It’s 4:55 am as I write this. I’m not awake because I want to be. My kickstart to the day is the result of a restless and poorly 4-year-old daughter, who insists she can no longer sleep in her room. And, if she doesn’t get a portion of my side of the bed, well then apparently the rest of the street is going to know about it. I won’t cut the blog short here though. The answer isn’t to have children and use them as an unwanted and whiney alarm clock. I have a bit more advice than that. Despite my grumblings about being up at this time, knowing full well my day will be spent shoving coffee into my face and making sure my wife and daughter know I’m tired at every opportunity. I like getting up around this time of day, but usually when I’ve made a conscious decision for that to be the case.
Some time ago, during one of the many lockdowns in the UK, I wrote about trying to wake up at 5 am every day (ish) for a month, having recently read the book ‘ The 5 am Club’. Despite some groggy starts, it was a success. At an awful time of having national restrictions, not being allowed to do much, and only exercising outside of the house for one hour a day, I still managed to make the most of my day and developed an appreciation for the early hours, and the knock-on effect it had on the remainder of my day.
I’m Not a Morning Person!
Despite my routine of getting up early, those close to me would still argue that I’m not a morning person, and I still don’t claim to be. When it comes to an early start, the issue for me isn’t the bit about having to get up, it’s usually when someone wants to talk to me, or should I say at me. As long as I don’t have to engage in conversation for half an hour and I can get a coffee in me, then I become a bit nicer to be around.
For over a year now I have taken to waking up early. To be honest, it’s not always been 5 am, but it’s been around that time. With working from home and not having a commute for over 18 months now, I have had every reason not to remain in this routine and become a sweatpants-wearing sloth that snoozes every morning. But, for the most part, I’ve stuck to it, and I see more and more people across social media questioning how it’s possible. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not easy. So I thought I’d share some advice. Don’t worry, none of the recommendations are to have an ice-cold shower.
1. Have a Plan
If you have no reason to get up, you won’t get up. Because let’s face it, the warmth of the duvet wins almost every time. And this is usually what immediately separates those that do begin an early morning routine and those that turn their alarm off and rollover. This doesn’t have to be something grand, it could be going downstairs and making a coffee, it could be going for a walk or taking the dog out. My biggest motivator for this time of the morning is knowing by going to the gym first thing, I then have my lunch break and evening free to do whatever I want. Which means more time with my family and more time doing the things I wanted to. I also found in lockdown it gave me the time I usually said I ‘didn’t have to try new skills like video editing. Remember, you don’t have to have a 20-mile plan booked in, just incentivize yourself.
2. Get Some Sleep (DUH!)
Well, well, well. Who invited the genius? More sleep means we have more energy the next day. There’s science behind it, and we don’t argue with that. It’s not always possible to get the recommended 8 hours, and some nights I have found I’ve actually got more easily after 5 hours sleep than I have with 8. However, getting good quality sleep minimizes the chances of feeling quite so groggy when your alarm sounds.
3. Avoid Caffeine
I’ve already mentioned coffee twice in this, and I’ll probably mention it several times before I’m done. I love coffee, but I understand the impact it has on my sleep after a certain point. We’re all built differently, and all have varying tolerances. I know people that could shot espresso at 10 pm and be zonked out by 10.15. But I personally try to put the coffee down before 3 pm so it doesn’t impact my quality of sleep. As for the morning, it’s recommended that you stay away from coffee for at least an hour, this is due to your cortisol levels being naturally high. By drinking coffee immediately you’re replacing the cortisol with caffeine rather and adding to it. There’s more about the science-y bit here. However, science doesn’t always account for a terrible night’s sleep, a restless child, or a hangover. So, if you need a coffee straight away and it gets you out of bed. Have one.
4. Minimise Excuses
Have you ever woken up 2 hours after your alarm has gone off and realised in your sleepy haze you’ve rolled over and turned your alarm off instead of snoozing it? We’ve all been there. These days our phones remain within arms reach at all times (maybe just me?), and the same applies when we’re sleeping. Increase your chances of getting up by forcing yourself to do so. Whether it’s on your phone or you’ve gone old school and have an alarm clock. Set it and put it across your room. If you have a partner who isn’t a morning person (like my wife!) you’ll soon be getting kicked across the room anyway.
