The Real Deal on Waking Early
A couple of months ago, it seemed like three out of every five of my workdays were plagued with the feeling of "dragging."
Sure, I could tackle the day's to-do list. I could write stories, transcribe, conduct interviews and do research ... all the things that make my business run. But in between required tasks, I seemed to lack the creative energy needed to brainstorm story ideas, create pitches and evaluate my brand package — all the things that will make my business flourish. With no energy left after what was required of me, the spark to innovate just wasn't there.
In search of more spunk, I began reading blog posts on productivity. Waking early was a common thread in almost all of them. I discovered that many top CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, successful bloggers, small-business owners and time-starved parents boosted their health and production levels by waking (and in many cases, exercising) before 6 a.m.
I wanted in! So I started experimenting with ways to set my clock back a full two hours, with the goal of waking around 5 a.m. This was not easy. In the first two weeks, I was so punch drunk, I threw away a TV remote and an entire brand-new box of Crest Whitestrips. I lived in a fog. I talked funny. I had restless dreams about missed morning meetings and wayward alarm clocks. And then, somewhere around week 3, something amazing happened: I started sleeping like a baby and waking at 5 a.m. on a dime. My workday got more productive and interesting, my energy level shot through the roof, and my nights got more relaxing.
There's a lot of advice out there on how to wake early. Just google the phrase "waking early" and you'll see what I mean. I'm sad to report there's no magic bullet. But there are a lot of good tips to glean. Here are the ones that helped me the most:
1. Get up at the same time every morning.
Turns out, our desires to sleep and wake are governed by two things: the circadian rhythm and the "sleep/wake restorative process." In order to maximize both, you need to tell your body exactly when to wake up. Your waking time is the baseline from which all your body's sleep functions adjust. When you wake up at the same time each day, your body eventually starts to get tired earlier in the evening, which allows you to put yourself to bed earlier and fall asleep more quickly. This does not happen overnight, which brings me to point #2:
2. Go to bed when you're really tired.
Heading to bed before you're tired will not make you fall asleep faster. You'll only succeed in teaching your body that your bed is a place to lie awake, which will further complicate your efforts. Instead, turn off all electronic devices, especially those with bright screens, like TVs and computers, an hour before your desired sleep time. Read until you feel like you could fall asleep within ten minutes of head hitting pillow. Then, and only then, head to the bedroom. Eventually, if you're waking at the same hour, your body will begin to feel tired earlier and you'll be able to go to bed earlier in response.
3. Cut back on caffeine.
I love the jolt my morning joe gives me. But experts say caffeine lingers in the body hours after that initial energy spike wears off. Some people are affected adversely by this and others are not. But I wanted to give myself every advantage, so I cut my caffeine intake in half by using one scoop of regular coffee and one scoop of decaf in my press each morning and limiting my intake to one mug. I do miss that "I can do anything" period from about 8 a.m. - 10 a.m., when I'd shoot down to-do list items in a powerful caffeine frenzy. But I gained a more even, sustained form of all-day energy and I like that better overall.
4. Look into Melatonin.
It's the only hormonal supplement available without a prescription and you can buy it at most drug stores. Melatonin is partly responsible for triggering your body's desire to sleep. I took one tiny melatonin pill about an hour before my desired sleep time for a 30-day period, and I believe it helped regulate my sleep / wake cycle. The verdict is still out on whether this really works and how effective it is. And of course, there are risks. So check out more info on Melatonin here.
5. Get exercise.
"Self-described exercisers report better sleep than self-described non-exercisers," according to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation. I'm training for an upcoming race right now, and I'm sleeping soundly. When I exercise more, especially in those early-morning hours, I notice a dramatic difference in my sleep quality, and I wake early and refreshed.
Have you done tried waking early, and what were the results? What tips and tricks worked for you? Share, share, share. The comments section is open!