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Making Peace With the First Moment of the Day

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I’m not the type to sleep late—seven o’clock is late for me—but I don’t like waking up. Being pulled from the womb of sleep by an alarm clock is almost always a jarring and disorienting experience. Unfortunately, almost every day, it’s the first thing that happens.

Each day begins in a small cloud of mild existential confusion, as it takes a few seconds to remember where this morning fits in the context of my life—what day it is, what happened yesterday, and which of my apparent life circumstances were just dream figments. Oh good, I didn’t ruin my laptop in a bubble bath yesterday. Oh right, I didn’t co-host a dinner party with Patrick Stewart last night. *This cloud of confusion can be almost comically extreme for me; optional anecdote in footnote.

Each day begins with two simultaneous upsetting developments. Not only does the glorious experience of sleep come to an end, but you’re summoned to the captain’s chair of waking life at the exact time your mind and body are least interested in the job. In a flash, the comfort and freedom of sleep transmute into the thankless conundrum of being a person who has work to do and responsibilities to attend to, the first of which is getting your groggy body to its feet. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a very peaceful relationship with that moment. I like being awake, but I don’t like waking up.

It seems that the earlier my alarm clock forces this moment, the more jarring it is. This is unfortunate, because one of my aspirations is to be one of those early-rising crazies who has four hours of good work done by 9:00 am. As most people are just getting to their desks, I’d have the day’s toughest work under my belt, free to switch into a lower gear and spend the daylight on less-demanding activities: correspondence, light brainstorming, socializing, reading and maybe some Kirkegaardian nature walking.

The early morning hours are premium productivity time for me. The earlier in the day I do any sort of hard, mentally demanding work, the easier it is and the more smoothly it goes. An early-morning hour is worth two afternoon hours and maybe three evening hours. As the sun gets higher, the less suited my mind becomes for this “deep work,” and I gravitate towards less cerebral activities that can tolerate a fair bit of doubt and distraction.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever have half a day’s work under my belt by the beginning of business hours, but I’m ready to push the boundary a bit and see what gets better and what gets worse.

The Early Riser Project

The biggest obstacle between me and my early-riser dream is the prospect of an even more difficult moment of waking. The darker and stiller the world is when that moment comes, the more awful the alarm sounds. After I’m up it’s not bad at all, it’s just a matter of getting through that moment and getting to my feet.

If I could learn to embrace that moment of waking, and make at least some peace with it, I’d be free to move into early-riser land as far as it makes sense practically.

I already get up at sixish, but five o’clock seems like the true boundary of early-riserdom. Essentially, I’d be trading a forgettable, unfocused late-day hour for one of those quiet, premium first-thing hours, which is an amazing introductory deal. This will be my next experiment.

What I’m going to do

Starting today, for the next four weeks, I’m going to get up at 5:00, without using the snooze button.

Recently I’ve been getting the worst of both worlds, setting my alarm for 5:50, and hitting snooze three times before getting to my feet. I don’t know how I got into that habit, but it’s a hard habit to break at the moment you’re doing it.

The simple solution is to move my alarm clock to the far end of the room, making it impossible to hit snooze without getting to my feet.

The alarm will be set for 5:00 on weekdays. This will shift things an hour earlier from my current routine, not including those pointless snooze-naps I’ve been taking. On weekends I’ll set it for whenever I feel like (probably 6:20-ish). Still no snoozing.

I will have to go to bed an hour earlier in order to preserve my usual seven hours of sleep. I suspect this will be the hardest part of the experiment.

I’m especially excited to get away from the questionable institution of the snooze button. Why chop that last stretch of sleep into pieces? Do you snooze? Why?

In my case, I guess it seems to soften the blow of the moment of waking, but at a cost; my unrestrained snoozing has trained me to believe that two-thirds of the time my alarm goes, the bad news isn’t true, and the dreaded moment hasn’t yet arrived. That seems unhealthy. I’m sure I’d be better off leaving my sleep unperforated, learning instead to confront the full horror of getting up right when the alarm goes.

I already know peace with the moment of alarm-ringing is possible. On meditation retreats I’ve experienced near-equanimity in the moment of waking. Even though the moment is signaled by one of your fellow yogis ringing a chime (sometimes a cowbell) outside your door at 4:45 or 5:05 or some other normally-ungodly time, the mind has become so uncontentious from days of meditation that that little tantrum doesn’t happen.

During this experiment, whatever peace I can make with the moment of waking, I’ll take it. The bigger concern is probably how this will affect my evenings. My current rule is “Be asleep by 11:00” and now it must change to 10:00, which is pushing me into old man territory. If I’m out somewhere, I’ll have to start saying “Well I guess it’s getting late…” by nine o’clock, which is pretty lame. But it’s only on weekdays.

To smooth the transition, I’ll allow myself to shift the whole workday an hour later, once a week, so that I can stay out as “late” as ten-something one of my weekdays, if it makes sense to. This will help keep me from declining every social activity during the week and also help me recognize the difference between early-rising and super-early rising.

The first day is today, and the last day is four weeks today.

I’ll report my experiences on the Experiment Log page.

If any of you want to do your own early rising experiment, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave your observations in the comments on the experiment page.

***

*In my experience, the harder and longer I sleep on a given night, the more discombobulating the moment of waking is. One morning this effect was so pronounced I couldn’t remember anything about my real life for quite some time. It felt like I might have had the same kind of amnesia as Memento guy, and had forgotten.

I woke up on a hard, institutional bed in a room I was sure I had never seen before. It was hot, I was ravenous, and there were bars on the windows. Both windows opened directly onto the walls of adjacent buildings, but I could hear a bustling street, and a strange announcement in a Middle Eastern language coming from a loudspeaker.

I sat up in the bed, and tried to remember what this room was and why I was there, and for an impossibly long time, nothing came to me. The post-waking fog, which usually disperses in a few seconds, just hung there. 

Did I live in a jail? A hospital? A mental institution? The only thing I knew for sure was that I was no longer dreaming, and this was my real life.

