When it comes to sleep, then I’m a total chronolion. Getting up before dawn allows me to stay alert for the coming day and get shit done while everyone else is still sleeping. This article will tell you how to wake up early yourself. But first a short intro…
The Magic of Waking Up Early
It’s still completely pitch black. I’m still laying in my bed with my eyes closed. Still in a semi-dreaming state, I can’t yet recognize myself having woken up. My consciousness is still traversing in between the depths of my subconscious mind and wakefulness. I’m still lying there on my back. Still completely motionless and calm.
Have you ever felt it? This feeling of awareness where your mind begins to already explore everything within and without while the body is still restful, as if paralyzed.
Moments later, I consider myself awake. Having ventured deep inside the underworld, I’ve returned to a wakeful state, albeit it can’t be said that I’m fully alert yet. It’s very early – before dawn, even before that – and I’ve already rolled out of bed.
No alarm clock is needed because I’ve been getting up at about 5 AM (+/- 1 hour) for a long time now. I can’t even remember the last time I deliberately slept in for no seeming purpose.
I’m not going to lie, sometimes there is resistance. The bed is comfortable and cozy. Why not just stay in here for just a little longer? But those are the voices of my subconscious mind fighting for its last minutes of reign. As I’m progressing towards more wakefulness, my conscious self begins to achieve more and more awareness over its shadow. The soundtrack gets flipped and at one point I can jolt out of bed. Hooraah! It’s great to be alive.
It’s a different moment in time. The rest of the world is still sound asleep and dreaming. No birdsong, no traffic, no chatter – just silence.
As I’m doing my first stretch, I raise my hands above my head and reach for the ceiling. Any struggle I may have experienced beforehand has now completely vanished and I don’t even entertain the thought of ever wanting to go back to bed. I’ve managed to get myself out of the sandpit and it’s an amazing feeling to have.
After lightly warming up my body with some easy yoga movements. I do my first and mandatory Sun salutation, albeit there’s no sun to be found. This wakes up the spine and prepares me for the rest of the day. I crack my neck, shoulder blades and hips to regain the mobility I’ve lost over the course of the night. Yep…that’s what I needed…I’m ready.
Although I’ve returned from the realm of dreams, it can’t be said that I’ve made it in any way. I’ve won the first battle against the ego but that was just the beginning. Me 1 – Ego 0. (I don’t keep any real score.) I meditate for 30-45 minutes, take a cold shower, journal for 5 and get in position. I’m just getting started.
It’s still very early and there are still no signs of the Sun. As it finally rises, I’ve already punched in a lot of work. By that time, momentum has found its way to my side and I’m on a roll – I’ve entered flow. Eventually, once the rest of the world has woken up, I’ve already accomplished the lion’s share of the day. As I finally exit my batcave of productive creativity, I walk the streets like an enhanced version of myself. It’s the magic of waking up early (Watch the video on how to wake up early)
Waking Up Early and Productivity
That was the longest intro ever created. Hopefully you didn’t fall asleep. Unless you have a similar chronotype as I, your immediate reaction was probably something along the lines of pure horror or chills running down the spine.
Waking up early is probably one of the best productivity hacks I have. That extra hour or two may seem insignificant but if you use that time wisely it will make a huge difference. The best advantage to this is that there are less distractions overall. Everyone else is sound asleep, while you’re already in the fray of getting sh*t done.
I would like to also think that waking up early and success are in direct correlation. Most hustlers of the past and present sleep just a few hours already but having that extra period of quiet time will keep you one step ahead in the game of life. Like the Chinese proverb goes: “The early bird guts the worm.” Everyone else is literally sleeping and thus missing out on achieving their dreams.
If the world around you is disorganized, then you won’t be able to attain Jedi-like concentration either. Focus is necessary for extraordinary results. As the world begins to wake up, it starts to create more random noise and chatter that will all mislead you from your flow. Someone knocking on the door again, more meetings, another text message, those loud neighbours again and on and on ad nauseam.
Waking Up Early and Creativity
Most creative artists and writers do their best work in the Twilight Zone. At a moment when they’re so deep inside their own art that it feels as if they’ve entered another realm. But that they really have.
The time in between day and night is magical. You’re awake but still quite sleepy, which means that you can harness both your conscious and subconscious mind. Not being able to tell much difference from dreams and reality, you begin to see random rabbit holes everywhere you look – in the walls, in space, in your work, your own head – and will eagerly go down them. As you fall into such a chrono abyss, you’ll begin another Odyssey that brings together your spontaneous potential and the determination of your rationality.
Waking up early before dawn also allows you to become more inspired as well. As you amaze over the wondrous beauty and mystery of the world, you may be able to find your muse and connect with it. You can probably feel that there’s a masterpiece somewhere hidden inside you. Maybe you just need the right conditions to manifest it. You need to put yourself under circumstances that allow you to become semi-delirious but focused at the same time.
