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zen habits: How I Became an Early Riser

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How I Became an Early Riser

I know, Steve Pavlina has done this already, but I've found that waking early has been one of the best things I've done in the last year, and I thought I'd share my tips. I just posted about my morning routine, and thought you might like to know how I get up at 4:30 a.m.

For many years, I was a late riser. I loved to sleep in. Then things changed, because I had to wake up between 6-6:30 a.m. to fix my kids' lunches and get them ready for school. But last year, when I decided to train for my first marathon, I decided that I needed to start running in the mornings if I was to have any time left for my family.

So, I set out to make waking up early a habit. I started by getting up at 5:30 a.m., then at 5 a.m. When that became a habit, and I had to wake up at 4 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. for an early long run, it wasn't a problem. And last November, when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I decided to get up at 4 a.m. to write for at least an hour a day. Now that I completed that novel-writing goal, I don't need to wake that early anymore, but have settled on a happy compromise of waking at 4:30 a.m. Some days, when I'm really tired (if I go to sleep late), I'll wake at 5:00 or 5:30, but that's still earlier than I used to wake up.

Here are my tips for becoming an early riser:

  • Don't make drastic changes. Start slowly, by waking just 15-30 minutes earlier than usual. Get used to this for a few days. Then cut back another 15 minutes. Do this gradually until you get to your goal time.
  • Allow yourself to sleep earlier. You might be used to staying up late, perhaps watching TV or surfing the Internet. But if you continue this habit, while trying to get up earlier, sooner or later one is going to give. And if it is the early rising that gives, then you will crash and sleep late and have to start over. I suggest going to bed earlier, even if you don't think you'll sleep, and read while in bed. If you're really tired, you just might fall asleep much sooner than you think.
  • Put your alarm clock far from you bed. If it's right next to your bed, you'll shut it off or hit snooze. Never hit snooze. If it's far from your bed, you have to get up out of bed to shut it off. By then, you're up. Now you just have to stay up.
  • Go out of the bedroom as soon as you shut off the alarm. Don't allow yourself to rationalize going back to bed. Just force yourself to go out of the room. My habit is to stumble into the bathroom and go pee. By the time I've done that, and flushed the toilet and washed my hands and looked at my ugly mug in the mirror, I'm awake enough to face the day.
  • Do not rationalize. If you allow your brain to talk you out of getting up early, you'll never do it. Don't make getting back in bed an option.
  • Allow yourself to sleep in once in awhile. Despite what I just said in the previous point, once in awhile it's nice to sleep in. As long as it's not a regular thing. I do it maybe once a week or so.
  • Make waking up early a reward. Yes, it might seem at first that you're forcing yourself to do something hard, but if you make it pleasurable, soon you will look forward to waking up early. My reward used to be to make a hot cup of coffee and read a book. I've recently cut out coffee, but I still enjoy reading my book. Other rewards might be a tasty treat for breakfast (smoothies! yum!) or watching the sunrise, or meditating. Find something that's pleasurable for you, and allow yourself to do it as part of your morning routine.
  • Take advantage of all that extra time. Don't wake up an hour or two early just to read your blogs, unless that's a major goal of yours. Don't wake up early and waste that extra time. Get a jump start on your day! I like to use that time to get a head start on preparing my kids' lunches, on planning for the rest of the day (when I set my MITs), on exercising or meditating, and on reading. By the time 6:30 rolls around, I've done more than many people do the entire day.
  • Enjoy the break of dawn! As much as you can, look outside (or better yet, get outside!) and watch the sky turn light. It's beautiful. And it's quiet and peaceful. It's now my favorite time of day. Getting up early is a reward in itself for me.
See also:


Anonymous said...

thanks so much for this ... i've been trying to do this actually for the last several weeks. i'll try out some of the tips.

Anonymous said...

Good job ... I've been an early riser for most of my adult life, and I would never trade the quiet of the morning for the late evenings.

Leo said...

Thanks guys ... I used to be a night owl, and my justification for not waking early instead was that I could get just as much done at night as I could in the morning.

However, it never worked out that way. I was so tired at night that I would stay up for hours, vegging out in front of the TV or the computer. Not very productive hours.

My time in the morning is much more productive, for me personally. I can focus on my stuff, instead of work stuff.

Anonymous said...

wow - these truly are zen habits. It sounds like you have become an actual zen monk. Next post - how to beat yourself with a bamboo stick for hours a day.

Leo said...

lol. not likely ... self-mortification isn't my thing.

i'm more into simple pleasures, like watching the sun rise or reading when it's quiet.

also, i know you were joking, but zen monks don't beat themselves with anything. :)

Anonymous said...

My brain always repeats me... c'mmon 5 more minutes...and i can't helpgoing back to bed and oversleeping...lol hehehe

Leo said...

Hi Tony, thanks for the comment. I definitely know what you mean!

That's what I meant about not letting your brain rationalize going back to bed. Don't listen to your brain. Just get up, turn off the alarm clock, and head out the door, no questions. Once you've been up for five minutes, perhaps drinking coffee or tea or some water, then you'll be more awake and more ready to judge your options.