After what seemed like forever (but was probably less than a full minute), the scent of frying street food reached me, and memories of the previous day finally flooded in. I had arrived in Bangkok the previous morning, exhausted from the sleepless trans-pacific flight, and got lost on the way to my guesthouse. After finally checking in in the early afternoon, I must have collapsed on the bed without even taking a moment to look around my room, and slept for close to fifteen hours. The loudspeaker voice was a call to prayer from a nearby mosque. I guess I had absorbed so little of the context I would be waking up to that my brain couldn’t connect what I saw and heard to any of my memories.

***

Photo by Alexander Possingham

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Diana Harris November 27, 2017 at 10:49 pm

One thing that really works for me is a daylight alarm clock. I find it eases me into a natural waking at the top of my sleep cycle, rather than the “heurgh! argh! ack, where am I?” response to a normal alarm.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:11 am

I have seen those and would like to try one out. My guess is that it would wake me up just fine but make it too easy to go back to sleep, because it doesn’t make any noise and I can sleep with lights on. I would like to borrow one to test it but I don’t know anybody who has one.

Phil R-W November 28, 2017 at 5:25 pm

We switched to one and thought we’d have that problem as well, but it turns out that it’s a lot easier to program yourself to wake (and stay awake) with light than it is to constantly fight your body into waking up to an unpleasant noise. For a while we set a backup alarm, but rarely ever did it come to that.

Another trick we turned to is programming the thermostat to heat up before you want to wake up. Light + heat really seems to do it for us.

On the flip side, it also makes getting to sleep easier. Dark room = sleep. Light = stay awake.

Best of luck in your experiment. They also make alarm clocks that are puzzles that spring apart that you have to put back together to get to stop — and alarm clocks that cook bacon to wake you up. :)

Andy November 28, 2017 at 9:19 am

I’ll second this. I once rented a room with zero windows, so I’d wake up in the pitch black with no concept of where or when I was. The first night, after moving in, I slept without waking until noon the next day, mainly because my body just had no idea what time it was. I got a daylight alarm clock and it was hugely helpful in making the morning actually feel like daytime and helping me get out of the bed and get moving.

David, also check out Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule. She used it to help her stop lying in bed after waking, which isn’t quite your problem, but could be worth investigating.

Tobias Sjösten November 28, 2017 at 2:27 am

Always interesting to read about your experiments, David!

Since a few years back I’ve stopped using an alarm clock. My reason is simply that your body will wake up by itself when it’s done sleeping and by using an alarm you are, by definition, cutting your sleep short.

Not sleeping enough brings with it a host of negative effects on cognitive function, immune system, physical performance, hunger, etc, etc.

Why would you do that? If you want to get up earlier, why not simply hit the sack earlier?

(Having had a baby has personally made it a little harder to opt out of involuntary wake-ups though, haha.)

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:14 am

I’m sure half the comments will say to go alarm-clock-free but honestly I don’t believe I can manage a daily schedule if I leave it to nature to wake me up on time. Once I’m accustomed to going to bed a bit earlier I might experiment with that.

Anne November 28, 2017 at 2:38 am

I’ll be following your experiment with interest. I’ve recently done the opposite to a previous comment – after several years of letting myself wake up naturally (I’m retired, so I have that luxury) I’ve gone back to setting the alarm for reasons much like yours. Once I’ve made the effort to get up, I love the early morning, and the whole day seems to flow better from an early start. It’s not really logical – there’s the same number of hours available 9am-1am as 6am-10pm – but I feel as if the latter gives me a more productive day. My sleep had become quite poor, and reading about “sleep hygiene” convinced me that regular times might help. I settled on 10.30pm-6.30am, to accommodate the social life problem. The first week was hell and I felt terminally jet-lagged, but I persevered. Since the clocks went back, I’ve been waking naturally at 5.30am, so have adjusted accordingly. Now the alarm is only there as a back-up and is usually switched off before it rings. I’m sleeping much better – have discovered that I need nearer 8 hours sleep than the 7 I thought I needed. Good luck!

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:19 am

The time of day seems to have a big effect on me. It seems like my work ethic peaks shortly after I wake and then dwindles steadily.

And Daylight Savings Time sure messes things up, doesn’t it? It’s hard to comprehend the twice-annual damage it does to people’s sleeping patterns. I have no idea why we still do it.

Anne November 28, 2017 at 9:03 am

And I compounded matters this year by going from the UK to Rome for 4 days, a few days after the clocks went back. They’re an hour ahead of us, so I changed the hour 3 times in a week. The effect was extraordinary – only one hour, but I felt as if I had severe jet lag for several days after I got back.

Zoe November 28, 2017 at 3:07 am

I find it hard too, especially as I don’t technically *have* to get up early (well, 6.50 is early for me), but I choose to because my husband has to and so that we can have breakfast together.
One thing that’s helped is building the habit of sitting in bed after breakfast, drinking my cup of tea and hand-writing three pages’ worth of stream of consciousness stuff in a notebook. I started doing these “morning pages” while reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and against all expectations, the practice has stuck. It’s not always easy (it’s actually sometimes really daunting) but for some reason, I really look forward to that “me” moment… and so it makes getting up a little easier.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:29 am

Having something to look forward to is really helpful. Coffee has served that role for me, and also having a good book on the go.

Paul Davies November 28, 2017 at 3:16 am

Good luck, sir! This came at a most opportune time – for I’ve recently left my job to go self-employed and the discipline of my morning waking has definitely slipped, despite knowing full well that however tired I feel, if I do someone drag myself up, within 20 minutes, I’m absolutely fine and there is a 100% correlation between then getting stuff done and the day being better than the days when I lie in.

A timely reminder that it’s always tough at the beginning, so just keep going anyway :)

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:32 am

Yeah that’s the way I’m looking at it. It seems like such a huge ordeal, but it’s not, and even five seconds later, once I’m on my feet, the dreadful part is over.

