How to wake up early

Aristotle once shared that it is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth and wisdom.

Do you think morning people are born or they are made?

In my case and resulting opinion, I would lean very much to say that it is definitely a habit that has to be made. All of my life as far I can recall back to my teenage years, late teens, early twenties and late twenties I had seldom slept later than midnight, and I'll always sleep in to the dot that I have to wake up…

…and to be honest, sometimes I'm still asleep as I shower, take a dump, eat my breakfast, change and travel. Sometimes I only "wake up" at my workplace, which is a good two hours after I've gotten out of bed.

After some time, I couldn't ignore the heightened correlation between rising early and success, be it in other people's lives or my own, not to say that I'm ultra successful as there's a lot for me to learn still. Sometimes on a "fluke" day where I woke up too early, or a couple of hours earlier than my family and wife, my productivity was almost always much, much higher than those days I woke up at the usual timings.

And it's not just higher productivity in the mornings, but I noticed that it's usually all through the day. I also feel better, and stronger, and in a sense of healthier. So, it's hardly surprising that I'd decide and determine to make waking up early a habit. And so that very night, I set my alarm for 5.30 AM…

…and the next morning, I got up the usual time / way I do, just like a fresh zombie.


That didn't quite work out the way I had envisioned or thought it'd be.

I tried again and again, but it doesn't really work the way I imagine it to be. I mean, how hard can that be? Just set the alarm at 5.30AM, sleep, and wake up when the alarm buzzes me.

Yet, it often never works.

I was close to concluding that I'd never be those sort of people that'd rise up super early, and blamed it on my genes. Whenever my alarm goes off, my first response is always this – reach out to the buzzing sound, switch it off to snooze, and take a "short snooze" myself.


I did some reading up and researching, and found that I was trying to set a waking early habit the wrong way. And when I applied the new and more practical ideas, I almost became an early riser quite consistently. With the wrong strategy, it's really very tough…but with the right approach and strategy, it can be pretty easy.

The most common mistake in trying to wake up early or setting a habit to wake up early is this – if you want to wake up earlier, then you should just sleep earlier. So you estimate how many hours you're sleeping now, and then calculate back wards e.g. if you usually sleep from 12 am to 10 am, so if you'd like to wake up at 8 am, you go to bed 4 hours earlier, which is at 8 pm, right?

It sounds like it makes sense and is very reasonable, but it doesn't usually work that way.

One school of thought advocates for a fixed sleeping pattern of sleeping time and waking up time, which is like have a biological/alarm clock at both times, and trying your level best to keep to the sleeping times and hours each night. Kinda makes sense, practical in scheduling and predictable and replicable.

Another school of thought says that you should listen to your body – it will tell you when you need to sleep and tell you when you get up, au naturel. This approach to becoming an early riser leans strongly from physiology/biology, which states that our bodies know what/how much/when we need to rest, so we should listen to our body.

From a couple of weeks of experimentations, trials and errors, I concluded that these two school of thoughts are good, but they are incomplete, and suboptimal at best. They are actually quite inaccurate about sleeping and productivity.

If you fix your sleeping and wake up hours, sometimes you'll go to bed when you're not really sleepy, and then you lay in the bed looking at the ceiling, counting sheep etc but you don't fall asleep. If you take more than ten minutes to tall asleep every night, you're probably not sleepy enough. You're wasting your time lying in your bed awake and not sleeping. Another issue is assuming that you need the same amount of sleep every night, which is untrue, because your sleep needs differ everyday depending on the stressors you had been exposed to.

If you follow a physiological/biological approach to waking up early, you'd likely be sleeping more than you need/should, which can be A LOT MORE, from fifteen (15) hours or more A WEEK. This is almost equivalent to two full working/waking days. Many people who sleep this way gets more than eight hours of sleep per night, which is likely to be more than sufficient. Also, this approach makes your starts to the day unpredictable and open ended…and sometimes your sleep timings begin to shift and change.

I found what worked best so far for me is to combine both biological and scheduled approaches to waking up early to help. Actually, it's ridiculously simple and easy and many people who wake up early has been doing this automatically…but it took me quite some time and experimentation to realize and breakthrough in this area. The best solution for me was to go to bed when I'm sleepy (and only when I'm really sleepy) and getting up with an alarm clock at a fixed time everyday, 7 days a week. Regardless if it's a weekday or weekend.

So I go to bed at different times each night, but always gets up at the same time everyday.

I go to bed when I'm too sleepy to stay awake. How to determine this? I do this 'sleepiness test' – if I can't focus on anything (reading, SMS etc) for more than 5 minutes without my eyes closing and drifting off…then it's safe to say that I'm ready to sleep. Most of the time when I go to bed, I'm usually asleep within a couple of minutes. I lie down, get into a comfortable position, and I'm almost drifting off.

Sometimes I sleep by 9 pm, sometimes I sleep close to midnight. Most of the time I sleep between 9.30 pm to 11 pm. If I'm not sleepy, I'll just stay up to do whatever I want to do for the day/that time until my eyes can't open anymore. Reading is just great for that, because then it becomes very, very obvious when I'm too sleepy to read.

When my alarm buzzes every morning, I reach out, turn it off, stretch a little, give my darling wife a kiss, then swing my legs off the bed and sit up. I don't really think about it. I had realized that the longer it takes me to get out of bed, the more likely I'm going to try and sleep in. So I ignore the "rationale" conversations I have in my head about the goodness and plus points of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if I feel that I really, really, really want to sleep in, I always get up right away.

After doing this for a couple of weeks, my sleeping patterns has more or less set into a fairly natural and normal rhythm. I sleep too little tonight, and by tomorrow I'll be automatically sleepier and go to sleep earlier the next night. If I had lots of alertness and energy and not tired, I'd just sleep less. My body learned when to send me to bed I think because it knew that I can and would always get up at the same time every day which weren't negotiable anymore.

An interesting thing to note is that I sleep lesser about 60 minutes to 120 minutes each night, but I actually felt more well-rested, which is a very interesting phenomenon to me. I sleep almost all the time whenever it's time to sleep. Maybe because I maximise the quality of sleep, I get more rest?

I found out that many people who suffer from insomnia go to bed when they're not sleepy – if you're not sleepy and find that it's very difficult for you to fall asleep quickly, then I think you should get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleeping until your body starts to release the sleeping hormones that knocks you out and makes you sleepy. I think if you go to bed when you're fully/really sleepy and then get up at a set time, you should be able to sleep. The first couple of nights you may have to sleep late, but once you start the ball rolling and your body adjusts to it, you should have a pattern of sleeping and waking up already.

So if you want to learn how to install a habit of waking up early, try this approach of sleeping when you're too sleepy to stay awake, and getting up at a non-negotiable set time every morning.

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