When my first son was born I began feeling starved for personal time.
I love my son, but that didn't keep much of the time I once had to myself from being swallowed up by my new responsibilities.
I sought to squeeze extra time out from wherever I could, but nothing gave me a significant, and definitely not a consistent, amount of extra time.
One day I read an article about the sleep schedule of Buddhist monks, which for most is something akin to 10 PM - 4 AM, and something about it convinced me to give it a shot.
I want to be sure to mention that I was as much of a night owl as they come.
I went to bed somewhere around 2-3 AM for much of my life, by choice, and when I did wake up I did so with just enough time to get to work or wherever I needed to go.
So, needless to say that when I began working on waking early it was a bit of a shock to my system. I also did this with a wife and a newborn son, so I had to fight off the excuses at every turn.
I'm not saying everyone should become an early riser. Maybe you have your best ideas at night and feel great waking up late. That's fine. Do whatever makes your body and mind feel best.
However, in general, I've found that people who adopt this kind of schedule feel more rested, at peace, more productive and more ready to handle the day ahead- and life as a whole- among other things.
There's a lot of science to back up why this sleep schedule makes your body feel better too. So, if you've never tried it I'd give it a go and see what it does for you. It absolutely transformed my life.
The benefits I've taken from becoming an early riser is a list in itself:
The Benefits of Being an Early Riser:
1. I have more energy
Both waking early and the accompanying hours of personal quiet time in the morning have increased my energy like nothing else.
Whether you sit in silence and meditate, do some simple task while practicing mindfulness, sit and read or just go outside for a moment you'll feel refreshed and ready to take on the world by the time you have to get on with the day.
2. I'm more productive
The extra time in the morning was a huge boost to my productivity, especially with the responsibility of two children requiring so much of my time.
The peace and silence of the early morning had a clear effect on my productivity. It wasn't just about having more time, it was about the quality of the time I had.
3. I'm more creative
Most of my best work comes when I'm sitting in the absolute silence and uninterrupted peace of a quiet morning. Perhaps because it's easy to practice mindfulness and put my complete and total being into on the task at hand.
Aside from that, perhaps because of how well prepared my mind is once the day gets going, I'm more creative all day long. Not just in the morning.
I'm able to simmer over what I worked on that morning and ideas seem to rise to the surface throughout the day.
4. I'm happier, calmer and handle the challenges of each day better
I remember the first day I felt my heart thump like it was shooting out of my chest every time it beat. I realized later after it happened a few more times that anxiety was building in me.
This was the first time I had felt anything like it in my life, so it was a little scary. I was constantly in a panic to get things done.
Waking up early, having that time in the morning that I can put towards working on myself and catching up on anything I'm behind on, has turned that completely around. I no longer feel that anxiety and stress nor do I rush to get everything done during the day.
No matter what happens during the day, I always have my morning session to fall back on. This is incredibly comforting and really allows me to just embrace the day as it comes and be happy.
These are just some of the benefits I've taken from becoming an early riser. I've benefited so much from shifting my schedule that the list is too long to write here.
Now on to how to establish the habit. These 12 points are what I used to create the habit of waking up at 4 AM daily:
How to Become an Early Riser
1. Take it slow, do 30-minute increments
Becoming an early riser is a gradual process.
My first goal was moving from 8:30 to 7:30 AM. That was a bit of a jump, but considering that wasn't all that early it was easy to adjust to it after a few weeks. After that, I did it in 30-minute increments over the next year.
Take it slow, learn to appreciate and cherish each additional 30 minutes you have in the morning. Start by using that time for the most rewarding things you could do in the morning in order to build up motivation.
Meditation or a quick walk outside to breath in the fresh air and watch the sunrise are both great activities that will leave you feeling better throughout the day and motivate you to continue to wake up early.
2. Have a bedtime and take it seriously
This means that whether you happen to be out at a friend's birthday party one night and you're considering staying later, your favorite show just changed times and airs at 10 PM instead of 9 PM now or you just feel like staying up- you probably shouldn't.
Take your bedtime seriously, don't take it as a loose commitment.
"I need to make sure to get to bed sometime around 10" should be. "I need to get to bed at 10 PM every night- no matter what."
The above were all situations I encountered when establishing the habit of rising early. You'll be tempted to loosen your commitment on certain nights, and very occasionally it's OK. But whatever you do, try to be as consistent as possible.
If you don't get to bed at the time you've established then you won't get enough sleep and there are few things that can kill your chances of waking up early like a lack of sleep can.
3. Get ready for bed early
This is especially true if you have kids, but it applies to everyone.
You need to get prepared for bed early because often we overestimate what we have to do before actually being able to lay our heads down for the night.
With my daughter and two sons, I don't even remember my bedtime for what it is, but rather I remember the time we have to start winding down and get them ready for bed because it's such a process.
Going potty, changing diapers, last minute snacks (which just started lately...my oldest usually requests almonds or pine nuts), brushing teeth, changing into PJs, reading bedtime stories and then the process of actually falling asleep which can often take over 30 minutes for my oldest.
Whether you're single or have a family, everyone has things to do before actually placing their heads down to sleep at night.
Get an accurate gauge of how much time you need before laying down for bed to ensure you get enough sleep at night.
4. Get to bed early
You need to get enough rest.
This one might sound obvious, but trust me you'll try to cheat. You need to make sure you get to bed early enough so that you feel rested once it's time to rise.
I average 6-7 hours a day, as I have most of my life. It's what feels best to me. Pay close attention to how your body feels after waking up if you don't already know your ideal number.
Never skimp on your sleep. It's not just about putting yourself in the best position to wake up, you'll hurt yourself due to sleep deprivation if you try to push it consistently.
5. Place your alarm a few steps away from your bed
Make sure your alarm is far enough away that you have to get up out of bed and take a few steps to turn it off.
