11: How to wake up early
and create more illustration
In my last post I wrote about how waking up earlier can give you more time in the day. More importantly, it can give you better quality time when pursuing your passion. And, if you’re anything like me then trying to wake up early is extremely difficult. There are so many things working against us getting out of bed; we need all the help we can get. In this post I’m going to walk you through some methods and techniques I’ve found useful for waking up. Consequently, they’ve worked wonders for establishing my ‘Early Wake, Early Create’ habit.
How to wake up early without burning yourself out
I’m not going to pretend that this is a sunny, warm walk in the park.
The first time I tried out this method of ‘Early wake, early create’ it was a disaster.
I decided I was going to wake up early, drag myself out of bed and do two hours of work before heading to the day job. The first morning worked a charm, I got out of bed like it was what I did every morning.
Mission accomplished; I thought.
This continued to work for the rest of the week. However, when Monday morning came around, I was completely exhausted. It resulted in not waking up early for the entire week, and I felt like a failure.
The problem with this first attempt was I tried establishing a new habit of waking up early without easing myself into it. I didn’t adjust properly and burnt myself out.
However, I’ve learnt the hard way so you don’t have to.
Stop yourself from burning out by establishing the habit slowly over a period of time. Don’t just try and wake up early one day, like I did at first. Start by going to bed earlier instead.
Adjust your sleep; don’t sacrifice it!
As an example; I always aim for 7 and a half hours sleep (that sounds like a luxury to some, but your sleep is crucially important to your success).
Previously I would go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7.30am for work. Deciding that I wanted to wake up 2 hours earlier to hustle in the morning, I would need to get up at 5.30am. To get my 7 and half hours of sleep I would need to go to bed by 10pm.
Instead of adjusting my sleep pattern to this straight away, I eased into the routine. I would start by trying to go to bed at 10pm, with the aim to still wake up at 7.30am.
First of all it was difficult – my brain wasn’t used to shutting off this early and it took time to get used to it. When you try this, you might find yourself lying there for a while in the beginning. At any rate, just go ahead and condition yourself to going to sleep at this new time.
I recommend trying this every night for 2 weeks before even attempting to wake up any earlier the following morning.
Once your head has adjusted to shutting down earlier in the evening, you may find that you actually start to naturally wake up earlier too. When I first started full-time work I found that I would naturally wake up early on the weekends, too. If this isn’t the case for you though, it’s at least going to start becoming easier for you to wake up early.
The next stage is to start setting your alarm for the earlier time.
Small victories help win the war to wake up early
If you’re still struggling to wake up at this point then don’t worry – it’s all about the small victories. Even if you woke up at the earlier time but didn’t make it out of bed straight away – that is a victory.
In fact, don’t even try getting out of bed for the first couple of weeks. Instead, just try to wake up early. Even if you’re just lying there, you’re starting to condition your body to the earlier time. Keep winning the small battles.
After 2 more weeks of waking up, but not getting out of bed, you should be starting to adjust.
Now for the hardest bit – you have to actually get out of bed.
It’s not easy, especially in winter. It’s cold and dark outside of the bed, but if you care about achieving your dreams you need to do it.
I’ll tell you now, it doesn’t get any easier either.
I hate getting out of bed; however, I love the person I am when I do wake up early. Use that sentiment as motivation to wake up early.
Tell yourself that every time you hit the snooze button that you’re giving up on your dreams. If you truly care about those dreams, you’ll get up – trust me on this.
Wake up early and get your feet on the floor
Getting out of bed is the hardest part of the day. To help with that devilish task; I have a tool. At first it sounds evil, but it’s actually ingenious. It’s an evil genius called the ‘Walk Me Up!’ app and yep, it does exactly that.
Available for free on Google Play and the iTunes store, there’s no reason not to try the app out. Completing a specified number of footsteps is the only way to turn off the ‘Walk Me Up!’ alarm.
I cannot emphasise how much this has changed my life.
I physically have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm. And, there’s no way of quitting the app or silencing it until you do.
Furthermore, my girlfriend will actually kill me if I don’t get up; and there’s no better added motivation than that.
In the interest of not getting back into bed, the steps required to turn off the alarm can be modified. For instance, my app is specifically tailored to the walk between my bedroom and the kitchen. This allows me to flick on the kettle and gather my bearings instead of slumping back into bed.
