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Experiment No. 25 — Early to Bed, Early to Rise

In this experiment I attempt to push myself into true early-riser territory, getting up at 5:00 on weekdays, instead of my usualy 6:20-ish. The idea is to get to the hard work part of the day early, getting more work done with less distraction.

The terms:

1) Set alarm for 5:00am on weekdays. On weekends I’ll sleep in till 6:30 or so.

2) No snooze button. I’ll be placing my alarm on the far end of the room, so I have to get up to turn the alarm off.

3) Go to bed an hour earlier. I’ll aim to be asleep by 10 instead of the usual 11. This means preserving my seven hours of sleep every night.

4) I reserve the right to a one-hour freebie a week. To make sure I don’t turn into a Monday-to-Friday hermit, I’ll allow myself to sleep 11-6 one weekday per week (rather than 10-5).

The first day of the experiment is November 28, 2017 and the last day is December 26.

The Log

Day 1 – Nov 29/2017

(I’m calling this Day One because it was the first day I woke up early and didn’t just go to bed early.)

I didn’t get off to a great start exactly. I normally don’t have trouble getting to sleep, but I did last night and probably wasn’t asleep until almost 11:00.

I don’t think it was from going to bed early because I sometimes go to bed that early anyway and don’t normally have trouble. I might have pushed the caffeine cutoff point (I finished a coffee around 3 pm) or my blood sugar might have crashed from eating a modest dinner and then a piece of chocolate an hour before bed. Come to think of it, chocolate has non-negligible caffeine in it and that could easily have been it.

So I didn’t get enough sleep, but waking up actually wasn’t a problem. With the alarm on the other side of the room, I just get up and turn it off, and get dressed. There’s no struggle, not that I expected one. But I am feeling the missing hour of sleep and will avoid late-day sugary/caffeinated treats next time.

I am loving the extra pre-dawn time. I keep being pleased whenever I look at the clock and it feels like there is a lot more space to write.

Day Two – Nov 30/2017

So far so good. Was asleep at proper time yesterday and slept well enough.

Getting up has really not been difficult with the alarm at the other end of the room. I just get up and turn it off and it seems like it would be silly to get back into bed. I get dressed and make coffee.

I did feel a little groggier than usual, even with the same amount of sleep. I expect this will go away as my body learns it’s okay to be up at five.

Once I’m up though, I am loving it. I feel like I have an abundance of time to work. I get a good chunk done, look up at the clock and find it’s only 8-something, when it felt like it should be 10 already. The mornings seem much longer and there finally seems like enough time in the morning to do my reading and meditation and also a good amount of work. I have also eliminated some “waste” time (mostly aimless phone-scrolling) from the early hours, which has added to the sense of abundance.

The evenings feel a little shorter, but they’ve been feeling too long recently anyway, especially post-daylight-savings-time. So far I like this way of doing things.

Day Six – Dec 4/2017

I had a great workweek, and I credit that mostly with having an extra hour before noon. Waking up isn’t especially pleasant but it definitely is easier without snoozing, because after the alarm goes (which is actually CBC radio 2, not a bleeping sound), nothing makes sense except to just get up and turn it off. Then I’m up. When I was snoozing, it was a gentler slope but much much longer — 20 minutes instead of 20 seconds.

There is a little more grogginess in the morning and it persists a little longer, although this is less pronounced every day. Going to bed earlier is a little annoying sometimes, particularly when I forget that 9:00 is the new 8:00. It’s still a good trade.

My work ethic is improving in the mornings. Part of it is that I know I have more time so I feel freer to dive into harder, trickier work first thing. I also have higher expectations for what I’m going to get done, so I get more done, which has a reinforcing effect on my confidence. This is what I hoped for.

I have also been more vigilant about not wasting any of the time between waking up and starting work. The time is for reading and meditating and I guess I was wasting a good 20-30 minutes of that time (sometimes more) checking things on my phone (fantasy football scores, instagram, etc.). Eliminating that has made my mornings quieter and more spacious, and allowed me to get to work earlier while still carving out that important time for reading and meditation.

It’s too early to make decisions about post-experiment life but I suspect I will split the difference and wake up at 5:30, still no snoozing, remaining vigilant about wasting my reading/meditating time. For now I’m pretty good with the 5am start. All in all it seems to be improving my attitude towards work, which was the point. In the future I would like to try alarm-less waking but I wanted to establish more productive morning habits first.

