A Month of 5am

Lockdown or at least working from home has given me a lot more time to do the things I put off when I have a free moment, so the following is a bit of an unintentional, coffee-fuelled entry, written at… yep, you guessed it, 5am (Most days anyway!).

Bore me later…

In all honesty it’s hard to talk about waking up early without sounding like a self-righteous tit. Especially if you’re going to talk positively about it. I think it stems from the boasting videos I’ve seen online of entrepreneurs who claim to be “grinding 24/7” or waking up to “kill the day”, or the International CEO on LinkedIn who makes it their job to notify you of their 500+ connections and how their success stems from 3am starts, ice cold showers, a shot of ginger to the eye and 1 hour of meditation. All of that might be true, but sadly it doesn’t stop me rolling my eyes.

Before all of “this shit” was going on (The new way of saying pre-global COVID-19 pandemic) I’d got myself into a routine of waking up at 5am and being in the gym not long after. I’d be done with my exercise by 6, home, dressed, breakfast eaten and ready for work by 7. I decided to start doing this during the winter when staying in the warm cocoon of my duvet almost certainly outweighed sitting in my car blowing on my hands whilst my windscreen de-iced. But I wanted to free up my evenings to be with my family and I wanted to see if at all it would benefit me. So, I began to drag myself out of bed… literally.

I’ve never been a night owl or a morning person – stay away from me for at least an hour or until I’ve had a coffee – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard reference to someone who is in between. I suffered badly with insomnia in my first year of uni which sounds like a huge exaggeration and excuse for going out all the time and coming back in the early hours of the morning. But my days would involve going to sleep at 5am and waking at 5pm even on days where I hadn’t left the flat for anything more than a lecture or seminar, a horrible experience in the winter when all you see is dark. I have however done my fair share of cold walks home at 4am after a night out. My point here is I understand the importance of sleep, I love sleep, and the only time you’ll find me leaping out of bed with a smile on my face is when when I’m getting on a plane to somewhere warm for a couple of weeks (Does anyone remember holidays?).

Goodbye rush hour, hello sleep

If you weren’t aware, we’re in a global pandemic (sorry if I’m the first to tell you). The world’s been flipped on its head, we don’t know our arse from our elbow and people seem to want to host raves on the beach more than they have in the history of mankind. Work life and home life changed quite significantly in that they became one, and my routine changed too. Gone were the rushed mornings and pre-nursery arguments trying to shoe horn Ivy into her car seat whilst getting into work on time. Life was slowly a new challenge of waking up as close to 8.30 as humanly possible, rolling over and opening my laptop to somewhat be “ready” for my day. What I found most shocking though, was the 8-9 hour sleep schedule I’d longed for and had now become accustomed to was making me feel shit.

Getting up last minute resulted in a similar scene to the McAllister family in Home Alone trying to make it to the airport on time. My situation however, was slightly less Hollywood and more a case of trying to look like I’d been up for hours when joining my first call of the day – “sorry guys I look like shit because I’ve just woken up so I won’t be on camera today” isn’t an excuse that goes down very well. This sleeping routine I was longing for was actually making me feel significantly worse.

Trying 5am again

You’d think with that knowledge I’d just start getting up earlier. But when you’ve spent several weeks being told not to go anywhere by your government unless it’s essential, the bed vs getting up early is almost always won by bed. Aside from the initial uphill struggle, with the knowledge that early starts worked better for me, I tried it again, easing into it with 7am, then 6, some minor hiccups of slipping back into my usual ways of 8am, until I reached the ungodly hour of 5. It’s quite incredible the internal conversation you have with yourself in those split seconds at that time in the morning when you try and peel yourself away from slumber.

“What is that noise? Great, it’s my alarm. Why does that “nice” jingle on my phone I picked last night now sound like I have a drill in my ear. Is this worth it? No seriously, is this really fucking worth it? Have you ever felt a warmth like this duvet? It’s like you’ve dived into a marshmallow and you’re telling me you want to replace this feeling with the cold of the outdoor world?” – At that point the sensible part of your brain storms away from the conversation, slamming the door in the process.

Rip off the plaster

This internal conversation happens very quickly, sometimes it doesn’t remain internal, some vocal motivation has to take place, even if it’s a grunt to roll out of bed. During that conversation the defining moment of whether you stay in bed or get up takes place. Fortunately, after moving my alarm across the room, the choice was taken away from me, and a crawl to the other side of the room was necessary to make it stop. But once you’re up, you’re up, don’t listen to the beckoning calls of your bed, you have to get away!

My only real goal of getting up at 5am was to be more awake and ready for the day, and as I completed my first week although I saw the benefits again; found the time to exercise, read a bit, I found myself one morning sadly turning on the xbox – the reasons for getting up at ridiculous o’clock in the morning didn’t always seem so worthwhile when I was nodding off into a cup of coffee at 3pm later that afternoon. I remembered a book I’d seen someone reading called ‘The 5am Club’ by Robin Sharma, which claimed to be ‘a revolutionary morning routine that has helped his clients maximize their productivity, activate their best health and bulletproof their serenity in this age of overwhelming complexity.’ So in an attempt to actually make these groggy, slow starts worthwhile, I invested in the book.

This isn’t a book review, but I do recommend reading it, whether you’re a morning person or not (I promise I’m not on commission). It gave me an understanding of adding some value to my day and understanding from a scientific point of view why getting up early in the morning is beneficial. Once you have some purpose for your morning, it’s easier to get up. And the purpose doesn’t even have to be that big. For example, I’ve brought some life back to this blog, I’m reading more, learning some new skills, and it’s the reason I’m doing a hell of a lot more with my day than I ever have before. Whether it’s being outside more, running, feeling less rushed and stressed, sometimes I don’t do anything and just appreciate the fact that our house can indeed be a quiet place if only for 1 -2 hours a day.

Have a day off

Now, the truth. If you think I haven’t had a drink in the past month, or a subsequent hangover, then you’d be massively wrong, I have. And I’ve certainly had late Saturday nights where setting an alarm for Sunday morning hasn’t even crossed my mind. I’ve found doing 5 days of 5am starts inevitably catches up with you, though I have managed to keep the routine going some Saturdays it’s only natural for energy levels to drop. Maybe I should call this a month of some 5am’s.

A few things that have helped me start a new routine:

  • Have a plan for the morning, even if it’s just getting a coffee and reading the news. Just know what you’re going to do.
  • Do some exercise. This is never top of the list for anyone but it feels bloody good when you do. Have your kit ready to go the night before
  • Do yourself a favour & drink some coffee. If you have a special machine, have it timed for when you wake up (the dream!).
  • Get out and walk. It’s silent, especially with the world in lockdown and after the initial groggy feeling, my brain seems to function better.
  • Put your alarm in the corner of your room. The biggest issue I had was rolling over and turning my phone off beside me. Overcome the biggest hurdle with one simple move.

During this process I haven’t “found myself”, I’ve not become some zen master of the universe, and sadly I haven’t found the answer to developing a £1 billion business (maybe I need to do a shot of ginger to the eye like the CEO on LinkedIn), but it’s opened my eyes to a bunch of benefits that I’ll continue to preach to my mates.

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