The Power of Waking Up Early: 9 Tips for Becoming an Early Riser
It's 10pm. I need to get to bed soon, but I'm just going to play one more mission, read one more chapter, or fix one more bug in my code. The house is quiet. I can focus. A little while passes, and I get up to use the bathroom. I glance at the clock. 1:30am! How in the world is it that late already! Groan. Guess I'm not getting much sleep tonight...
I've lived most of my life this way, as a night owl. I love the quiet, peaceful darkness. Accidentally staying up past midnight has been a common occurrence. I don't fall asleep easily and hate the feeling of laying awake in bed not being able to sleep. So staying up late and sleeping late seemed like a solution. There are significant problems, however, with this habit.
It means my wife and kids are up before me. When I wake, breakfast is going or was hours ago, the kids are shouting, and the day is already chugging along full-steam. There's no time for morning prayer, meditation, or spiritual reading. No time for me to get caught up before work emails start rolling in so I spend all day playing catch-up. Not having time to myself contributes to chronic stress, and staying up late is not quality time. And it's also frustrating for my wife because I'm not available to help when she needs me and regardless of how late I worked the night before, it looks like I'm being lazy and sleeping in.
Changing sleep habits is hard
I'd tried shifting to an earlier schedule a few times before, but it never lasted. I could maintain it for a week, but then I'd start shifting later and have an "oops" night where I accidentally stayed up until 3am and completely threw myself off. After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year, I managed to stay on an early schedule for a few months by attending daily Mass, but then COVID hit and the shutdowns threw me off. It's hard to maintain when there's no one holding you accountable.
I've recently found the solution: I lift weights four days a week with a group of friends. We meet at 6am, do our workout, and pray the Rosary afterward. We get positive social interaction and good conversation. Anyone who's late or doesn't show up is subject to healthy male ridicule—the positive peer pressure keeps us all committed. Wednesday is our break day, but we meet for 6:30am Mass and coffee to maintain the schedule.
The effects have been phenomenal. I usually return home in time for a family breakfast before I start working. Looking after my physical and spiritual development as part of a team first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day: hard work and no slacking. No morning grogginess when I sit down at my desk; when I start working at 8am, I already feel productive.
It can be hard to balance work and family when you're self-employed in a home office like I am, but starting early makes a big difference. I don't feel behind as often, so I'm less frustrated by interruptions. I feel better about ending my work day in time for dinner and not trying to squeeze in more work during the family bedtime routine.
9 ways to build the habit of rising early
Forming and maintaining this habit of early rising is a significant struggle, or at least it is for me. Here are a few tips that help me maintain the habit.
- Build accountability into your routine somehow. A morning scripture study, Mass, or group exercise is good. Pick something that has a defined time so you can't get away with being 10 minutes late.
- Keep a similar schedule on the weekends too. Maybe sleep in an extra hour, but don't go much beyond that or Monday morning will be worse.
- When your alarm goes off, spring out of bed within 5 seconds. Don't let yourself be lazy and don't ever touch the snooze button! All that does is deprive you of sleep and increase the risk that you sleep through the alarm by training yourself to ignore it.
- Use a dedicated alarm clock rather than an app on your phone. That way you won't have to worry about it being off, running out of battery, being on silent, etc. An old-school alarm clock has fewer things that can go wrong.
- Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room, so you can't reach it without getting up. I don't do this because there are sleeping kids in the room and I need to have the alarm off within 2 seconds to avoid waking them up. But if you're single and struggling with discipline, do what you need to do!
- Put your clothes for the morning in a different room. I do this so that I don't wake anyone up while getting dressed. Nothing throws a morning off like accidentally waking the baby up too early.
- Have a bedtime routine for yourself where you avoid screens—the cool bluish light tells your body to be awake (an app like Redshift, f.lux, or Twilight can reduce the effect). Reading a physical book is a great activity. Scripture, fiction, professional development, etc.
- If you nap during the day, keep it short—10 or 15 minutes. Short naps are refreshing; long ones keep you up at night.
- Do something every day to make yourself physically exhausted, or at least tired. It's good for your body, and helps you fall asleep quickly.
As with building any habit, once you get to the point where you get up early without doubt or hesitation, it becomes a part of you and ceases to be difficult. It takes a lot of work to get there, but once you arrive you'll be in a really good place, ready to take on the most difficult and busy of days.