I almost forgot to mention the weekend. On weekends I allowed myself to sleep in, which was great. I slept in till 6:20 Saturday and 7:30 Sunday because I stayed up “late” Saturday. I liked having the different pace between workweek and weekend. It didn’t seem to disrupt anything.

Day 8 – Dec 6/2017

Oy… this morning was a little harder. I still have not adjusted to going to bed earlier and I’m getting a little under 7 hours instead of a little over, and the difference sure felt significant today. I felt really groggy in the morning and strongly considered going back to bed.

Actually getting up has been quite easy so far — the “moment of waking” isn’t really a problem. With the alarm on the other side of the room, I just swing my feet over the bed and turn it off, and I’m up. But going to bed earlier is more difficult. It’s not that I love staying up late, it’s that when I see 8:55 on the clock it doesn’t feel like the end of the day yet. I guess years of going to bed at 10-something have strongly conditioned me to see each hour of the clock a certain way.

During the day I don’t feel tired, but it’s clear I’m not getting enough sleep. I don’t think there’s a major adjustment do be made here, I’ll just be a little more vigilant about shutting things down earlier and see how it goes over the next week.

Day 16 – Dec 14/2017

I’m going to end the experiment early, because I’ve gotten what I wanted out of it and it’s no longer necessary.

Waking up at 5:00 allowed me to start work early while still reading and meditating before work, and I’ve found that to be extremely helpful. I’d be working from 7:30 or 8 to 11:30 instead of 9:00 to 11:30, and my mornings have been almost twice as productive. It’s been a huge boon to my working life.

But I always had trouble going to sleep early. It was annoying for one thing, it limited me socially, but mostly my body just wasn’t ready for sleep at that time and my sleep quality declined. It was starting to wear on me. I don’t want to go to bed at 9, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

So the last few days I’ve been splitting the difference — getting up at 5:30 or 6:00, depending on when I happen to get into bed. I’m sleeping better and I feel better, and I’m still making sure I’m working by 8:00. I waste less time in the morning and it’s altogether better.

I got a lot out of this short experiment but there’s no need to keep pushing it, because I have already achieved the significantly improved mornings that I wanted.

Signing off!




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Dana November 28, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Hey David,

Try a Zen alarm clock-slowly chime your way awake.

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David Cain November 29, 2017 at 9:22 am

I looked at those and kind of want one but they just seemed too expensive (over $200) where I live, and some people reported reliability problems. I also worry that it would train me to snooze, as I’d quickly learn to ignore the first few chimes.

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Matt Anderson November 29, 2017 at 11:48 am

The app Sleep Cycle has a feature where you set a time you want to be awake by… it will analyze your sleep and attempt to wake you when not in REM sleep so it’s less abrasive.

Thanks for all you do, David!

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:42 am

I have used that app, but right now I kind of want the definiteness of waking up at a known clock time so I don’t have much to adjust for.

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Ayesha November 29, 2017 at 10:02 am

This is something I’ve been struggling with over the last year or so, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how your experiment goes.

I’m a full time working mother of twin toddlers and I need to study for an exam. Mornings are when I am distraction free and the extra hour would be just what I need.

Good luck with your experiment!

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:34 am

Thanks Ayesha. Good luck with the exam!

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Agustin November 29, 2017 at 11:05 am

Off to a great start! I like to gamify life, which may help. I use Habitica (https://habitica.com/) and set up a daily task that says “Get up before 8 am). Something about checking things off, makes one more likely to do it.

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:36 am

I love the idea of gamification but so far I haven’t had much luck. Using gamification apps so far has felt like another chore that I get behind in. I think I’m still waiting for the right interface.

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Samantha Gaw November 29, 2017 at 11:11 am

I stopped drinking coffee. The moment of waking was the worst part of my day and lasted until the coffee kicked in. My 5:30 wakeup time is non-negotiable and not flexible because I teach elementary school. I stopped drinking coffee and it took a few months for me to notice a change but now I simply wake up and get out of bed. I’m not HAPPY about it, per se, but its not disorienting and dreadful. Its also not that bad if I go to sleep late by accident. I haven’t noticed a difference in sleep deprived wakeups and full night sleep wakeups.
I now reserve coffee for the weekends and when I really need it to actually perk me up or to stay up late. Its been a game changer for me. The hardest part was getting over how lovely it is to just have a cup of coffee every morning. Its been 2 years now and I have other morning routines in its place that don’t get me addicted and make wake up difficult.

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:37 am

I haven’t taken a break from caffeine in a long time, and I might do that soon. I like coffee, but I don’t think I need the caffeine anymore, and I’m sure there are downsides I’m living with without realizing it.

