Jordan Lejuwaan 5 min read

How to Become an Early Riser

Random + Awesome

How to Become an Early Riser

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
– Aristotle

Are  morning people born or made? In my case it was definitely made. In my  early 20s, I rarely went to bed before midnight, and I’d almost always  sleep in late. I usually didn’t start hitting my stride each day until  late afternoon.

But after a while I couldn’t ignore the high  correlation between success and rising early, even in my own life. On  those rare occasions where I did get up early, I noticed that my  productivity was almost always higher, not just in the morning but all  throughout the day. And I also noticed a significant feeling of  well-being. So being the proactive goal-achiever I was, I set out to  become a habitual early riser. I promptly set my alarm clock for 5AM…

… and the next morning, I got up just before noon.


I  tried again many more times, each time not getting very far with it. I  figured I must have been born without the early riser gene. Whenever my  alarm went off, my first thought was always to stop that blasted noise  and go back to sleep. I tabled this habit for a number of years, but  eventually I came across some sleep research that showed me that I was  going about this problem the wrong way. Once I applied those ideas, I  was able to become an early riser consistently.

It’s hard to become an early riser using the wrong strategy. But with the right strategy, it’s relatively easy.

The  most common wrong strategy is this: You assume that if you’re going to  get up earlier, you’d better go to bed earlier. So you figure out how  much sleep you’re getting now, and then just shift everything back a few  hours. If you now sleep from midnight to 8am, you figure you’ll go to  bed at 10pm and get up at 6am instead. Sounds very reasonable, but it  will usually fail.

It seems there are two main schools of thought  about sleep patterns. One is that you should go to bed and get up at the  same times every day. It’s like having an alarm clock on both ends —  you try to sleep the same hours each night. This seems practical for  living in modern society. We need predictability in our schedules. And  we need to ensure adequate rest.

The second school says you should  listen to your body’s needs and go to bed when you’re tired and get up  when you naturally wake up. This approach is rooted in biology. Our  bodies should know how much rest we need, so we should listen to them.

Through  trial and error, I found out for myself that both of these schools are  suboptimal sleep patterns. Both of them are wrong if you care about  productivity. Here’s why:

If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes  go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than  five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re  wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem  is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every  night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to  day.

If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll  probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like  10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot  of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is  usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re  getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are  sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your  sleep times begin to drift.

The optimal solution for me has been  to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do  this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough  for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and  only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7  days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am),  but I go to bed at different times every night.

I go to bed when  I’m too sleepy to stay up. My sleepiness test is that if I couldn’t read  a book for more than a page or two without drifting off, I’m ready for  bed. Most of the time when I go to bed, I’m asleep within three minutes.  I lie down, get comfortable, and immediately I’m drifting off.  Sometimes I go to bed at 9:30pm; other times I stay up until midnight.  Most of the time I go to bed between 10-11pm. If I’m not sleepy, I stay  up until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Reading is an excellent  activity to do during this time, since it becomes obvious when I’m too  sleepy to read.

When my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it  off, stretch for a couple seconds, and sit up. I don’t think about it.  I’ve learned that the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am  to try to sleep in. So I don’t allow myself to have conversations in my  head about the benefits of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if  I want to sleep in, I always get up right away.

After a few days  of using this approach, I found that my sleep patterns settled into a  natural rhythm. If I got too little sleep one night, I’d automatically  be sleepier earlier and get more sleep the next night. And if I had lots  of energy and wasn’t tired, I’d sleep less. My body learned when to  knock me out because it knew I would always get up at the same time and  that my wake-up time wasn’t negotiable.

A side effect was that on  average, I slept about 90 minutes less per night, but I actually felt  more well-rested. I was sleeping almost the entire time I was in bed.

I  read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t  sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep  quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body  begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you  simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time,  you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but  you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from  getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole  night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed  earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a  pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep  right away.

So if you want to become an early riser (or just exert  more control over your sleep patterns), then try this: Go to bed only  when you’re too sleepy to stay up, and get up at a fixed time every  morning.

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