How To Transform Yourself Into An Early Riser (From A Former Night Owl)

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Transforming myself into an early riser has been one of – if not THE – best habit changes I’ve made.

Each day – weekends included –  I get up at 5 AM. Even on busy days I can get in 1 hour of uninterrupted deep work (writing) while the house is quiet and the rest of my family is sleeping.

It wasn’t always this way.

For years I was a night owl and stayed in bed as long as I possibly could.

But my life at that time was at a standstill. I knew something had to change.

So here’s how a former night owl turned into an early riser.

1) Start Out Small

If you normally get up around 7:30AM that doesn’t mean you have to set your alarm for 4:30AM tomorrow. You’re better making the jump in increments for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a shock to your system to wake up that much earlier. You’re likely to be dragging throughout the day.

Secondly, psychologically it’s a huge jump.

I tried to make a big jump when I started out and it was a failure. When that alarm goes off 3 hours earlier it seems like a cruel joke. So I hit the snooze button (continually) and went back to bed.

Even worse – playing that snooze button game for three hours still made me tired during the day. So I never got up on time AND I was tired all day.

Start small instead.

What seems like a realistic wake up time for you tomorrow? Maybe 15 minutes earlier? Almost anyone can make that jump and it won’t completely throw off your internal clock.

Once you’ve gotten up for a few days in a row at that earlier time then you can ramp it up a bit more a few days later. Within a month you’ll easily be getting up one to two hours earlier.

2) Go To Bed Only When You’re Tired

When I first decided that I was going to become an early riser I believed in the old wives tale that you needed 8 hours of sleep to function at your peak. So I picked my wake up time and then subtracted eight hours from that to get my ‘go to bed’ time (8:30 PM).

The only problem was I wasn’t tired at 8:30PM. I’d lay there and just get frustrated – which made me even less tired. Finally, an hour or more later I’d finally fall asleep.

Now, I only go to bed when I start to feel tired – not at a set time. Ironically, I’ve discovered that I function better on closer to 7 hours of sleep – not 8.

This may have something to do with tapping into my own personal, sleep cycles rather than shooting for some random number.

3) Wake Up Early Every Day

Waking up early shouldn’t be reserved just for workdays. You should do it everyday.

I get pushback on this one so let me explain why.

First, there’s the practical aspect: why take time off on the weekends? I want to be productive everyday – not just Monday thru Friday. Achieving my goals and being fulfilled isn’t just something reserved for certain days. It’s an everyday activity to me and it should be to you as well.

Secondly, it will be hard to become an early riser when you take days off. I learned this personally.

When I started I found that if I slept in Sunday morning I wasn’t really as tired at night. So I’d stay up until I was. Sometimes that meant I wasn’t going to bed until 11 PM. But I still had to get up at 5 AM.

Only six hours of sleep (at best) which meant I was tired the next day or I’d just fall back into the habit of sleeping in.

4) Avoid Obvious AND Hidden Stimulation

You’ve probably heard not to watch TV before bed. It’s true. But last night I decided right before bed to listen to Sturgill Simpson’s “Sometimes Wine” (he’s awesome). It seemed innocent enough but a hard driving song like that had me turning in bed for a good twenty minutes (I can usually fall asleep within 10).

You’ll need to not only avoid ‘obvious’ stimulants like caffeine and action TV shows before bed but also more ‘hidden’ stimulation like certain music and blue light (like your computer).

Blue light is another wrecker of sleep. I try to avoid it 1 hour before bed but it’s hard unless you have blue light blocking glasses.

5) Your Room Needs to Be Completely Black

Any sort of light is going to mess with your ability to stay and fall asleep. Your room needs to be completely black. If it’s not, the “light sensitive” cells in your eyes tell you it’s daytime and that you need to wake up.

This ‘light’ source also includes small things in your room like digital alarm clocks, charging devices, etc.

My current home has a much better setup for keeping my room dark. It’s made a huge difference in my sleep quality.

If you’re still getting outside light into your room use blackout shades like they do in most hotels.

6) Sleep Tips That Helped me

Here’s some helpful tips that – most likely – are common sense. But I list them because they’ve helped me:

  • Use an alarm clock that works for you. Stop worrying about buying the fancy alarm clocks that wake you up with babbling brooks and chirping birds. If they really help you, fine. But my iPhone set across on the room on a low volume and a non-annoying alarm do the trick fine.
  • Keep your room on the cool side. I like it cooler than my wife so we compromise with heavier comforters and electric blankets when needed. But experiment. I set our temperature for 63-67 degrees F.
  • Get a good mattress, sheets and pillow. You’ll never be an early riser or high achiever sleeping on a cheap mattress. But cost doesn’t mean it’s high quality. Test some mattresses out. Our current mattress is a Simmons Beautyrest. I prefer thinner pillows and my wife swears by her Arc 4 Life pillow if you have neck pain.

7) The 10-Minute Rule

When you go to bed give yourself 10 minutes to fall asleep.

If you don’t start dozing off, get up and go do something relaxing and non-stimulating like reading a biography. Don’t go turn on The Walking Dead. Don’t go online. Try to read and relax.

Once you start yawning frequently – time to go back to bed.

Most Important: When Your Alarm Goes Off …
Get Up. Every. Day.

Consistency isn’t sexy. But getting up early is a lot like writing a book. Most people have a secret desire to be authors – but few people want to put in the work each and everyday to sit down and write for hours.

You’re going to need some discipline because it’s really easy to hit the snooze button and stay in bed. But discipline only takes you so far. So what’s driving you? Why do you want to start getting up earlier?

Be honest and accountable with yourself. If you’re getting up earlier because you want to start a side business, a new career or to exercise and look better – good for you. But those things don’t happen when you hit the snooze button.