up. It starts out with very soft sounds and increases the volume every 5 or 10 minutes, which starts to wake up the conscious mind. By the time it gets to my desired wake-up time, the sound is loud enough to where my eyes open and I’m fully awake, but without the stress.
There are a lot of apps and alarm clocks out there that will do a similar thing. Try some out and see what works for you. Choose to start out your day on a good note.
6) Put your alarm clock across the room
One of the surest ways to sleep past your desired wake up time is the snooze button. When you’re in that half-awake-half-asleep state your mind and body still want to sleep, and in that hypnotic state your hand will mysteriously push that snooze button without you realizing it until it’s too late. You know what I’m talking about.
If you put your alarm clock across the room, you have to get up and turn it off. Warning: DO NOT get back into bed! My sleepy mind is very smart. It tells me that I should just lay there for a bit and think about my day ahead. Then I fall back asleep. My sleepy mind wins every time!
7) Physically get out of bed when you wake up
If you use the step above, you will already be out of bed to turn off the alarm. If you have the alarm next to your bed, start getting in the habit of getting out of bed when it goes off and turn on the light. Stretch out a bit or walk around to get your blood flowing.
The worst thing you can do is stay in bed after the alarm goes off. I used to set three alarms that would go off about every 15 minutes. The first alarm was the time that I wanted to wake up and the last alarm was the time I absolutely had to wake up in order to get to work on time. Guess which one I chose every morning. Snooze through #1, snooze through #2, jump out of bed at #3 and rush through my morning routine in order to make it to work on time. Every morning was the same. No wonder I had anxiety throughout the day.
Just set one alarm and get out of bed when it goes off. I used to be so afraid that I would sleep through my alarm if I only set one. However, something surprising happened when I only set one alarm: I actually woke up! It works.
Bonus: Kaizen steps to waking up earlier, by going to bed earlier
Don’t change your routine significantly or all at once. Instead, go to bed 5 minutes earlier every night until you get to your desired sleep time. No more, no less. Start your nightly routine 5 minutes earlier, as well. This way your subconscious won’t notice a difference, and little by little you will create a healthy habit of going to bed earlier, which will make it easier for you to wake up earlier.
Are you good at waking up at your desired time? What did I miss? What techniques do you use that can help us out? Please tell us in the comments section below.
Photo by Don Dearing