The first minute or two of being awake can be hell. And, that’s why we find it so easy to get back into bed. However, after the initial grogginess and disorientation life gets much easier, especially with a fresh brew at hand.
The ‘Walk Me Up!’ app also has an ‘Evil Mode’, which prevents you from snoozing. I recommend you turn this feature on. Otherwise, you’re just going be stuck in a limbo of hating the start of the day.
Snoozing’s for losers – Science has proven it!
Starting the day the right way is essential to your success. So, just get up when the alarm goes off and you’ll be much better for it.
Snoozing isn’t only unpractical, but those extra 5-10 minutes give you no benefits in terms of sleep.
Why? Our brains work on 90 minutes cycles; maybe you’ve heard about this before? The science is true, and it’s worked for me.
When we go to sleep it takes quite a long time to fall into a deep sleep. It takes time to transition from the stage of light sleep (when we first nod off) to the heavier, more beneficial REM sleep.
As the name suggests, Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when we our eyes flicker and move most. At this time, we are dreaming.
The complexity of the human sleep cycle is still not fully understood. However, it is known that we shift in and out of these states of sleep on a 90-minute cycle.
10 minutes of snoozing isn’t enough time to gain any beneficial sleep, so try to break this habit.
It’s also why the best course of action is to schedule your sleeping around these 90-minute patterns.
Personally, 7 and half-hours work best for me. I feel that 9 hours spent sleeping waste’s too much of my day – I think about that precious hour and a half that could be spent on the hustle. Eventually, I want to transition into a routine that incorporates a 6-hour sleep cycle.
According to Amie Gordon, scholar of Social-Personality Psychology at the University of California, there is an ideal time for sleep. Dr Gordon suggests 6 hours at night boosted with 1 and a half hour nap in the afternoon is the most beneficial sleep cycle.
I haven’t tested this theory as of yet. And, for most people this isn’t possible either. However, taking inspiration from the Mediterranean cultures that take ’siesta’s’ during the day, this may well be the best solution for the afternoon slump we all seem to experience.
Tools for getting into the 90-minute sleep cycle
If you have an iPhone then you may be aware of it’s ‘Bedtime’ feature on the ‘Clock’ app. This feature can help you plan what time you should be going to bed and waking up.
Ultimately, set the amount of time you want to sleep for, then adjust the sleep and wake times accordingly.
It also has a great reminder feature to give you that nudge you need to get into bed at night. I use this to prompt my ‘shut-down’ schedule in the evenings.
Realistically, if you need to fall asleep by 10pm, you’ll need to switch the lights off around 9.45pm.
Unless you’re completely exhausted, you’re not going to fall asleep instantly.
There’s also the controversial subject of ‘screens’ and how they mess up our brain’s biology. Through the backlighting used to brighten our screens, this feature tricks the brain into thinking it’s earlier than it actually is. We can dive into the science of this subject another day though, as there’s much to be discussed.
I recommend getting into bed around 1 hour before you need to go to sleep. And, not go on your phone either!
If you have a spouse, talk to them – invest in your relationship with some pillow talk. This is a great time of the day to catch up, talk about plans, and unwind.
Why don’t you pick up a book and get some of that reading done you’ve been putting off for ages? You’ve never found the time to read that book, but it’s important to you, right? Well, prove it.
As creative people, reading is an essential tool to our progress. And, I’m not talking about reading books associated with our discipline. Expanding our knowledge of all things is a great way to influence our work. It helps us explore new ideas and fuels our creativity.
Even better, reading before bed allows our subconscious time to digest the knowledge overnight while we sleep. This paired with an early morning writing habit can heed amazing results.
Tools for getting into the 90-minute sleep cycle
There’s a myriad of tools and tricks that can help you get to bed earlier. There are also tools to help you get a better sleep, and make your wake up routine more seamless.
Decide on the timing of your new sleep schedule, and base it around the 90-minute sleep cycle. Getting into this cycle will help you get a more rejuvenating, healthy sleep.
Don’t drastically change your routine right away though; establish the new habit by easing yourself into the new cycle.
Ultimately, start with the small victories until you’re where you want to be. And, combine the ‘Bedtime’ feature on iPhone with the free ’Walk Me Up!’ app for the best results. You could even experiment with other alarm clock tech if you feel the ‘Walk Me Up’ method is too drastic.
Get your sleep cycle right and keep hustling.
Walk Me Up! App