Gabrielle Reason November 28, 2017 at 4:19 am

One thing that made a massive difference in the quality of my waking was replacing my aggressively toned phone alarm with an alarm radio. It wakes me up without a problem, and because it’s not akin to a siren, I can lie there in relative peace without snoozing it, but don’t fall back asleep. It’s tuned into something called Radio 4 in the UK, which serves up actually interesting world news, ‘today in parliament’ and ‘thought for the day’, so I am gradually roused into the world by all the interesting things they’re telling me. A much more peaceful way to wake up – AND I’ve used that time to educate myself on the world. Win win.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:35 am

I have done that too and I agree it makes a huge difference. I would like to have more options though. I used to use my phone, which allowed for gentle little tunes with gradually increasing volume, but I got a clock radio type so that I don’t look at my phone first thing. I don’t want to hear news the moment I wake up, that’s for sure, but music is okay.

Rataplata November 28, 2017 at 4:49 am

The fact that you need an alarm clock to wake up at all, and that you are so disoriented when you wake, means that you still have a ‘sleep debt’, meaning that you don’t get enough sleep – which can lead to a whole host of problems in the long run.

Allowing yourself to stay up later one night a week (and, I assume, wake up later the following morning) will likely only make it more difficult for your body to adjust to the sleep habits you’re trying to achieve.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:39 am

One day I would like to live without an alarm clock but I don’t believe that’s possible yet. Living without one would mean waking up at a different time every day. Being self-employed I need to start my day in a consistent way or things fall apart quickly. One day I would like to be perfectly disciplined and not have to worry about that, but I’m not there yet.

Rataplata November 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Unless something unusual happens (travel, staying up too late more than two or three nights in a row, etc) I wake up within minutes of the same time every day.
For some reason, you seem to assume that 7 hours of sleep should be sufficient for you; do you have a particular reason for that? Many people need 8 or even 9 hours to be fully rested.

Re a comment above; I do own a wake up light (if anyone considers buying one; check to see that the lightbulb can be changed when it burns out) and all of them that I know of have the option of waking up to sound in addition to or instead of the light. Mine has 3 pre-programmable radio stations, 5 or 6 ‘nature’ sounds (bird song, mooing cows etc) and an USB slot to add your own sounds.

I still use it these days; I read for about 20 minutes before going to sleep (always in a paper book; no screens of any kind are allowed in my bedroom) and I set the light to slowly go out in 30 minutes, which means that after 20 minutes or so it becomes too dark to read (I start with the light at about half of it’s brightest setting).
I could override it, of course, but that is a bit of a kerfuffle and I rarely bother.

The only downside is that when I sleep somewhere else, I often forget to switch off the reading light there – leading to accidentally finishing books at 4 a.m…..

Rataplata November 28, 2017 at 2:07 pm

The chorus encouraging you to ditch the alarmclock is rather amusing!
It’s interesting to see you cling to the idea that you need your alarm in order to have structure/a schedule.
I’m bipolar, and structure (what I tend to call ‘trying to live a boring life’) is essential for me.
In most of your other posts, you have a much more curious and experimental attitude.

This whole waking-up-without-an-alarm is pretty new to me as well; for most of my life, it took grave measures to make sure I got up on time.
It was only when (more or less by accident) I didn’t need to be somewhere at a particular time anymore, and I learned to actually allow myself to go to bed on time (that took a while! And is still a bit of a struggle sometimes) that I slowly discovered I would actually wake up at a reasonable time (shockingly early, really) and feel rested.

Beth Larson November 28, 2017 at 5:20 am

If you must use an alarm clock to wake up, I’m sure you are aware that your body likes sleeping in hour and a half chunks. (But if not, I’m telling you – it seems to be true for me and many that I’ve spoken to.) If you can manage to give yourself 6 or 7 1/2 hours rather than 7 or 8, you might wake up feeling more refreshed. I also wonder if you might try going to bed “early” and letting yourself wake up on your own on the weekend or sometime when you’ve no bus to catch, just to see how much your body wants and start to get used to waking without an alarm clock. Have fun! You’re making me think of the movie “Groundhog Day” with this post. :)

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:41 am

I’m not so sure our sleep cycles are so consistent from person to person. I just can’t believe that 6 hours is better than 7. I might try going without an alarm clock on a weekend though, that’s a good idea. I always assume I’ll just keep going back to sleep but I don’t test that assumption very often.

Paul Davies November 28, 2017 at 9:06 am

A while ago, I would’ve written these exact words! But I’ve since discovered (for me, at least) that while the regular cycles (let’s say the three in the middle each night) are almost bang on 90 mins, the first one is almost always longer and the last one almost always shorter… so I’ve become more flexible on thinking in 90-min chunks. Timing of going to bed and exercise also seem to affect things in a pretty big way.

The alarm clock thing is weird – when I’m on a schedule, I wake up consistently a couple of minutes before it goes off. but without it, it seems to go a bit nuts. When I’ve regularly stuck to a waking time, my energy is *way* higher throughout the day, even if it’s crappy first thing – though that may be because getting up earlier = more likely to exercise, and it’s that that keeps the energy high… :)

Jennie Holland November 28, 2017 at 5:26 am

Oh wow… I feel so much self judgement and self flagellation rising up at me from this post!

Have you tried not using an alarm clock and going with your natural sleep rhythms?

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:45 am

Believe me I feel the judgment. I had no idea alarm clocks were such sinful devices to so many people.

Historically, my natural sleep rhythm seems to be going back to sleep repeatedly until I’ve been lounging in bed way too long. Even if my body no longer needs sleep, going back to sleep is always the easiest thing. I don’t take for granted that that ability to sleep longer is the same as a need to sleep longer.

