MF 360 : Why I now wake up at 4 am and what it took to get there
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Today, I share why I started getting up at 4 am and the benefits of going to bed and waking up earlier. More at www.bemovingforward.com.
Pain now, pain a few minutes in, pain a half hour in, gain some time later
Over the past few months, I've become a morning person. Last year, I talked about how the pandemic and radical changes in lifestyle (work from home, do everything from home, etc.) disrupted my sleep pattern. I eventually got back on track with a fairly regular 6:30 am - 7:00 am wake-up time. However, going to bed was erratic. Some nights, I would go to sleep at 10:30 pm, others at 11 pm, midnight or later. I started 2021 feeling a little off kilter, low energy, and irritable.
Then, over the summer, I stumbled onto Jocko Willink's content. I listened to an episode or two of his podcast and watched a few YouTube clips from his show. One of the things he talks about is getting up at 4 am to start his day. Jocko is a former Navy Seal and getting up at the crack-of-before-dawn is a carryover from those days. The more I listened to him, the more it made sense. Willink explains that getting up at 4 is a conscious choice. Our natural inclination is to hit snooze and grab an extra 30 minutes or 1 hour of sleep. Getting up at 4 am is your first decision and if you fight off the sleep temptation, it's also your first victory. If you accomplish nothing else, you have started your day early and if your normal day begins at 8 or 9 am, you can get a lot done in those extra hours.
I decided to give it a try.
Not so fast
It's one thing to listen to an inspiring clip at 2 pm and say "Heck, yeah! I'm going to get up at 4 am, starting tomorrow!" and another to actually do it. The first thing I had to do was make another conscious choice about when I go to bed. Willink doesn't advocate getting less sleep. Quite the opposite. Humans need the right amount of sleep to function and be at their best. Rather, shift the time you go to bed so you can get up earlier. He explains that most of us spend the last hours of the evening doing things that aren't necessarily useful or productive. I decided to take stock of my evenings. By 8 pm, I'm usually done for the day and inclined to spend a lot of hours reading, browsing on my phone, binging something on Netflix or a combination of the three. Willink suggests that if your evenings are filled with things you can cut out, make the choice to go bed early so you can wake up early. That first night, I couldn't quite pull off going to bed at 9:30 pm. My body was too used to a later sleep time. I tossed and turned until I finally went to sleep at around 11 pm.
Work towards the goal
The next morning, I got up at 6:15 am. That wasn't too hard. So I pushed it back to 6 and then went more aggressive with 5:30 am. I decided to work towards 4 am rather than force that first day and risk giving up if I found it too difficult. I'll be honest. While 6:15 and 6 am was ok, 5:30 was hard. I start my mornings with a workout on the treadmill to kick off my day. When the clock hit 5:30 am, all I wanted to do was sleep. The first minute was the hardest; making that choice to force myself out of bed. I'll be honest. The next 10 minutes weren't fun. And I'll be even more honest. The next half hour wasn't fun either. That first day, it took a full hour to get over the fact that I made a crazy choice to do something that felt painful. But by the time I finished my workout, shower, and morning meditation routine at around 6:45 am, I felt good.
I kept the 5:30 am wake up time for a week or two, then decided to move the goal post again. I did this gradually, working towards 5 am. By then, I was naturally going to bed earlier because I was tired. For a couple of weeks, 5 am was my target wakeup time. Then, I moved it to 4:45 am, then to 4:30 am, then 4:15, and sometime in August, I got to my goal of 4 am, which meant I was going to bed at 9 or 9:30 pm the night before.
Every day it's still a choice
Now that it's mid-October, I can share my thoughts on this. I hate-love it. I hate getting up at 4 am. The first minute when I throw off the covers and my feet swing out of bed is still difficult no matter how much and how good the sleep is the night before. Every day I fight the urge to go back to sleep. The first hour or so is still tough as I'm on the treadmill, eyes only partially awake, brain barely in startup mode. But by the time I'm into my morning meditation routine at around 5:30 am, I'm really happy I made that choice. My blood pressure has remained consistently low, my overall mood has improved, and I'm getting better quality sleep. Moreover, those post-workout hours between 6:30 am and 9:00 am are some of my most productive. I love listening to podcasts or audiobooks as I drive to get my morning coffee at Panera while it's still dark and there are no cars on the road. I love that I'm the first one at Panera just as the doors are opening. I love that can I crank out emails, do work or catch up on other business before my day officially starts.
Over these past few months, I've discovered that I am a morning person but it's a conscious choice I have to make each day. My productivity levels are highest in those hours so making that daily choice has allowed me to get more done and be at my best.
I still struggle with that first minute when the clock hits 4 am. I still question my sanity as I go down to the treadmill when it's pitch black outside. But the short term discomfort has been more than worth it for the rewards I've gained in my day-to-day and over the long term.
As of now, I plan to keep making this choice. It's not for everyone. I respect those who are more productive later during the day and whose optimal wakeup time is later. Every individual is different and many of you may not be in a position to make these kinds of choices. However, if you can, I recommend you give it a try. Waking up an hour or even a half hour earlier than you normally do may give you back some of that precious time so you can get more done, spend more quality time with those important to you, and improve your overall mood and health.
This year and last have disrupted so many things in our lives. But there have also been opportunities to be introspective and make changes and choices, both small and large, to move forward.
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