How to Wake Up Early
Without Punching a Hole in the Wall…
Nor Your Own Teeth
But how to do this successfully? Can you wake up early without throwing your alarm clock through a wall, punching your own teeth, feeling exhausted or downing gallons of coffee and one shot of espresso after another? Of course, and you need not go insane in the head or zombie out in the process. Once you go through the shift, you’ll metamorphosize your chronotype into a lion who’ll tackle the day early in the morning.
The trick isn’t in grinding your teeth and pushing through with sheer discipline. Although willpower is a key component in here, you won’t be able to sustain a Spartan-esque training regimen for long. There are too many detrimental and even scary consequences to lack of sleep, such as false memories, hallucinations (albeit good for creativity), diabetes and increased risk of dying by 15%[i]. You’ll reduce your physical and mental performance to that of a zombie. The walking dead also get more hit by cars and fall off bridges…at least that’s what I’ve heard.
To wake up early and still feel energized, you have to improve the quality of your sleep. You’ll still get enough Z’s, but you’ll do it faster.
Now I’ll give you a few pointers for going through this chronoshift and becoming an early riser.
Adjust to the Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms are day and night cycles that trigger biological processes inside living organisms. They’re connected to the environment, planetary movements and get triggered by the time of day, exposure to light, external stressors etc. The expression of hormones, biomechanical functioning and sleep patterns are all linked to these rhythms.
We don’t actually need an alarm to get up in the morning because our inner circadian clocks will wake us up. Cortisol starts rising between 6 and 8 AM, peaking at 9 AM, so that we would have enough energy and alertness to roll out of bed. It’s our body’s built-in wake-your-a*s up mechanism that helps us to start moving and not get eaten. It also means that you shouldn’t feel the need to drink coffee first thing in the morning because your inner adrenalin pump should give you energy.
The circadian pattern of sleep is quite detrimental. Human growth hormone (HGH) actually gets released the most during the first few hours of shut-eye. HGH is essential for burning fat, maintaining and building lean muscle.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise
To improve the quality of your sleep and wake up energized, you would want to follow the circadian rhythms as much as possible. The optimal amount of shuteye is 7-9 hours. Less than 6 for even just a few nights straight will yield severe consequences to your health.
- Going to bed at 10-11 PM
- Waking up at 5-8 AM
Chances are, your sleep patterns are all messed up. This is caused by excessive exposure to blue light, especially in the evening, that offsets your circadian rhythm. It blocks the expression of melatonin – the sleep hormone – and makes your mind perceive it’s daytime. Looking at a computer screen and using your gadgets isn’t helping your sleep nor your mitochondria.
- Avoid blue light as much as possible after sunset
- Wear sunglasses or blue blocking glasses in the evening
- Install a software called Flux on your computer or Twilight on Android
- Black out your sleeping cave. Cover the windows, electronics, keep your gadgets away from the bed, wear a mask or a scarf to cover your eyes. You’ll pass out and sleep like a baby.
Getting exposure to natural sunlight first thing in the morning will help us to adjust to the circadian rhythms and sets the stage for improved sleep at night as well. Fasting for 16 hours is also another great way to reset your circadian clock. It can help you reduce jet lag and correspond with a new time zone[ii].
Meditation and Sleep
Even better, meditation has been found to improve psychomotor vigilance and may decrease the need for sleep[v] Novice practitioners will experience at least a short-term performance boost, but for long term meditators, meditating is associated with less total sleep time. This means that if you meditate after waking up, you’ll feel more awake despite having slept less.
I would advise everyone to pick up some form of mindfulness. Not as a spiritual practice but as a mental technique that makes you more aware of your own thoughts and emotions. You’ll improve your cognition and the quality of your sleep in the process.
Meditating first thing in the morning is a great way to train Jedi-like concentration and set the right tone for the rest of the day. Doing it in the evening will calm you down and primes your mind for a good night’s sleep.
How to Know If You’ve Recovered from Sleep
Is there much difference between getting things done in the morning vs later in the day? It depends on how you’re going to be performing. How you’re going to feel depends on your habitual patterns of behavior, which you can easily change. Your performance and concentration depends on the state of your central nervous system i.e. how well recovered you are, how much quality sleep you got and also the circadian time of the day.
You can use a quick and easy exercise to determine the state of your CNS or how awake you are. No equipment needed. Basically, you tap your finger on the table for 30 seconds as fast as you can. Count how many repetitions you get. The amount of reps alone is meaningless. You have to do this on a consistent basis to figure out your average and see whether or not you’re properly recovered or less so. Deviations from your medium indicate either an improvement or lack of recovery. Log your results in an excel file. Doing this at different times throughout the day will also tell you when your mind is most alert and explosive. After a few days of testing you’ll find out when you’re in the zone.
But the CNS test will not determine the results of your activities. It’s only a precursor for optimal performance. Maybe your nervous system primes you for being more alert later in the day but it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from waking up early.
The Twilight Zone is a unique place in time. There are other factors involved that make getting up before dawn magical. Less distractions, your mind being fresh, better connection with the source, greater inspiration, heightened creativity and bliss are much more important for doing extraordinary work.