Mel November 29, 2017 at 3:32 am

I agree that the ability to sleep longer doesn’t equal the need to sleep longer.
On weekends I sometimes wake up at 7 and feel well rested. I am happy to being up so early and decide to get up in a minute. Two hours later I wake up again, totally groggy this time.
My newest idea is that my body and brain don’t match with their need for sleep. While the body is well rested after 7 hours the brain needs more time to work out everything it experienced during the last days.
Funnily I find it a lot easier to get up when the alarm says 4:30 instead of anything between 5 and 7. Maybe because it’s such a crazy early time but sometimes I have to get up at this time.
A while ago I succeeded in getting up at 5 o’clock by not getting out of bed but reading for 20min instead. Preferably on my tablet with a lot of sleep preventing blue light. ;-) As soon as the brain starts working falling back asleep gets unlikely. And it’s amazing how fresh the brain is just after waking up. :-)
Good luck with your experiment!

DiscoveredJoys November 28, 2017 at 5:30 am

A lot of good comments above. I’m retired and have no need to set an alarm, however that has given me a different perspective. It’s not ‘Making Peace With the First Moment of the Day’ but making peace with the last moment of the day that’s important for me.

That means preparing for bed when I *begin* to feel tired enough, not waiting for the end of a television program, or ‘just another chapter’, or a quick look at emails or social media. I can always read a little in bed if I’m not quite ready (but avoid reading thrillers or cliffhangers!) and often prefer to re-read a ‘happy’ book.

In my case going to bed at the right time is more important than being awakened at the right time. But your mileage may differ…

Anne November 28, 2017 at 7:07 am

So agree with this! Crucial to my “sleep hygiene” routine, mentioned in my comment above, is bedtime routine. For me, tending to anxiety and over-arousal, that’s no exciting TV or books after 9pm (I timeshift programmes to teatime next day), no computers ditto, making sure I’m not hungry at bedtime, spending the hour before bed in wind-down activities such as undemanding reading or TV, or some knitting or sewing. It makes a huge difference to how easily I fall and stay asleep.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:48 am

I guess I can’t imagine a life like that, going by feel. I need schedules or nothing gets done, and sleep has to be a part of that.

Elisa Winter November 28, 2017 at 5:51 am

Just remember, David, this is an experiment, and all experiments end. I agree with Jennie Holland’s comment. If you have the luxury of not having to clock in at a job at 9:00am, no suit you have to wear, no commute you must endure, just enjoy your good fortune! And sleep! See what happens with no alarm clock for a season or two. No enforced moment of awaking. Although, I do think that going to sleep at 10-ish is a very sound idea. I am an 9:40 pm person myself. Don’t know why but at 9:35 pm a switch goes off in my brain and I am profoundly done with the day. Looking forward to your results.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:53 am

I guess I fear my “good fortune” would quickly turn into bad fortune, because without schedules I would get nothing done and have no income. This might not always be true, but in my experience it becomes a thousand times harder to get anything done if I wake up at 9 then at 5. Productivity has always been very difficult for me for non-sleep-related reasons, and since I’m self-employed, getting at it early is vital, at least for now.

“No alarm clock” would be a good experiment, but this is not that experiment.

Mamanancy November 28, 2017 at 6:29 am

I can’t imagine anything worse than starting the day with an alarm clock! As I’ve gotten older, aches and pains sometimes will be what wakes me, but even when much younger I would manage to usually wake up in order to shut the silly thing off. As farmers, we’ve ended the day pretty early anyway…I love the feeling of gradually coming out of the womb of sleep and beginning the anticipation of a new day and all it holds. Then there are the days that start with dread if what I know is coming, but those have been few…mostly. Looking forward to reading about your experiment, and would second the idea that you consider ditching the alarm clock and seeing what sleep your body requires. If socializing requires a later bedtime, a short nap mid-day might be a way to have your cake and eat it, too…

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 8:54 am

No alarm clock is a good long term goal I guess. Not possible right now.

Matthew in Michigan November 28, 2017 at 6:33 am

Good luck, I’ll be interested to see how it goes.
HaHa, I guess i’m old as I try to get to bed by 10 every night. I’m already and early riser though, 4:50 on weekdays. I will say this is most likely due to having 3 kids though. I finally figured out that’s the only time I can have peace and quiet to read, meditate or exercise. I love an early morning walk while the world is still asleep.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:00 am

I love early morning walks too, and took them all summer/fall. But where I live it’s just too cold at 6am to be excited at the idea. The peace in the early morning is a special time.

John November 28, 2017 at 7:14 am

I think you’ll really benefit from #1 & #23 from this Medium article: https://medium.com/personal-growth/23-smart-ways-to-increase-your-confidence-productivity-and-income-5ee8a3158f31

Some key excerpts from article…
“Because when you set your alarm and wake up early, it will suck. It feels absolutely terrible to wake up early.

But it only really feels terrible for five minutes, if you immediately get of bed and do something.

The pain of waking up only lasts five minutes.”

“Research shows that the longer you hesitate to do something, the less likely you are to do it.”

“23. Take A Few Minutes Every Night To Mentally Prepare Yourself For The Next Day (You need to have made the firm DECISION that you’ll get up when the alarm goes off)”

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:01 am

I appreciate these points, thank you. I like his argument for #1: that it’s dishonest to renegotiate your wake-up time in the morning, because you decided the right time the night before.

Kim November 28, 2017 at 7:16 am

I found it very difficult to change my wake-up time when I retired. After 20 years of rising at 4:30 a.m. for my job, after retiring even without an alarm clock I’d wake up at 4:30 or 5 at the latest. Now I go to bed at 10 p.m. and typically wake around 6 a.m. My problem is staying asleep during the night. I look forward to reading more about how your experiment goes.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:03 am

Conditioning definitely plays a role. My jobs always had me up at 5:30-6 so it’s become a natural time for me to wake up.

Kent Fackenthall November 28, 2017 at 7:18 am

Several months ago, I made the commitment to get up at 5 – an hour earlier than my family – to allow time for stretching, yoga and meditation. It has made a huge difference in a lot of ways. Initially it was hard, but for me, the key, as you mentioned, was getting to bed earlier. I learned that if I wasn’t in bed by 9:30 (GASP), it was much harder to get up and my chances of success diminished. Now, I’m pretty much in bed by 9:30, all the time. My wife likes to make fun of me as she stays up reading or surfing the internet until 11, but I just point out, “hey, it’s working for me.”

