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Often I find myself reading articles about CEOs and big time executives who wake up before the sun. I feel a pang of guilt when I think about how most of their day’s task are complete before my first cup of coffee is made. Inspired by these corporate hot shots, I want to see what I can do to get up and get going before the birds are chirping.
The quality of sleep you obtain is vital when training your body to wake earlier. Each adult needs between 6 to 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep a night. I say uninterrupted because sleeping needs to happen as a single event, for example, getting two 4-hour segments of sleep is not the same as getting one 8-hour segment of sleep.
There are also various stages of sleep that occur throughout the sleep cycle, each stage plays an important role and should seamlessly segue into another. If you do not hit every stage of the cycle, you are less likely to enter deep sleep (the REM cycle). Without quality sleep, your brain has a harder time repairing itself and you are more susceptible to sickness, lethargic and lack of concentration.
So, how do you train your body to wake earlier while also getting the sleep you need?
Go to Bed Earlier
This is simplest and most obvious way to wake up earlier. If you go to bed earlier, there’s more opportunity for longer quality sleep which then makes it easier for you to roll out of bed earlier.
Have you ever heard of the story of the frog in boiling water? Put a frog in boiling water and he will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog in water and slowly increase the heat until it is boiling, then the frog will never realize it is being boiled. A bit of a morbid metaphor (I do not condone boiling live frogs), but the same concept works here.
Instead of suddenly switching your alarm from 7am to 5am, do it slowly so it isn’t such a shock. Change your alarm from 7 to 6:50 or 6:45. The next morning set it 10 or 15 minutes earlier than the previous. Continue to do this until you reach the time you desire. Before you start, write down the times on a calendar so you can visualize the finish line and it will help motivate you.
Exercise is another painstakingly obvious tip on how to wake earlier. According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting adequate physical activity improves the quality of sleep you’re getting and increases the duration. Not only will you be utilizing every minute you’re asleep, but exercise also reduces stress, which is a common culprit as to why so many people have a hard time getting enough shut-eye.
So, instead of binge watching yet another television series, take a half hour to walk, run, bike, swim, hike or even clean (yes, I said clean – a half hour of vigorous cleaning counts as physical activity) to help your mind de-stress and your body get the quality of sleep it deserves.
Stop Eating Before Bed
In nursing school, we learned that you should stop eating an hour before going to bed. That’s because those who lie flat with a full stomach are more likely to experience heartburn. After about an hour, most of what you ate has passed through the stomach and gone into the intestines, which is why waiting an hour between food and bed is recommended.
However, you don’t want to go to bed hungry, since that can be equally as uncomfortable and distracting when trying to sleep. If you are going to eat a snack about an hour before bed, keep in mind that our metabolism slows down significantly at night. So, your body will continue to breakdown the foods you eat but instead of using it for energy, it will turn it into fat. This primarily applies to foods that include carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, dairy product and foods with a lot of spice or seasoning (these can add to heartburn and further interrupt a good night’s sleep). If you are looking for a late night snack, it’s best to eat vegetables or a small amount of nuts.
Want to know more about eating healthy eating? Check out:
Keep it Consistent
The best tip you can use to wake earlier is to sleep the same amount each night. Consistency is vital for sleeping restfully and throughout the night. Using the weekend to “catch up” on sleep will set you back. These days you are “catching up” confuses your body and will make sleep the following night even more inconsistent. In neuropsychology class, it was stressed that the consistency of the hours you’re sleeping, may be more important than the amount of hours you’re sleeping. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that if you want to wake earlier on the weekdays, you have to do it on the weekends too.
Turn Off the Device
When your eyes are stimulated by sunlight, it signals your body to stop producing a hormone called melatonin. The same effect occurs when you are looking into a television or a cellphone screen. It’s best to turn off the screens and minimize the bright lights at least a half hour to an hour before going to bed. Instead of using your device for entertainment, try reading a book or magazine in bed before going to sleep. If you are going to be on your phone, turn the light down and utilize the “night shift” mode
No Alcohol Before Bed
Although alcohol may help you fall asleep earlier, it won’t let your body enter deep, restful sleep. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means it will force your body to produce an excessive amount of urine. So, along with preventing your body from being able to get optimal rest, alcohol will make you have to wake up throughout the night to use the bathroom. Avoid alcohol at least 2 hours before bed and keep it to a one drink per night maximum.
Cut the Caffeine
A coworker once told me that she could drink a large coffee and still fall asleep without any issues. The problem with that statement is the misconception that sleeping is synonymous with quality sleep. Caffeine remains in the body for up to 6-8 hours and although you may not feel that jolt, it is still stimulating your nervous system. So, falling asleep may be no problem, but the caffeine from that cup of coffee 6 hours ago may still be stimulating your brain and preventing it from reaching that deep sleep. Also, like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic and may force you to keep running to the bathroom throughout the night.
I find it easier for myself to wake up at 5am on a Friday rather than a Tuesday. That’s because on Fridays I am excited for the weekend which motivates me to wake up and get through the work day. To get yourself to wake earlier, try to make every day feel like Friday. Give yourself something to look forward to as soon as you wake up. Whether it be one extra episode of your favorite television show, a small treat or some quality alone time, give yourself a reward that will provide a little extra boost of motivation in the morning.