This is important. Make sure that it isn't just off of your bed, but that no matter how hard you tried you could not hit your alarm without taking 2-3 steps.
Forcing yourself to stand up and take a few steps out of bed really helps wake you up.
And whatever you do, if you use your phone as your alarm clock like I do, DO NOT GRAB YOUR PHONE AND BRING IT TO BED. That's a quick game over, trust me.
I charge my phone overnight and when it goes off in the morning naturally I turn the alarm off and take it off its charger. After a while, I noticed that if I was really tired I'd take my phone off the charger and bring it back to bed with me.
If you want to get a little extra sleep, that's fine, set your alarm to go off in 30 minutes and keep it in its place. If you take your phone with you in bed you'll hit the snooze alarm as soon as it goes off without even realizing it- total suicide.
6. Have a compelling reason, or reasons, to wake up early
You need to have a compelling reason to want to get up early. If you don't, you'll never push yourself up.
At one point my drive to do my martial arts training (which really compelled me at first) began to fade, and with it, my ability to rise early.
If you have no reason to wake up early, you'll have little chance of consistently doing it.
Make your morning block an important part of the day for you, a block of time that you feel like you can't do without.
7. Have a schedule
One of the first things you'll learn upon becoming an early riser is that you'll often be more productive in the morning than any other point in the day.
There are three reasons you want a schedule:
- You won't wander once you're awake
- You'll be maximally productive
- It'll help you wake up in the first place.
The last point is similar to number 6 on this post in that if you know exactly what you're going to do as soon as you wake up and through the rest of the morning then you'll be much more willing to wake up.
I can't emphasize these last two points more, you need to make your reasons for waking up in the morning compelling and have a schedule, otherwise, you'll wander, be minimally productive and lose the drive to wake up early altogether.
And without a schedule, soon after you wake up you'll often wander off and start doing things that don't serve you (checking Facebook, watching YouTube) or, even if you're working you'll bounce around aimlessly.
It's different when you wake up in the morning than when you're awake later in the day. For a while, you'll look at the morning as bonus time, so you'll be more willing to blow it doing nothing particularly productive.
Create a schedule, even if it's just a loose one, and keep yourself from losing out on precious time.
8. Nightly Ritual #1: Remind yourself why it's important for you to wake up early
This is one of the techniques that helped me the most.
You might have a good reason to get up early, but when you wake up in the morning you're not a person- you're a zombie with an extremely limited mental capacity.
You know exactly what I'm talking about and it's is one of the primary reasons it's so difficult to wake up early. You're just not a fully functioning human being yet and can't put together a logical thought for the life of you.
So do this: right before bed, take a few minutes and remind yourself why it's important that you wake up early the next morning.
Review your compelling reasons, whatever they are, as well as your schedule or the specific tasks you planned to accomplish that morning. This makes a sort of imprint on your mind which will stay with you as you sleep.
After practicing it for a while you'll feel less like a zombie and actually remember why you intended to wake up.
9. Nightly Ritual #2: Visualize yourself waking up early and getting to work
Continuing from the last point, after reminding yourself why it's important for you to wake up early, visualize yourself, as clearly as possible, waking up early and doing the things you have planned.
Be clear and specific in your visualization. This should only take a minute or two, but see yourself clearly getting up, turning your alarm off, getting dressed and doing your thing (whatever that is for you).
These two nightly rituals greatly helped me establish the habit of waking early.
10. Take a few moments to breathe (don't go to bed feeling emotionally drained)
This isn't something that you'll use every day, let's hope, but still something that's really useful when the right circumstances arise.
Something interesting I've discovered over the past few years is that when you go to bed emotionally tired, from a tough day at work or something else emotionally draining, you just don't wake up. For a long time. And then when you do, you still tend to feel drained.
Unless you catch it and do something about it before you go to sleep.
In order to fix this, simply take a few minutes and follow your breathing.
Pay close attention to your breathing and begin to slow it down after a while. You'll calm down and have a more restful night of sleep.
11. The Water Trick
As soon as you turn your alarm off walk into the restroom, turn the sink on and throw water in your face a few times.
This will be a little shocking at first but you will IMMEDIATELY feel nearly 100% awake.
I can't describe how effective this is. As soon as you're done you'll feel ready to jump into anything. The risk you run by not doing this is, while you did push yourself to wake up early, you're still half asleep and feel tired.
Before I started doing this I'd often fall back asleep after 30 minutes to an hour on days where I felt particularly tired.
12. Don't Be So Hard On Yourself
Today, I consistently wake up between 4-4:30 AM.
But sometimes, particularly when I feel extra tired from a long day, I let myself sleep in and fully recharge.
This averages out to about once a week and usually on the weekend. Don't be so hard on yourself. In order to build the habit of rising early, you don't actually have to do it every single day.
And this is healthier and better for your creativity and productivity. If you push yourself up long enough particularly on days when you feel extra tired, essentially never letting yourself fully recharge, then eventually you'll suffer the effects of sleep deprivation which can have a lot of negative effects on your body and mind.
Creating the habit of waking up early is a long-term commitment. If you fall off of your commitment, simply pick yourself back up and continue where you left off.
Get the How to Become an Early Riser PDF Guide Free
Download a beautiful PDF version of the How to Become an Early Riser guide:
1. The "Sleep Mistake" Which Boosts Your Risk of Cancer - Dr. Mercola
2. SLEEP - Buddhism A to Z. This page briefly discusses the origins of the Buddhist sleep schedule, which apparently came from the Buddha himself. At the end, it even reviews a text where the Buddha actually gives some pointers, one of which is the water trick!
3. Unfortunately, I can't find the original article about Buddhist monk's sleep schedules that convinced me to change my own schedule. If I find it I'll be sure to update the article.