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:04 am

In the mornings I read and then meditate, and I’ve benefited a lot from starting the day like that. I expect I’ll get a good sense of the right time to go to bed as the experiment proceeds.

Autumn November 28, 2017 at 7:35 am

I second the wake-up lamp, especially in the winter, when on days like today the sun won’t rise until 8:23 am. It’s common for me to wake up, head on pillow, facing the light as if I were happily napping in the sun.

The second thing that helps me in the winter is wearing warm flannel pajamas to bed and keeping my huge wool socks at hand. Because it’s so cold outside the blankets, knowing I’ll be taking some of the coziness with me makes getting out of bed easier.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:05 am

The sunrise and sunset vary a lot at my latitude, and I’m sure it affects my sleep. I couldn’t bear wearing flannel pajamas as I sleep but having something warm and comfortable right near the bed is part of my strategy.

Dawn November 28, 2017 at 7:38 am

I look forward to hearing about the results of your experiment. I am naturally a night owl and it is difficult for me to end my day at a “reasonable” time to conform with standard work hours. But I just started s new job and want to set the expectation that I come in earlier and leave earlier, so I’m trying to set a goal of lights off by 10:00 pm at the latest. I think the benefits will outweigh the sacrifice.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:07 am

What time do you need to get up for your job? Has it been difficult?

Ann November 28, 2017 at 7:56 am

Even without an alarm clock, I often wake up in a miserable, almost-suicidal mood. I finally put a book of funny poems near my bed, and I try to read one before I get up – to remind myself life is worth living and the day is worth getting up for. Sigh…
I only wish I was a better sleeper and could go to bed earlier and GO TO SLEEP ! My true cycle is a night-owl, but I saw what that did to my mom. After she retired she let herself go to bed and get up when she wanted…which meant she stayed up until 4 AM and couldn’t really function until 5 PM. That is not a good way to have friends. So I’m persevering in keeping a reasonable schedule, 7 days a week.
Good luck with your experiment.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:10 am

Even after I started working for myself (and could theoretically live with any schedule I wanted) I gravitated towards pretty-normal hours. There were a number of reasons for this but a big one is that it fits with everyone else’s schedule. If I woke up at midday and worked from the afternoon to midnight, it would be almost impossible to have a social life.

Keith November 28, 2017 at 8:07 am

The first thing to do is ditch the alarm clock! What is more annoying than to start your day off already resenting the fact you have to get up instead of having the mindset that you want to get up. Prepare the night before for the next day – write a short note(s) of what you would like to accomplish first thing – make my bed, look out the window to check the weather, decide what you are going to have for breakfast, etc. Say a blessing and gives thanks when your feet hit the floor instead of grumbling that it is cold and you have to pee! Watch what you eat and drink the night before – probably a good idea to note in your diary – as your sleep can be very dependant on how you are feeling before you turn the light out. One of the keys to a refreshing sleep is wanting to get up the next and tackle the next adventure! Sleep well David.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:11 am

I guess one thing I have not adequately communicated is that productivity is a serious struggle in my life and there is no possibility of not using an alarm clock right now. Everyone is different I guess but I need the scaffold of a schedule where certain things happen at certain times or my life falls apart. My natural impulses are terrible and pessimistic and if this were the savannah I would not survive.

Keith November 28, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for the insight. As you have pointed out everyone’s ‘natural cycle’ is different, as well as their attitudes and behaviours. Schedules, rhythms and routines are very important but being hard on yourself is not a panacea for success. I like the idea of your experiments and wish you the best. Not sure what you mean by ‘savannah’ but I found this definition – https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Savannah. Not sure if that helps you sleep better!

Duncan November 30, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Not sure if you were tying to make a joke… a savannah is a flat grassland.
Savanna = US spelling, Savannah = UK, AUS, most everywhere else.

Edith November 29, 2017 at 8:15 am

If you place importance and respect on sleep, the big rock, it will help, not hinder, productivity, a smaller rock. Smaller because it is higher on the maslow pyramid and because nothing is bigger than taking care of your body.

MK Huling November 28, 2017 at 8:54 am

I too have been using a daylight alarm for the past year or so, as my hospital shift requires a 04:30 wake time— it has made such a significant difference in my waking! If I don’t wake up from the light alone, then at least by the time the rain forest noise setting on the alarm goes off (it’s awesome), I find that I’m in such light sleep that it’s usually quite effortless to wake up and get up- I’m often excited about it, simply because I woke up gently instead of jarringly. That being said, I’m fairly sensitive to light… I’d be interested to see if it works on people who aren’t sensitive in that way.

Also, your anecdote is a prime example of sleep inertia. If you haven’t already researched it, it’s quite a fascinating topic.

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:15 am

That alarm clock sounds great. Can you tell me the make/model?

MK November 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Sure thing. It’s the Phillips Wake up Light With Colored Sunrise Simulation alarm clock (a mouthful).

Reed November 28, 2017 at 9:16 am

I recently moved to Los Angeles from the east coast and the one thing that I’ve really felt I’ve lost is my sense of calmness in the morning. I am most productive in the morning and I used to wake up at 6 am before anyone else was up so i wouldn’t be distracted. Now when i wake up at 6 or 7, the east coast has been up for 3 hours. The world has already started to move, my friends and family are already texting me and i feel like I don’t have that sense of calming anymore. One thing i could do to offset this is to make that quiet time start around 8:30pm instead. When friends and family are likely asleep from their long days. I just don’t think it’s the same feeling. What do you make of this?

David Cain November 28, 2017 at 9:32 am

Yeah it’s hard for so much of your surroundings to change and also keep everything feeling the same. I’d just experiment with different things and see what changes. That’s what I’m doing here. I don’t know it will be better, but I will learn what might be better and worse.