That's also why a morning routine is good ... if you just go through the motions of the routine, you don't think about what you're doing or whether you should go back to sleep. You just do it.

Anonymous said...

One of the tips you failed include was getting to bed early. You may be more productive for the first few hours but over the long term sleep deprivation will catch up with you.

Unknown said...

How many hours do you sleep a day? Is it same on weekends?

Leo said...

Thanks for the tips, guys.

Actually, one of my tips was to go to bed earlier. The problem is that, at first, you might not be used to going to bed at that time, so you might have a problem sleeping. So, I suggested reading in bed. If you're tired, you'll fall asleep.

How many hours do I sleep? It depends on when I go to bed (usually between 9:30 and 10:30), but between 6-7 on average. On weekends, I generally wake at the same time, although I might take a nap in the late mornings or sometime in the afternoon on occasion simply because there's more time on weekends, sometimes. I think 6-7 hours are good enough for me (everyone has different needs). If I begin to get tired, my body will tell me, which is why you should allow yourself to go to bed early if you're tired.

Anonymous said...

First time reading your blog (via Lifehacker)...great stuff here.

I'm trying to get up earlier as well, so here's what I've started doing to keep myself from flopping back into bed.

When the alarm goes off, I sit up and then put on my running shorts and shoes that I've left next to the bed. It's much harder to go back to sleep with the shoes on, and the habit of putting on the gear reminds me to get out the door...working so far!

Leo said...

Hi Mark, welcome and thanks for the comment. I love your idea. Good luck waking up early! It takes a little while to get used to, but once you do, you'll love it.

Anonymous said...

I seem to have a bigger problem. My brain is smarter than me and so I dream that I have woken up and gone about doing my work. Then at some point into the day in my dream I actually wake up and feel kinda frustrated. Sometimes it is worse, the dreams are nested :)

I am now trying to wake up without an alarm.

Anonymous said...

I am the previous poster.
anyway, I came via Lifehacker..
Nice stuff you got here.

Leo said...

Yes, the "dreaming you're awake" syndrome can be a problem. But not an insurmountable one. Try a number of differnt things to help you actually wake up. I suggest a REALLY loud alarm clock that you place across the room. Eventually, you will wake up enough to realize that the alarm is going off (even if you're still half asleep) and get up to turn it off. If you have to actually get out of bed and walk across the room, you should then be awake enough to realize you're no longer dreaming.

I've had times when I didn't even wake up, but walked across the room, shut off the alarm, and went back to bed without waking up ... those were usually times when I was really really tired. If that's the case, I suggest going to bed earlier and reading yourself to sleep. I also recommend waking up just a little earlier each day rather than an hour or more.

Good luck, and welcome to my site!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your suggestion.
"I suggest a REALLY loud alarm clock that you place across the room."
I used to do this, much to the annoyance of my roommates when I was in school. They finally told me and I have stopped using alarms to wake up, mainly because I don't respond well to sounds. In fact, my roommates tell me I once slept through a fire alarm incident.

So, now I have stopped trying very hard. I just let myself wake up whenever I wake up. Sometimes it works... sometimes it doesn't. I realize now that the more you try to control something the more it gets out of control; something similar to Tao.

Before I try to flood your comment box with many "something"s I will stop. It was nice conversing with you.

Thanks again for your suggestions and good luck.


Leo said...

Hi sri ... well, if allowing yourself to wake up naturally works best for you, I say go for it. You certainly sound like a sound sleeper ... you actually sound a lot like my wife! :)

As for flooding my inbox, don't give it a second thought ... as long as it's not spam, I enjoy it! As you might have seen in my other post, Email Zen: Clearing your inbox (see sidebar for the link), I power thru my email pretty quickly and keep my inbox empty all the time.

Comment away!

Anonymous said...

Hi, good tips! :) thanks for sharing

do you want to know my method for getting up in the morning?
...I have two alarm clocks, one is next to my bed and the other one is in my bathroom.
So.. when the first alarm clock rings, i'm forced to get up and go to the bathroom to stop the second one it starts to ring.
..how clever i am !! :P

Anonymous said...

..sorry, i meant: "..go to the bathroom to stop the second one before it starts to ring."


Leo said...

Hi giuli, great comment! Lol. That's actually an excellent idea. I say do whatever it takes. One of my motivations for getting up quickly is to turn off the alarm clock as soon as possible so it doesn't wake up the wife and babies.

Anonymous said...

Frankly what you have written is much better than pavlina's article on rising up early.

many thanks for sharing this.

Leo said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the article and hope you find it useful. However, I try to avoid disparaging my fellow bloggers ... Steve Pavlina's article is popular for a reason -- it's very useful.

Anonymous said...

My trick to getting up more easily was to buy a timer for the bedside lamp. This clicks the light on about 10 minutes ahead of the alarm. It isn't enough to fully wake me up, but it makes it easier to swing out of bed when the alarm finally goes.

Leo said...

Nice tip! I hadn't heard this one before.

Jeff Kee said...

.. it's too bad I went to bed at 4 last night. But I still got up at 10:30 which is 6.5 hours of sleep - a healthy amount, and I got some reading and such done.

Anonymous said...

