Thoughts on Becoming an Early Riser: Plus 4 Tips for Getting up Early

Work-Life Balance on 10.29.12
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Becoming an early riser is one of those intentions I’ve had for quite some time. I’ve always wanted to be one of these moms who gets up and goes to the gym for a workout in the wee hours while the rest of the family sleeps. And indeed, it felt great each and every time I’ve gotten up at 5-something, slipped out to get my exercise, and then come home to get some work done on my laptop in the still-dark house.

Predictably after several days, however, my feeling of accomplished smugness unravels into a heap of cranky exhaustion. I thought I just wasn’t meant to be an early riser.

Renewing My Pledge to Be an Early Riser

Recently, I’ve made the resolution anew, although more out of necessity than a desire for self-satisfaction. I signed up to do a lot more writing for Parentables, plus I’m still in the early, heavy-lifting stages of launching my business. I’m planning my first mini-retreat for myself and 7 other gals: an evening of wine, tasty num-nums, and creating our own artwork while we shrink our heads. I need to create the workbooks for the event, which is two and a half weeks from now.

It became overwhelmingly apparent that, while I have enough hours in the day to get everything done, they weren’t the right hours. For example, when my daughter goes down for a nap, I want to put my feet up and unwind before I sit down to do work. That’s not in the schedule. But I really do better when I have this break to make the transition from parenting to working. But again, I don’t have time for breaks.

I also have time in the evenings to do work, but after a long day and after the dinner dishes are cleaned up, ask me how much I feel like sitting down to work? So this leaves me with early mornings as the peak time for me to get things done before my body gets tired and my mind gets cluttered with other less important items on the to-do list.

Dream Lifestyles Also Require Sacrifices

The fact of the matter is, I’m in the midst of creating my dream lifestyle. It took a lot of courage and soul-searching for me to decide that I’m going to forgo fulltime office politics and instead move into the murky waters of entrepreneurship. Since we live in reality, “dream” lifestyles require sacrifices too. I said to my mother-in-law last week that the rest of the world gets up and goes to work even when they don’t feel like it, why can’t I? On the plus side, one of the perks of my new life is that I get to do my work whenever it suits me, without having to navigate and negotiate around what a boss wants. So if the best time to get my work done is at 5AM before the cares and worries of the day wear me down, then that’s going to happen.

The pleasant surprise in all of this for me is that when I came to terms with the fact that it needs to happen one way or another, and that I can take a little time to figure out how to really and truly make it work for me, it’s been an absolutely delightful shift in my routine. I love the quiet before the storm, so to speak, as I can be totally absorbed in what I love doing with zero distractions.

Tips on Becoming an Early Riser

So what makes this time different? Why do I think that I’ll be able to keep getting up at 5AM without unraveling into a heap of crank-i-tude?

1. Get Rid of a Set Bedtime

The most important thing I’ve learned to do differently is to ignore a set bedtime. I know, it sounds counterintuitive and strange, but the key is to make the early wake-up the fixation, and only go to sleep when you’re very tired and you know you’ll fall asleep quickly. The mistake I’ve made in the past is to think an early bedtime was everything, and that if I got into bed early enough, I would magically pop awake early. Not so by a long shot. Now I’m actually staying up a lot later than I would have deemed prudent before I knew better, I’m sleeping more soundly, and it requires just about zero effort to get out of bed in the morning.

2. Cut Way Back on Caffeine

The second counterintuitive tip that’s been working is to switch from coffee to tea for the lower caffeine content. You’d think that after getting up at 5AM, the first thing I’d want is an IV drip of coffee. However, coffee has a distinct disadvantage: it makes it nearly impossible for you to really know when it’s time to go to bed at night. Cutting back on caffeine also makes naptime a possibility, but more on that in tip #4.

3. Read Before Bed

The third tip isn’t actually counterintuitive at all: it’s to read before bed, rather than watching TV and surfing the internet. Aside from messing with the release of melatonin (a sleepy-time hormone) because of the bright screens, these activities are more stimulating, which can encourage you to keep doing them way past the point of exhaustion.

Plus if I’m reading in bed, there’s a no-hassle transition to switching off the light. I don’t need to endure those internal debates before finally convincing myself to shut the laptop or turn off the TV before the bumbling and onerous trek up the stairs.

4. Nap if You Feel the Urge

The fourth tip comes from the world of polyphasic sleep. Taking a short nap during the day – even a duration as short as 20 minutes – can drastically reduce your nighttime sleep requirement. Now when my daughter goes down for a nap, I’ve already gotten enough work done earlier in the day and I don’t have naptime guilt if I want to lay down for a little while and recharge for my afternoon.

That’s another perk of lowering my caffeine consumption: if I have coffee in the morning, there’s no way I’ll be able to fall asleep at naptime. Now I’m more in touch with my body’s need for sleep and I’m better able to give myself the sleep I need.

I’ve learned quite a few things from this little endeavor. For one thing, following all of the tips that allow me to wake early leaves me more in touch with my body and my natural rhythms. This confirms for me that I’m making the right decision about becoming self-employed. One of the things I hated about working in an office was the total disregard for biological needs. If I had to use the bathroom during a meeting, a battle was waged inside my head and bladder. Do I climb over the 20 people between myself and the door, or can I make myself wait? There was no respectable way to nap in the office, regardless of the fact that napping is a boon to productivity. Hungry for a midday veggie stir fry? Good luck with that.

What started out as a reluctant decision to become an early riser for the sake of my work has morphed into a total affirmation of the benefits of waking up early, of becoming self-employed, and of carving out a quiet block of time each day to pursue my passion and my life’s work. I daresay that becoming an early riser is, surprisingly for me, one of the most fun challenges I’ve undertaken. (Wow, I'm getting old.)

Photo: Russ Neumeier / Creative Commons

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