Aga November 28, 2017 at 9:48 am

i never hit snooze. not ever. the way i see it is that i hate waking up so much that i only want to do it once. having said that, i am a natural early riser, though living with a night owl messes that up something fierce.

my life has been in a massive uproar (moved 10+ times in last decade, including cities, provinces, and countries), so my thing is to find order in chaos, to carve out routine in a messy life.

Priscilla Bettis November 28, 2017 at 9:55 am

Your experiments are really interesting. I enjoy reading about them. I have been an early riser since childhood. As a kid, it was to get to morning swim practice. As as adult, it was either work or exercise-related. (There’s nothing so satisfying as the snobby feeling of walking around at 7:00 am with your morning workout already completed.) After all those years, I can’t sleep in, and if I wanted to, the cats and dog wouldn’t let me because they are used to early kibble. I’ve picked up a few tricks after all those years, too. Your idea about putting the alarm across the room is spot-on. If you have a programmable thermostat, it helps to have the room/house/apartment heat up about 30 minutes before the alarm goes off. And finally, you have to move before you think. No internal complaining or pep talks or check lists of the day. You just gotta rush to your feet before your thoughts creep in because your thoughts will start turning toward self-comfort and going back under the covers! Good luck, I’m looking forward to your report!

David Cain November 29, 2017 at 9:21 am

I have definitely caught on to the “move before you think” principle, and not just when it comes to getting up. I’ve found it to be one of the most powerful tools for combating procrastination. When you give your mind a chance to talk you out of it, it will. But when you move the body without giving the mind a chance to negotiate, it’s too late.

Erika Kretzmer November 28, 2017 at 11:14 am

David, Thanks for sharing your experience and struggles with the morning.

Having a light on always helped me to get up. I recently bought a set of programmable LEDs (Phillips hue), and set up for a gentle dawn sequence over the course of an hour. It wakes up the light-sensitive part of my brain. I liked the expensive programmable bulbs (~$30/per) because they go from very low, pre dawn light to moderately bright. Phillips makes a simpler dawn alarm clock (~$100). A programmable timer (~$5) could work on any electric lamp.

Curtis M Michaels November 28, 2017 at 11:21 am

I use alarm clocks as little as possible and have for decades. I’ve gotten to where I actually can’t get to sleep if I know my alarm is on. That’s not healthy.

I just started working for myself about a week ago. I’m writing freelance. My only schedule is submission deadlines which are no problem for me. For the past week I’ve been going to bed when sleepy, getting up when my body’s done sleeping and working between times. It has been most cathartic after the last three years in a job I loved for a company I hated.

I look forward to your follow-up posts on this experiment and wish you the very best!

PS: You asked that I let you know how putting my social media in a separate folder on my bookmarks bar has been working as far as helping me to maintain discipline. Of course it doesn’t do the work for me, but when I commit to leaving that folder alone I do quite well and can still use my main browser for writing research.

Phil November 28, 2017 at 12:08 pm

David, I’ve read all your previous comments about why an alarm clock is necessary for you right now and for your current experiment, but I’m still going to pile on with one more encouragement that for your NEXT experiment, try ditching the alarm clock for a few months.

As someone who worked a corporate job for decades and who is now blissfully self-employed for the past 8 years, the SINGE GREATEST BENEFIT of not going to an office job is no longer having to wake to an alarm. It strikes me as nearly insane that anyone who does not have to do so would wake to an alarm.

As others have noted, we sleep not in a homogeneous, uniform coma, but in quantized cycles that have definite stages. When you terminate your last sleep cycle at an unnatural time, your day suffers as a result. Allowing your body to complete its last cycle naturally really has benefits. And I think one of the reasons you hate to wake up is that you are yanking yourself out of that last cycle unnaturally with an alarm.

I used to hate waking up with a passion (to an alarm) and now I actually love the leisurely feeling of gently coming up out of sleep and just resting for a moment as I settle into the day. The first thing I do, after just slowly warming up to consciousness, is the “Five Minute Journal” which helps start the day with gratitude. I highly recommend it.

I look forward to both your current experiment, and the next one where you ditch the alarm clock. : )

Debbi November 28, 2017 at 1:23 pm

May I suggest that you sashay down to the library and check out “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker? It was a fascinating read (honestly, he writes quite well so do not let the topic or number of pages be off-putting). Walker makes a strong case for Americans and Brits tending to be chronically sleep deprived, which might explain why waking up is so jarring for you. You mention 7 hours of bed time and he discusses why this is probably not enough. He also sprinkles ways to use sleep research to improve your own sleep experience throughout the book. You will not necessarily be able to eliminate the alarm clock from your life right now, but the information in the book might help you wake up with peace. I wish you well with your experiment and look forward to hearing more about it as the month progresses.

David Cain November 29, 2017 at 9:18 am

Sounds great, I have put it in my library list!

Colin November 28, 2017 at 3:03 pm

When you say “In a flash, the comfort and freedom of sleep transmute into the thankless conundrum […]” I definitely agree — and the flash is the most unpleasant bit. I created a strategy that removes the “flash” and replaces it with a much more gradual transition. Instead of hitting snooze, I’ve created two specific alarms, which each serve their own purpose.

The first is a really gentle tune that I particularly like, set at low volume, which lets me very slowly shift my brainwaves into more of an alert state. It’s something that I can keep my eyes closed and listen to with a smile on my face while I daydream and think about my morning. I don’t have to deal with this in any way, and can just lay in bed listening for a bit until it fades out.

The second alarm triggers a few minutes later, before I’ve had a chance to drift back to dreamland, and is a much more upbeat track. This is the “okay, you’ve had some time to think about life and what you want to do today, time to put some pants on” alert. I’ll usually let it play while I stand up and get dressed, then shut it off once I’m ready for the day.

