How I Hacked My Sleep and Turned Into a Morning Person

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I’m not big into New Year’s resolutions, but the end of the year does tend to invite both reflection and planning. Being newly self-employed, I knew how important it would be to establish a routine. I also recently discovered the concept of the 30 day challenge. I like it because it’s less daunting than a year, but it’s longer than the 21 days it supposedly takes to create a habit.

Inspired by a developer I follow on Twitter, @ollierattue I set my first 30 Day Challenge of 2013 to get up before 7am each day, including weekends. I started on January 2nd.

This also nicely supported two of my other goals for the year to reintegrate regular reading and writing back into my life. Of the many articles I read, the best advice I found was regarding the importance of the evening routine in having a successful morning.

In other words, if you want to get up early, TAKE YOUR ASS TO BED.

Duh.

I crafted a night routine with the following goals:

  • No eating or drinking one hour before bed.
  • No screens (TV, laptop, phone) one hour before bed
  • Get ready for bed early in the evening
  • Spend the last 30-60 minutes before bed reading (paper or Kindle only)

In order to make the routine work, the first thing I had to do was give up live television. Most of the shows we like to watch come on at 10pm, which is when I should be turning the lights out. We can get all of our shows on Hulu anyway, right on our TV.

I also put my phone, which double as my alarm, on my dresser across the room. When it went off, I got up, turned it off, and headed straight into the bathroom, where I had my clothes laid out, and got dressed immediately. The space heater in the bathroom helps immensely on cold mornings.

My morning routine looked like this:

  • Feed cats. (They’re nearly always throwing themselves against the bedroom door by 6am so there was no chance of forgetting this vital step)
  • Do other cat chores (litter, water refill etc)
  • Make smoothie and tea
  • Write three pages
  • Review to-do list for the day
  • Clear email inbox

One of the things I read about waking up successfully was not to try to ‘ease’ your way to your target hour, but just go right for it. So I set my alarm for 5:30am most days and I was surprised how quickly it became normal to pop up at that time. It also became easier to go to bed early because very quickly I began to actually be tired around 9:00 or 10:00pm. There were some days that all I could think about after getting up was how soon I could take a nap. But I actually never ended up napping. I’d get wrapped up in the days tasks and soon I wasn’t having midday slumps anymore. I also stopped drinking coffee at home and started drinking large amounts of mostly decaf tea.

For my new writing habit, I use a site I learned about from Heather, called 750words.com. So far I have a 50 day streak. On the reading front, I set up a Goodreads account and I’ve read 11 books in the past six weeks, which might be more books than I read in all of 2012.

There are lots of people who will tell you that most successful people are early risers. I don’t know about that, and I’m not suggesting that anyone who sleeps past 10am isn’t productive. I’ve done plenty of great work between midnight and 4am.* I just decided to try something new, and so far I’m liking the results.

Early mornings give me quiet and automatic alone time and abstaining from any digital communication before I’ve given myself time to think has been great for clarifying my priorities. I even managed to keep to my schedule while changing time zones by three hours to attend the presidential inauguration.

When my 30 Day challenge officially ended, I had every intention of keeping up with it, but in early February I caught a cold and then I had surgery. This is my first week getting back on the wagon. Since my wife doesn’t even get home from work until 9:00pm or later on her work days, realistically I don’t go to sleep until 11:00 on those days. So I’m not hitting the 5:30am mark yet, but I’ve been able to keep to 7:00 or 7:30 at the very latest. I try to make sure I’m getting at least 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. I know if I start shorting myself sleep just to make some arbitrary wake up time, I will crash and burn.

If you want to do a 30 day challenge, but need a little public accountability to stay motivated, there’s a 30 Day Challenge website. You can read notes from my sleep challenge.

I’m still deciding on my next challenge. The format is full of possibilities.

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