5. Invest in a SAD Light
With the introductions of lockdowns last year and falling very quickly out of a ‘normal’ routine, I invested in a SAD light for the winter months. A SAD light is designed to improve your mood through lighting, either to be used in the morning to wake up gradually to “sunlight” or at night with a sundown effect. SAD lamps encourage your brain to produce less melatonin, which makes you sleepy while increasing the production of serotonin, which affects your mood. All I wanted one for was to try an alarm that didn’t sound as harsh as all the options on an iPhone. It really worked, I found more so at night with the sundown effect, but in the dark winter months when it feels impossible to get out of bed a little ‘natural light’ goes a long way.
6. Go Easy on Yourself
If for the past 12 months you’ve been waking up at 8.30, grabbing your laptop, and working from your bed. Suddenly shifting your alarm to 5 am and expecting things to be easy probably won’t give you the desired outcomes. Make incremental changes to your morning routine until you get to the desired point. By bringing your alarm forward by half an hour every couple of days it won’t feel like you’ve been woken up by a Drill Sargent and a cold bucket of water. Instead, you’ll ease into your new morning routine.
7. Be Consistent
Sadly, like many things in life, becoming a morning person isn’t going to happen immediately. Especially if it’s a big jump from your normal routine. It takes time to adjust. The main thing is to be consistent. The first morning will always feel brutal, but it does get easier. Starting your day at 5am, 7 days a week for some might be a possibility, but I find adding an extra hour in bed at weekends gives me a much-needed break ready to go into the week and do it all again.
8. Don’t be a ‘Snoozer’
Like the meme says, there are two kinds of people in this life, those that snooze and those that don’t. If it works for you then stick with it. But when it comes to the 5 am time of day, having a running set of alarms from 4 am onwards doesn’t seem logical to me. I personally prefer ‘ripping the bandaid off’ and using one alarm to trigger me getting out of bed. Every snooze becomes an excuse to stay under the duvet.
9. Put Your Phone Down
Generally speaking, the view on phones before bed is a negative one. The light blasting into your eyes from Netflix, YouTube, or TikTok just before sleep can never be a good thing, but we’ve all done it and will continue to do it. There are settings in your phone that can be changed to be kinder on the eyes before you sleep so if you can’t put your phone down, consider adding these changes. I’ve found reading has not only become something I now have time to do as a result of getting up earlier, but it’s also something I’ll do before I go to sleep to bring on heavy eyes.
Now, I’m no fool. This one will result in a belly laugh and closing the blog immediately for some readers. I know this isn’t for everyone. The prospect of crawling out of bed pre-6 am and lifting a dumbbell or going for a run might make you dry heave, but hear me out. I’ve always been big into exercise, and I love running, but the prospect of running pre-6am is enough to make me burn my alarm and stay in bed forever. However, I have found the exercise that I do enjoy in the earlier hours of the day. I found walking to be the easiest step into the morning routine as it also meant I could combine it with coffee. But as I’ve got used to waking up early, going to the gym has become a staple for my day. I feel like I’ve achieved something, I get endorphins from moving and getting my heart rate up, which often means I don’t need that first coffee and can benefit from exercise to wake myself up. As I say, it’s not for everyone, but exercise could be anything and doesn’t have to be a 20-mile run. Yoga in your living room, walking the dog, having a stretch, and walking to get milk from the shop instead of driving. A little bit of exercise goes a really long way.
Advice by its very definition is: ‘guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action’. This is my experience with waking up early, and it’s made a huge difference to my life over the past 12 months. Everyone is built differently, and if being a night owl and a late riser is what works for you, then keep going. But if you’re up for trying something new, I hope the above helps.
If you want to get some advice from someone who is qualified to advise on this, then read ‘The 5am Club’.
My achievement this morning was writing this blog. Which I absolutely wouldn’t have bothered doing at any other point this week.