Waking up with an alarm feels so horribly unnatural that I really try to make it as pleasant as possible. I chose two full songs (each over 5 minutes in length) that I really enjoy, and that closely fit the mental transitions I’m trying to make: sleep to hypnagogia (what a fun word), then hypnagogia to alertness.

As long as you’re going to be using an alarm, I’d suggest implementing this strategy, as there’s literally zero extra cost. Looking forward to seeing the results of your experiment!

Cassie November 28, 2017 at 9:24 pm

I love your description of that feeling between sleeping and waking. I don’t like being jarred awake by an alarm. I don’t know exactly how this happened to me, well, I do know, it was a dietary change, but I reset my circadian rhythm and now rarely use an alarm clock. Maybe once a year. I have to be at work (office job) at a certain time every morning and I’ve never overslept. Of course, I go to bed fairly early and I am serious about no tech at all after 9:00 p.m.

Dude, ditch the alarm clock. Why force yourself to wake up earlier than you want to? Do you have to get up at a certain time? If left to sleep without an alarm, what time would you wake up? Maybe you could figure it out to where you sleep until you wake up naturally? If you are getting adequate sleep, you should wake up naturally. You might have to play with bedtime but you’ll get there eventually.

Johan November 28, 2017 at 9:34 pm

David you always seem to write about a topic that pertains to a current struggle. Challenge is accepted. I don’t know when it started for me but in the past 6 months I’ve been really bad at waking up. I have no problem being awake but that initial getting off the bed has become a huge burden on me. I’ve been extremely lucky I have a very relaxed job where I can get away with going in a little late but it’s been affecting my work productivity. I wake up at 6:50AM but I let my alarm sound off for the 1 minute I have it set to before silencing and then back to shut-eye land for me. I then wake up at 7:30AM and it’s a rush to get out of the house. My bigger problem is going to sleep real late (sometimes at 1am).

What’s funny is I bike to work everyday (4.5 miles with a 400ft hill climb) so it’s definitely not a “being lazy” thing. I like being awake as you said, but it’s the waking up part. I will be logging my experience at the experiment page for this one. Some things I will be trying:

1) Get to bed by 11:30am. This will give me a good 7 hours of sleep.
2) Do not silence my alarm automatically after 1 minute rather let it ring forever which will force me to get up from the bed.
3) Do pushups as soon as I get off the bed.
4) Set the alarm to my favorite band music (Arcade Fire).
5) Have my guitar next to my bed and play a song as soon as I wake up. I love playing music so what better way to start the day?

David Cain November 29, 2017 at 9:11 am

Great, looking forward to hearing how things go for you. Just a word of warning about using Arcade Fire for the alarm — in my experience when you use a song as an alarm or a ringtone, it spoils the enjoyment of it for any other purpose, because the association is just too strong. It might make a good alarm, but it might end up being sacrificed, in a sense.

Kate Z November 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm

No one mentioned but there are apps that can help you wake gently in your light sleep phase. I’ve been using “Sleep Cycle” on my iPhone for almost 3 years now and it’s been really helpful: you give it a window – usually 30 minutes – when you want to be awaken and during this window it will “monitor signals from your body to wake you softly when you are in your lightest possible sleep state”. It does make a big difference for me, I pretty much always wake up in a good mood. I put it on my nightstand, phone in airplane mode. And it keeps statistics and shows trends that are interesting to check, for example I get the best sleep on a Friday night!

Shirley November 29, 2017 at 4:39 am

I’ve had to change the ring tone on my alarm because lately I’ve been incorporating it into my dream and then either trying unsuccessfully to turn it off in the dream or getting up and dressed etc in the dream. Then when I wake up I have to do it all over again!

Sandy Parsons November 29, 2017 at 6:18 am

I was always a night person and even when I had to get up early I still went to bed late. This worked great when I was in college and had jobs that started later. Thirteen years ago I started working in an OR and had to get up at 5:00 AM. I have anxiety and insomnia, so I knew I had to draw a line, in the sandman, so to speak. I never once allowed myself the luxury of the snooze button. I programmed myself that no matter how much I wanted to sleep, as soon as the alarm sounded, I pulled off the covers and jumped out of bed. I’ve never been late to work a single time. Two other things helped. One, I got a more pleasant, bird chirping alarm and then, later, when they came out, a light alarm. The other, sadly, is that I have the bedtime of a small child. 8:30 PM is when I stop doing stuff and get in bed. I usually read for a while. It’s no fun in the summer to get in bed while the sun is still up but having once suffered three consecutive days of being awake, I’ve learned to place a premium on sleep.

sally November 29, 2017 at 6:40 am

Hope your experiment goes well! I have been waking pretty comfortably at 5:20 on weekdays for some years now. I do Pilates for an hour then get to work early. I pretty much roll straight out of bed. I do sleep in until 7:30 one of the weekend days, the other I will either do this again, or get up at 6 and have a run. I think I have just got used to the routine.

Mamanancy November 29, 2017 at 6:53 am

These comments have been fascinating…one thing I’ve recently noticed is a correlation between the quality/quantity kind of sleep I get and the amount of caffeine I’ve consumed during the day. This has definitely changed as I’ve gotten older…I don’t even have chocolate after about 2 in the afternoon, or if I do, it must be good enough to make it worth a short night! I wonder if those who are having sleep problems have experimented with little to no caffeine?

Corinne November 29, 2017 at 7:05 am

Hi David, I’m like you, three morning hours equal an entire afternoon. It seems after 1pm my brain and productivity simply do not function at the same level they do in the morning. I agree that the hardest part in your challenge will be going to bed earlier each night, but eventually this can become your norm. I don’t normally set an alarm but the past few weeks I have been hell bent on finishing my dissertation, so I set an alarm, a pleasant-sounding one with birds singing, but I almost always wake up before it sounds. I turn it off once and my goal is to have my coffee poured before the official sunrise. Rising with the sun (or a little before) is an age old Ayurvedic practice and it is true that when I have my coffee, I flood the room with light and I feel amazing. I know that you meditate and if you are a yogi you are probably no stranger to Ayurveda, but it’s fascinating to go a little deeper with it.

