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Three Things I Did to Start Waking Up Before 6am – Often Without an Alarm.

I woke up this morning at 4am. I got up at 4:30am. I’ve gotten out of bed every day this month well before 6am. Furthermore, I’ve woken up without an alarm most of those days. Aaaaaand… it might help you to know that in the past I justified my “inability” to get up early by classifying myself as an “owl” not a “lark.” See here, or Google “owls” and “larks” in the context of sleep…. You’ll read about circadian rhythm, chronotypes, etc. After many years of trying to get up, I concluded that I was an “owl.” No sense fighting nature. However, as of February 7, 2021, I have woken up for over a month, before 6am, without an alarm. What of it?

Is this a New Years resolution kept? Sort of ( see below about my dog). We are now in February. If 30 days makes something a habit then apparently I’m onto something because I’ve passed 30 days at this getting up early thing. If it’s 60 days then I’m half way there. So, how did this change come about?

For years… y.e.a.r.s… I wanted to be an early riser. I never was. I tried off an on throughout those years. I’d make it 3 or 4 days in a row and then crash hard. I’m sure this sounds trite to people who have woken up early for years; as if I’ve written a blog about eating vegetables finally. Plenty of people roll out of bed at every hour of the night and drive to work. Certainly there were days that I was up at 6am for work, etc… It hurt though.

Whats the big deal? For one, this is something that matters to a lot of people. Many people are trying to be more productive. The web is full of articles and videos on productivity. Getting up early is a big one. I’ve seen videos with self confident sales-marketing-crossfit-wanna-dirve-a-Lambo types talking about joining the “5am” club. Beyond these folks, however, it just seems to be a goal of millions along with being fit, being financially stable, being well read, playing and instrument, etc. Second, the big deal is that this it is me; achieving a goal is a big deal.

So was this a New Years resolution or not? To be honest, I didn’t set a resolution on January 1, 2021 to get up early. Once I saw it happening however, I went with it.

So how did I start waking up early? Three things. I think they key to waking up early is good sleep and a convincing reason to get up.

(a) I went to Florida for Christmas. I grew up in Florida. I went to hang out with my folks to try to get some reading and writing done for my dissertation. That put me three hours earlier in my time zone. After a week there of waking up “late” at 8am, I was still waking up at the equivalent of 5am west coast time (I live in California). I flew home on New Years with this “leg up.”

(b) I got a dog. This may be the most important part? We got a puppy. She was little so they said she couldn’t sleep through the night without needing to pee. By the time Jan 1 rolled around, she was still young. So, I made sure she wasn’t in her crate for more than 6 or 7 hours. This meant I needed to get up by 5 or 6am to let her out to use the bathroom and feed her. I also felt guilty shoving her back in her cage; she was ready to be up and move around. So I’d let her out and stay up with her. This meant I wasn’t alone with myself; which can make it harder to grab a pillow and shut your eyes on the couch. The moment I did, she might start chewing on the couch or books in my library. I had to watch her. It helped.

“Sparrow… the 50lbs and growing puppy…”

(c) For the first time in my life I stopped staying up late. So (a) and (b) were what helped start this New Years change; but (c) is how I’ve been keeping it. I’ve started crawling into bed around the time I put our kids to bed; 8’ish or 9’ish. If I fall asleep at 9:30 then I’ve hit 7.5 hours of sleep by 5am.

Other tips. Over the years of reading on sleep—SLEEP IS HUGE FOR HEALTH—here are other things I’ve come across which may help you.

(d) Melatonin versus Magnesium. Both of these help people fall asleep. I’ve heard that too much melatonin can throw other things off in your body; or your kids bodies (you’ll see lots of moms giving their kids melatonin to try to get them to fall asleep. Magnesium is much safer, and has other health benefits. Magnesium can help you have a better quality of sleep as well.

(e) Staying off of Screens at Night + Using Night Mode. The thing with screens is that the blue light from most screens throws off your body’s circadian rhythm. [there are tons of articles on blue light and sleep prevention like this one from Harvard Medical School] and prevents you from falling asleep. So I’ve stopped staying up on a computer (something I did for y.e.a.r.s… yea those same y.e.a.r.s above that I was wishing I could get up early) at night—even if that includes trying to do research.

Night mode is a feature that everyone should know about by now, but in case you live on an island – see this article. Our ancestors used to go to bed when the sun went down. Well; maybe not, but it got dark and all they had were fires and lamps. Then electric lighting came. Then TV at night. Then computers at night. Then laptops which you could bring into bed. Then cellphones that you almost certainly had by your bedside. In other words the darkness that accompanied sleep for centuries was polluted by light and this has impacted the sleep and health of millions of people. Phone and laptop makers got with the program and started to create sleep modes or night modes around 2010 (I made that date up) to help out.

At first night mode was all bout shifting screen colors from bright white daytime screen look (i.e. “blue light”) to a more yellow/orange tint. Then phones created “night mode” where the screen is mostly dark grey or black. The whole goal is to reverse the above unhealthy impact of technology on sleep.

(f) Nose BreathingCheck this guy out here. He has some decent sounding info on the affects of nose breathing for all sorts of things. It sounds a bit too good; but people online are saying good things about taping their mouths shut at night so they breathe through their noses—I kid you not. The question is whether these “rave reviews” are placebo effect sorts of things. I am reminded of the reviews you read on Amazon—and you find out that the customer as only “just then” opened the package and is in the honeymoon phase still. Give me a “month later” review please.

(g) Sleep and meditation apps. This is a big thing, not because of meditation or sleep apps, but because many people struggle to fall asleep due to anxiety or stress. They ruminate at night. They can’t let work go. Like magnesium, these apps are supposed to help get your mind off of things so that you can sleep. If you aren’t a person with crippling night anxiety (I am not but I know some folks who are) count yourself as a fortunate.

Maybe I’m not an “owl” after all?

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