I'm a sophomore at a college University taking 18 hours... and people just can't believe that I wake up at 6 in the morning to make a 9am class. No, I'm not the pretentious girl who spends those 3 hours doing her hair and figuring out what to wear (I only spend about 20 minutes doing that stuff)... but I LOVE to have those hours in the morning to just sit, drink my coffee, eat a good breakfast, figure out what i need to do for the day, and just wake up and prepare my mind for the day. It's very peaceful.

Morningtime is my favorite time of the day.. and those kids who roll out of bed, put their shoes on and grab a poptart as they run out the door (only to fall back asleep at their desk) are really missing out.

I'm definitely going to raise my kids as morning people!!

**Wonderful article, by the way. I of course could not agree more with you*

Leo said...

@jeffkee ... Thanks for the comment. If that works for you, that's great. But I used to be a night owl and switched to being a morning person and I can testify that it's great. But everyone's different, so I'm not knocking your schedule.

@Tiffany: It's great to hear from another morning person. It sounds like you really get your day off to a great start! Thanks for the nice comments.

clin said...

I once read an article where the person suggested the following idea. He said you should practice waking up.

Basically, he said get into bed, as you normally would, set the alarm for about 15-20 minutes ahead, and lie down and pretend to sleep. Once it goes off, turn the alarm off, head to the bathroom, and start the morning routine.

The idea was to practice this enough so that you would eliminate the "thinking" part from waking up, and go through a morning routine. The claim was that most people try to talk themselves out of waking up, and that's why it doesn't work.

Of course, the big problem with this approach is finding the time to practice it.

Leo said...

Thanks for that! I love the idea. Practice makes perfect.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Viet-Nam Vet and suffering with PTSD. I can go to bed early or late and after sleeping an hour or two and experiencing numerous nightmares am suddenly wide awake. I read, surf the net until my eyes get heavy and then go back to bed. After a short period of combat nightmares and restless sleep I'm wide awake again. This has been going on for the past thirty five years. Oh yes, I'm on meds for this but they are changed on a regular basis and don't seem to work. Good thing that I'm a 100% disabled vet and don't have to work or put up with kids or a daily schedule. Becouse of my PTSD I have spent most of my past thirty five years in VA mental hospitols and in thearapy. So! You go ahead and toot your horn and tell everyone what works for you but remember one thing! You couldn't do it if it wern't for a veteran.

Anonymous said...

Previously I was a late-riser - anything before 9.30 would make me itch. Then during my final year of university I discovered that if I got up at 6.30 on the day of exams, I would perform significantly better! Now I am a big fan of getting up reasonably early, although 4.30 would be far too much.

Leo said...

@Vietnam vet: I work with Vietnam vets who have PTSD every day ... part of my job is helping them get their benefits, and working with the VA to improve services for veterans. I am sorry for your condition. I didn't mean to imply that waking early would work for everyone -- obviously those whose medical condition prevents it shouldn't follow my advice. My intention is to share my experience with those who want to wake up early. If you don't want to wake up early, or can't, this article is obviously not for you.

@Mike G: Thanks for sharing your experiences! You and I are proof that night owls can and have changed, and that it can be a good thing. I don't think people should try to become early risers if that's not their thing, but I can testify, like you, that it's nice to wake up early and that it can be done.

Anonymous said...

That's all fine for the few of you that well are choosing to be up that early and your day still starts later. I have to be up at 3 and in work at 4 so by your means to wake up earlier i would be up at midnight. No matter how many times i get up at 3 it is never easier and it's definitly not rewarding. I always thought i was a morning person getting up at 530 6 oclock. but i was wrong i hate mornings. Just thought i would comment to let some of you who try this that it might not work for you. as everyone is different and operate better at different hours. good luck

Anonymous said...

The writer of this article obviously doesn't have a full time job nor much experience in the real world. What a joke. Get real.

Leo said...

"The writer of this article obviously doesn't have a full time job nor much experience in the real world. What a joke. Get real."

I'm curious how you came to this conclusion. Not only do I have a full-time job, I work a second job, do this blog, have six kids (with soccer, choir, academic challenge bowl, spelling bee, national junior honor society, parent teacher conferences), am training for a triathlon, among other things. Waking up early helps me be more productive.

Jeff Kee said...

I did have my occasional early-rising spurts that lasted a few days, and it did feel great to be that productive...

I do want to try it again... but since I woke up so late yesterday, I decided it's easier for me to pull off an all-nighter. It's 6AM here now - and Ive been working all night and got a lot of stuff done.

I'm going to head out to the cafe to grab a breakfast and tea... thanks for the inspiration.

Leo said...

Thanks for the great comment, Jeff. If I've inspired you, that's awesome. Good luck staying up today, and waking up early!

Jeff Kee said...

I did it.

I stayed up all day and it's almost 7pm and I'm good.. apart from a 1 hour nap I took.

I wish my body could run on 1 hour of sleep a day - I'd be so much more productive...

Leo said...

You are awesome, Jeff. Congrats on staying up all day ... and good luck on waking up early tomorrow! Let me know how it goes. Get to bed early, read in bed, and you should fall asleep easily.