Here’s a good run-down of what is happening with each dosha at different times of day.

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-ayurvedic-clock

Just the other day I read an article about how much light affects our circadian rhythm. I never realized that it was just as important to flood ourselves with light when we rise as it is to sleep in a dark room. For me the hardest thing is not falling asleep to the lulling narration of Forensic Files because I am fully aware that the light from the tv is affecting my circadian rhythm. I’ve been trying to break the habit of falling asleep watching tv and honestly have surprised myself the past few nights by just getting in bed and turning off the lights and not using backlit devices. I realize my body is ready for rest and sleep comes rather quickly. I’ll be interested to see how your experiment went. All best.

Edith November 29, 2017 at 8:06 am

I don’t agree with your experiment. Our culture doesn’t respect sleep enough. It is basic nourishment for brain and body. You wouldn’t make a plan to starve yourself, would you? The alarm clock feels shitty because it interrupts a cicle. What you need to experiment is the time you naturally wake up when you go to bed earlier and earlier. I go to bed at 10 to wake at 6:00 or 7:00 in the winter. In the old days people would wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 am because they went to sleep as soon as it got dark. I’m freelance and consider this an opportunity to give sleep the importance it should have. Alarms are only for occasional engagements. And this morning I just woke I realized is one of the best f. Moments in my day.

David Cain November 29, 2017 at 8:54 am

I don’t think I communicated the point of this experiment clearly enough. So rather than say the same thing twenty times I will answer a lot of similar comments (and future comments) at once.

The point of this experiment isn’t to optimize my sleep. This experiment is about waking life — taking advantage of the peace and quiet of early morning hours in order to work more efficiently. That is a much bigger issue for me than sleep. I sleep fine.

I am fully aware that waking to an alarm clock doesn’t allow for perfect sleep. I am okay with that. I repeat, this experiment is not about perfecting sleep. It’s about getting up early, and for me, for now, that means using an alarm clock. I’m not changing anything about my sleep itself, aside from shifting it an hour earlier, and cutting out the snooze button.

Given that I am using an alarm clock, and given that I am going to get up especially early for a while, I am interested in examining my relationship to the moment of waking up to an alarm. I think I dwelt too much on that experience. I just find the moment of transition interesting, how weird it is that we move from free comfort of sleep to responsibilities of waking life at the first moment of the day. I thought my descriptions of this moment would be relatable to more people — in hindsight I definitely overemphasized it. I should have written more about the peace of early morning hours in the dark. That’s the important part.

I had no idea I was the last person on earth to use an alarm clock. In the future I’ll experiment with waking without one, but I’m not going to do that at the same time I’m experimenting with early rising.

Agustin November 29, 2017 at 10:54 am

Hey David,

Long time reader here, always a fan! This is an experiment that I am really interested in because though I’ve had some sucecss I still have a bit of difficulty getting up without hitting the snooze button a few times.

The strange thing is that I LOVE the morning! I perform best in the morning, and feel I have the best mood, I don’t even drink coffee. So I dug deeper.It turns out that the reason why I used to always hit the snooze button was due to fear (self doubt of my decisions and skills which would crushing me at work). Once I discovered this about myself and check myself throughout the day when doubt starts creeping in, it has become a little easier.

Good luck on your journey,

Agustin

Abhijeet Kumar November 29, 2017 at 9:53 pm

I respect waking up early. I can certainly see the value of doing so, and getting stuff done early

But my level of happiness has only suffered when I tried to control some aspects of my life. The only thing I really consciously am particular about is meditation (awareness with loving attention). Everything else is like weather. That way I can be on average much less stressed, and on some days quite happy inside, and actually still doing quite well in my contribution to my life and to others.

Laura November 29, 2017 at 10:35 pm

LOLed at and read aloud to my partner “…learning instead to confront the full horror of getting up right when the alarm goes.”

Jon November 30, 2017 at 6:00 am

Like others have said, the daylight alarm clocks are good. But I’ve found those wifi lightbulbs to be even better, and the price dropped a lot, 20$-40$ now. It’s bright enough to light my entire room. I wake up at 4am mon-fri, so I go to bed when the sun is still out… so my room has to be pitch black.

I just started using a tp link multi-color wifi bulb, setting a blue light 30 min prior to waking up (some nasa research says 420nm blue light blocks something that makes you sleepy) and then a bright white light when my alarm goes off. It’s been working pretty well so far, but still early stages. My little experiment.

Md Nayeem November 30, 2017 at 11:14 am

Hi again!!big hope to your success,,,but I’m already terribly failed to do so, not even possible to set sleeping time at 11 as for I have to spend sometime with my family after getting back home. And alarm sound is obviously a worst start of the day, but it could be honey, if you set your favorite tone as I did, that’s why I never feel my alarm cacophonic.

KG November 30, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Interesting the relationship you’ve developed with waking up and starting your day. I wake up naturally usually at the same time everyday and have for years. It’s one of my favorite times of the day and also the end of the day. Both have become self love and self care times for me. Great you’re exploring your options. You want to find out what feels right and works best for you!!

Eugenio Perea December 1, 2017 at 11:04 am

I finally have something to offer, in exchange for all the value I’ve received from you over the years. I wrote this: https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-make-myself-get-out-of-bed-more-quickly/answer/Eugenio-Perea

David Cain December 4, 2017 at 10:01 am

I appreciate this, thanks Eugenio. That’s basically what I’ve been doing… getting straight up with no self-negotiation.

رنگ تاتو December 1, 2017 at 1:50 pm

big hope to your success

Sarah December 3, 2017 at 6:32 am

David, when you first wake up you have just gone 7 hours without consuming anything. You’re experiencing the effects of dehydration. Place a glass of water by your bed before going to sleep and drink the whole thing immediately after waking up. I promise you won’t feel groggy.

David Cain December 4, 2017 at 9:56 am

I will try this, thanks Sarah.

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