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Jenn November 29, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Great idea for an experiment. I am going to try and follow along with you but mine will be 5:15 not 5:00 :)

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:37 am

How’s it been so far?

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KT November 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm

You’ve inspired me to push my early wake up to include NOT checking my phone before rising. Hmmmmmmm …. a slippery slope.
Instead, I’ll keep the phone away from my cloud and return to a clean practice I’d started in the summer and let slip of sitting up propped with a pillow, drinking a glass of water followed by 5 minutes of meditation.
Good luck and good mornings to you David!

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:39 am

That’s a big one, and although I didn’t make it a part of this experiment, I’m slowly implementing a “no phone in the bedroom” rule. I can already tell it’s way better for the mind, and any time I get bogged down in something early in the morning, it’s related to something I see on my phone (email, etc.)

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Rebecca November 29, 2017 at 5:34 pm

It’s a very ambitious project. I personally hate waking up to an alarm noise because it immediately kills a morning dream, which are the most interesting and valuable of all dreams. If I do use an alarm I hit snooze 3 times like you used to. This is so I can wake up gradually. But I much prefer waking up naturally. I have trained myself to wake up within a certain time frame such as 6:00 to 6:15. That said I am also a morning person and get my best work done before noon.

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:40 am

That may be my next experiment — waking naturally. I am a morning person too and this experiment is really about playing to my strengths in that area. In the future I’d love to do both.

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Johan November 29, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Day 1 (today)

I went to sleep at midnight last night which was 30 minutes late from what I planned. I’m okay with it though and I slept pretty good. I don’t drink coffee so it’s a matter of just turning off my computer. My alarm went off at the usual 6:50am and I grabbed my guitar next to my bed and I began playing to start the morning. Suddenly waking up didn’t feel as dreadful. After playing for a little bit, I dropped down and did 25 push ups. I initially planned to have my alarm play my favorite band but I’ll be scratching that idea after hearing from others that it will associate it with an unpleasant event. I might look into having Spotify Discover Weekly playlist as the alarm that way it’s different music each day.

The rest of the morning went smooth, I even had my breakfast. But I still left the house later than I wanted. I got out at 7:55am which was 10 minutes later than I wanted. I’ll be waking up 5 minutes earlier tomorrow and do adjustment each morning. I want to eventually leave every morning at 7:30am to have a quiet and enjoyable bike ride to work instead of having that rush feeling inside of me.

The great news was I was able to solve a tough engineering problem at work today which was eating at me for a week and half. I don’t know if it was due to having a peaceful morning but I’ll take that win :P

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David Cain November 30, 2017 at 10:41 am

Good on you for rolling with the punches. My first day I stayed up too late but tried to take it in stride and just carry on anyway.

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Johan November 30, 2017 at 9:36 pm

Day 2 (11/30/17)

I’m still feeling resistance to sleeping on time. I was fixing the ceiling fan in the kitchen and didn’t notice the time so I ended up going to bed a little past 12. To make matters worse, for some reason my phone died overnight even though it was at 90% at the time I went to sleep. I don’t leave me phone charging overnight since it’s fully charged after I get off work and I barely use it until the time I go to bed. So no alarm in the morning but my body told me to wake up and it was only 7:10am, 20 minutes late from my alarm time.

I felt the rush and did my pushups quickly. I was still able to get out of the house at the same time as yesterday. I guess the key takeaway from today was – I’m able to wake up at a reasonable time without an alarm.

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Andy December 2, 2017 at 4:07 am

Have you ever considered that if you need such dragging out of sleep in the morning, your body is trying to tell you to sleep more?

I almost always wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off although I have my own zen alarm wakeup tone, it’s cool, gentle bongs at first, increasing in frequency and loudness on a fibonacci scale. (Yeah I’m a geek).

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Peter Akkies December 2, 2017 at 5:02 am

Like Andy, I wonder whether your body, David, is simply telling you to sleep more.

Sleeping less than eight hours, sometimes combined with getting up very early, is something I’ve noticed in a lot of people who meditate and practice mindfulness. I’m not sure why.

But sleep is so important that missing out on it will hurt you in many ways. Getting up before your body wants to so you can start to “get things done” earlier is almost certainly counterproductive.

A good read on the importance of sleep is Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep”: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34466963-why-we-sleep

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Abhijeet Kumar December 2, 2017 at 2:19 pm

One thing I would suggest is to find a morning routine that you connect with quite intensely. Sleep is a very unconscious thing. It is habitual, and often if there is a strong motivator (connection or energetic beyond just logic) in the morning, trust me your body will adapt.