The Power of Napping
One of the reasons why people fail to recover is that they build up high amounts of stress during the day which the body then starts to deal with during sleep. This prevents any real repair from taking place because of all of the energy is directed towards reducing cortisol.
If we were to decrease our stress during the day we will be able make more room for recovery at night. Having a short “powernap” will detoxify our brain pre-emptively, consolidates what we’ve learned in the AM part of the day and enhances muscle repair.
Structuring this powernap is also relevant. We don’t want to do it too late in the evening because it will offset our circadian patterns for the upcoming night. Doing it in the AM is also too early because of us not being able to take advantage of the wakefulness promoting hormones.
Before you have a nap, you should have been awake for at least 7-8 hours. It would depend on your circadian sleeping pattern. Having a siesta between 2 to 3 PM for 20-30 minutes is common in many countries of the world and the perfect time to do so.
I’m not going to lie. In the beginning, you’re going to struggle. If you’re used to sleeping in until noon, then you won’t most definitely be able to jolt out of bed the first time. Not even the second or third. It takes time to readjust to the circadian rhythm and change your sleep habits. But if you want to start waking up early and getting things done while the rest of the world is sound asleep, then you need to go through this shift.
When I’m talking about willpower, then I’m not referring to sheer discipline. Just drop out of bed and slap yourself in the face… Albeit effective, and you’re going to have to use some force, it’s not most optimal nor enjoyable.
Some pointers for mustering enough willpower to get up early.
- Ask yourself why you’re doing this? Do you even need or want to wake up before dawn? Maybe you don’t. Then the answer is simple. Don’t even bother.
- Think about the benefits. You’ll start the day off right and accomplish a whole lot by noon. After that, you’ve already tackled the lion’s share and can breathe more calmly. I also like to compare the quality of experience between sleeping for another hour versus being awake and fully present in whatever I’m doing. It’s like a value proposition.
- Make a baby step. If you’re in your soft and cozy bed, then anything away from that will seem extremely uncomfortable. The trick is to simply get out of your warm shack and distance yourself from the comfort for a moment. Go to the bathroom to wash your face, go open the window or let the cat outside. Once you’re already up and running, you’ll overcome that paralyzing slumber and gain some additional vigor.
- Ride momentum. Taking small steps will make the pendulum swinging in the right direction. After you’ve tackled the first thing, you’ll gain more power and speed. The compounding effect will start building on top of itself and eventually you’ll become unstoppable. It will feel like everything starts to flow and you’re on top of the world.
It’s not supposed to be a struggle and eventually you’ll actually start enjoying waking up early. I wish I had done this earlier. At first you’re going to have to use more willpower but later it turns into a habit and something you’ll enjoy. Discipline is freedom.
Your mindset needs to be on point as you’re going through the shift. Our thoughts and emotions have a much greater effect on the way we perceive the world around us than we think. Our perception can dictate the way we’re going to experience waking up, going to bed, or doing anything else as well.
The first few thoughts you have in the morning will determine the soundtrack that gets played inside your head for the rest of the day. If it’s going to be “Oh no! I can’t believe I have to get up.” or “I’m soooo tired…” then that’s what your subconscious mind will begin to recreate. You’ll roll out of bed, crawl to the nearest cup of coffee and walk around like a zombie. Not because you’re objectively exhausted, but because your subjective reality is feeding off your perception of it.
If, however, you were to throw away your blanket, jolt out and scream “GOOOOD MORNIING! Another amazing day for me to do awesome stuff and live my dream” then you would start seeing things differently. You’ll actually begin to notice stuff your pessimistic mindset had previously blocked off. If you’re open to new experiences, then great opportunities will enter your field of awareness more easily.
Another trick. If you tell yourself before going to bed that you’re going to have a restful night’s sleep and wake up energized, then you’ll more likely do so. Your subconscious mind wants to be consistent and will thus feed you the right thoughts.
You can also hack your mindset by telling that you’ll get the equivalent of 8 hours of sleep, whereas you actually slept for 5 or 6. Who knows…the magic of waking up early.
Wake Up Early and Tackle the Day
The most difficult part of waking up so early lasts for only just a few minutes. Those feelings you get when still in bed are fleeting and will start to diminish after you take off your blanket. They won’t disappear right away, as you may have the urge to crawl back into your shack, but those seemingly innocent moments in time are most important and will determine your destiny.
If you make a conscious decision of getting up early but then give in to your emotions and snooze, then you’re enforcing a very bad habit. Your subconscious mind will then see you as inconsistent and less congruent, which means that you’ll start giving in and slipping off in everything else you do as well. You either do it or you don’t, the choice is yours.
I love getting up early because it allows me to be productive the first few hours of the morning and also spend the rest of the day doing other things I love. It’s a win-win situation and it doesn’t take almost any willpower.
What about you? Are you a night owl who’s up past midnight, a bear who hibernates in the winter or a lion who gets up before dawn to tackle the day? Let me know.
Check out the video about how to wake up early in the morning on my YouTube channel. Make sure to join the Body Mind Agoge as well to start tackling the day as well as empower every other aspect of your life as well.