How to Beat Your Brain and Wake Up Early in the Morning

How to Beat Your Brain and Wake Up Early in the Morning

This morning I woke up with a sore back, an interrupted dream, and grogginess as I shuffled out of bed to get to my alarm in the other room. It was a bit chilly too. This was one of those mornings where I could have easily slipped back into bed and warmed by my beloved, but this is where the early morning routine usually kicks in as well.

There are going to be times where you don’t feel like getting up, and you’re going to need some extra ammunition to ensure that rising early sticks. I’m going to share those bullets, but first I’m going to explain in my own words why you’re dragging your feet in the morning.

ENTER SCUMBAG BRAIN

Your brain is a truly amazing piece of anatomy. It does billions of calculations. It takes a disproportionate amount of energy relative to the rest of your body. We’re only now beginning to understand the sheer power of the subconscious and just how much influence it has over our lives. In fact, if you’re interested in the effects that can be gleaned from the subconscious you should read about the time I saw an erotic hypnotist.

However, the brain doesn’t always have your best interests at heart. One example of where this conflict arises is as you’re trying to fall asleep, and as you’re trying to wake up.

Have you ever had this happen? You’ve had a long day, you climb into bed exhausted, and instead of drifting off, your brain starts thinking of all these awesome things you should have done today, and you might want to consider them right now.  You toss and turn, and then you flip your pillow as it’s getting hot. You think: why brain? Why now? You scumbag.

You should know what’s coming next. It’s the morning. The alarm goes off and interrupts your reverie. You’ve got a lot to do today, things like getting to work on time, and ensuring that your face is shaved. But this bed feels really nice and warm. You’re feeling sleepy, and if you drift off again for another 10 minutes it’s not going to hurt right? From a logical standpoint, sleeping in is not an option. But in the throes of brain stupor? Nothing seems more meant to be.

Thanks a lot brain.

WHY “WHAT TIME DO YOU GET UP?” IS THE WRONG QUESTION

When I talk with people about early rising, one of the first questions I get is what time do you get up? You tell them and they say something like: “Oh, I could never get up that early.” I call bullshit. I’m also going to say that opening with “what time do you get up?” is setting yourself up to fail hard.

Sleep is a battlefield. You wouldn’t start slaying foes without some preparation now would you? Of course not. You’d get poleaxed, and that’s exactly what is happening when you focus on the time you get up.

Today, we’re going to deconstruct how to get up early, and we’re going to break it down into two parts: Preparation, and Cooking With Gas. Why? Because there’s no point cooking with gas without preparation.

PREPARATION

In case you’ve been dozing, preparation is what you do before going to sleep. It’s the most critical part of the equation and something that you need to do if you are struggling to wake up early. It does all of the heavy lifting for you, so that when scumbag brain does appear in the morning you’re equipped to combat that grey matter.

So what do we need to do in preparation? Unleash the bullet points!