Like a meditation retreat, we connect quite intensely with the whole act.

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Abhijeet Kumar December 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm

For example, a social group you connect with which is active in the morning, even if you spend just an hour with them doing yoga or practicing martial arts (if that is your thing).

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Omer December 2, 2017 at 3:09 pm

Tracking :)

Part of why I think this won’t be useful for me is thanks my evenings are too varied. I love going out too much to be able to promise going to sleep early, even on mid-week…

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David Cain December 4, 2017 at 7:57 am

Yeah getting up at the same time requires a pretty consistent bedtime, I don’t know a way around that

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Johan December 8, 2017 at 9:04 am

Day 10 (12/8/17)
It’s been a good week. I actually have set my alarm to 6am now. I’ve been doing early morning errands before work. On Tuesday, I went grocery shopping since I know I’m too tired after work. This has been a fantastic way to get necessary things out of the way early and I know I’ll get up because if I don’t I know I won’t be eating! The grocery store is just a few blocks away and is open 24/7 which is fortunate. I’ve shifted my meditation session to the morning when I wake up instead of doing my session when I get home from work and so far I like starting my morning this way.

Not all is perfect though. I’m still going to sleep quite later than I’d like. I’ve been in the 11:45ish to 12:15ish range most nights and I do feel a little tired when waking. The problem is when I’m done cooking and cleaning for the night it’s already 9pm and I feel compelled to get things done during my last 2 hours instead of easing my way to bed.

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Kristin December 10, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Hey David,
Congrats on your progress with your experiment so far!! If it helps you feel any better, I’m 23 years old and I go to bed around 8-9pm to wake up at 5 for a 6am Crossfit class, so I don’t think you’re an old man for going to bed at 10 haha. Even when I don’t go to the gym in the mornings, I consider 6-7pm the end of my day (.. and no I don’t consider myself a social hermit lol). Just some perspective :) good luck.

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Phreddi December 11, 2017 at 8:38 am

David, Have you considered a sunrise alarm clock? They gradually brighten to simulate the sunrise, and the alarm itself is not at all jarring. Mine is set for birdsong. I usually wake before mine actually goes off at 4:30am ( I start work at 7:00am), and this has been huge for me, as before this job I considered myself a night owl and had difficulty rising before 8:00am. It has been such a hit at my house that I have had two family members request one for Christmas :-) You can get them on Amazon for as little as $40.00 (American).

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Karen January 29, 2018 at 10:19 pm

How was the transition?
I thought I was a night owl, and recently I’ve found out that I can wake up early naturally, if I have enough sleep. But it doesn’t mean I’m efficient early in the morning… I’m actually in a productivity limbo.

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Omer December 20, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Cut it early?!

Either way, ya know, I’ll really appreciate a write up in 30 or 60 days’ time. I’m really wondering what lasting effect will this have, if at all.


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Max January 7, 2018 at 9:23 pm

Cool, good to hear! Thank you for sharing another great one. Since you wrote a post announcing this experiment, are you planning to make another one with the results, or just figure people will the updates here?

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Nick January 16, 2018 at 10:05 am

Hi David and everyone else!

I’m not sure what your marital situation is and do not wish to pry but this is an open question to you and others who wake up at 5am or so. How do you do this without disturbing your partners sleep?

My wife has chronic fatigue and has for 9years now, sleep and quality sleep is vital to her, yet I also need to get stuff done, especially given all the financial demands are on me.

I use a quiet phone alarm which is not ideal and it rests on a bedside table, it’s normally enough to wake me but generally disturbs her a little too, I’d love to minimise this.

Many mention the ‘light’ wake alarms like lumie, I’d like to get this for her waking but do not sure how I could use it without disturbing her sleep also. My current idea is i’ve ordered a wristband, I’ll use its alarm feature and hopefully I can get up without waking my wife.

A difficult problem, I’m all ears to solutions! When I was single, it was a non-phone alarm that was loud and across the room but it got me up with zero problems!

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Meg February 18, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Nick: my husband’s sleep really disturbed mine too (he’s a heavy snorer who needs white noise; I’m a light sleeper who needs quiet). Our solution is that we sleep in different rooms. It doesn’t bother us or affect our relationship; in fact, it’s helped us. Lack of sleep was becoming really frustrating for me. We’ve been together for 16 years and still feel “married”, even though we retire to different rooms.

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