  • Decide when you want to get up (ahead of time). To rock the next day, you really should be looking at 8+ hours sleep. There’s a lot of literature written about this, and the latest scientific thinking suggests that being able to have it all and run on much less is a myth. You may want to give yourself 7, but trust me, once you’ve got this sleeping thing down you’ll realise that there’s nothing better than locking in 8+ hours.I get up at 6am. This means I must be well and truly asleep by 10pm. This also means that with my routine, I’m more likely to be in bed by 9.30pm latest. When in doubt, err on the side of more.That may sound early to some of you, but once you’ve sampled the benefits of getting up early it’s hard to even comprehend why you would delay getting your 8 hours.
  • Lay out everything you need in the morning in the right place. When you’re encountering your scumbag brain, you want your decisions to be as automatic as possible. You should be facilitating this prior to going to sleep. Is your towel ready for a morning shower? Have you got your clothes and shoes ready to go? Is your shirt ironed? (Just kidding, I can’t stand ironing).I also like to have my workbag ready, medicine ready to bolt down, and my keys and wallet in the right place. Notice how I didn’t mention coffee? That’s another story.
  • Place your mobile phone in another room. This requires a lot of discipline at the start. One of my old favourite things was getting a hit of Facebook before drifting off. The science says that this will result in a poorer night’s sleep, not only by the light exposure making it harder to fall asleep, but by being less restful and more prone to waking up in the middle of the night. I don’t need science to tell me this, I’ve noticed it with my own experiments.The same goes for iPads. I’m still in two minds about the Kindle, I’m fairly certain that the backlight has some impact on sleeping habits as well, but these might be outweighed by the benefits of reading some fiction to help you drift off.The other reason you want your phone in the other room is to help you get out of bed in the morning. Hearing an alarm in another room is a much more jolting experience than hearing an alarm next to your dresser.
  • Practice meditation. Just as the explanation for scumbag brain highlighted, your thoughts are out to fuck you sometimes. Practicing meditation can help equip you with the skills you need to help that noise subside. Getting into meditation is a whole other video game, but if you’re looking to start I highly recommend ZenHabit’s approach. The two-minutes-to-start-off approach really resonated with me, and I’m now quite comfortable smashing out 10 or 20, and even longer if I’m commuting somewhere.
  • Find some sleep triggers. These are moments that you think about that you automatically associate with sleep. When I was young, I used to always imagine playing in a forest with adventures and tomfoolery. I remember the lush green-scapes that would surround me and just the thought of them was enough to lull and nudge me towards dreaming and sleep.In the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, the writers advocate the Hypnagogic Imagery Technique. The book details relaxing and passively observing the images that appear when you’re dozing off. These will be colours, shapes, and visuals that as you note you’ll start drifting off. Using this technique, you’ll be able to tell when you’re relaxing enough and get a handle on getting to sleep. If you get good enough – it can be a method for inducing lucid dreams too (but that’s another story).

Some other things you might want to do include reducing your screen time 30 minutes before bed, having a cup of herbal tea, and making sure there’s virtually no light.

If you stick to these steps you’re over halfway there, as most of the battle in waking up early is fought the night before.

Yeah, yeah, Luke, now can we get to the waking up part?

Okay apprentice, buckle up and let’s do this.

WAKING UP EARLY (OR COOKING WITH GAS)

Gas cooking

You’ve done the preparation, and presumably you’ve had a good night’s sleep free of drama. Now what happens when you wake up? The key here is routine. You want what you’re doing to be automatic, so that your muscle memory is triggering things that don’t require decisions made by scumbag brain (we know what that guy is going to do to us).

So here’s a checklist of behaviours that’ll assist you lock that routine down.

      1. Turn off your alarm. Because you prepared the night before, your phone should be blaring the alarm, and it should be a good distance away from your bed. I’ve experimented with having it in the same room – as far as the opposite power point –  and it simply isn’t far enough. If your brain has any chance of commanding you back to bed it will, so avoid this rookie mistake and place it in another room.You’ll reach your phone and deactivate the alarm. Avoid the temptation to check your messages and social media, as these are distractions and will sever the morning routine.
      2. Turn on the lights. In the absence of sunlight, electric light is going to do a damned good job of waking you up. As you’re in another room, this will go some way to helping the brain switch from wanting to go to bed, to overall grogginess.
      3. Have a shower. Jumping into the shower is your next safest bet for waking up. The water energises you and you can wash the sleep away from your eyes. In Australia, there’s a good range of shower gels you can use that soothe as well. My favourite is Palmolive Almond Milk and Honey – that lotion is my jam.
      4. Commence the rest of your morning routine. I find that getting up that bit earlier, where I have things I can do before needing to travel to work, is some of the most productive time of the day. I use this time to write, research my side-projects, read, or simply catch-up on personal admin.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

Having that extra time in the morning is a boon. You’re able to invest more in yourself and start accomplishing some of your goals more quickly. There are going to be mornings where you bounce out of bed and are firing on all cylinders and there are other mornings where you are going to have to fall back on your routine and rely on it to get you through the morning fog.

Whichever way you go, remember that you need to prepare, commit to a healthy level of sleep, and stop checking your phone at the end of the night – it belongs in another room.