If you’re anything like me, you’re the kind of person who hits the snooze button 15 times before finally rolling out of bed. The kind of person who, more often than not, goes to sleep at around 5 a.m. only to get up around noon. In short, you’re not a morning person.
For the longest time, this system has pretty much worked for me. But as I’ve become more entrenched in the startup world, I’ve realized that staying up late isn’t actually doing me any favors. In fact, it’s actively making me worse at my job.
Because let’s face it, despite the romantic stereotype of the hard-working entrepreneur burning the midnight oil, the reality is that the startup world is just a lot friendlier to the early birds. Getting up early can feel like absolute death, but it also means that you can actually get a lot more done with your day.
While it can be difficult to train yourself to become a morning person, it’s not impossible. In fact, much of it rests on what you do before going to bed (it also lays in the importance of being early to bed).
So if, like me, you want this year to be different, and you actually want to start taking more control over your life, let’s take back our mornings and see how you can become a morning person.
Why get up early?
As all my fellow night owls can attest, early birds can sometimes come off as very annoying. While we’re still in the process of having our fourth or fifth caffeine hit, they’re already at work after having gone to the gym, made breakfast, and done whatever productive activity it is that morning people do. In fact, there have been many times I have questioned the sanity of early birds inadvertently mocking me with their beaming smiles.
“Early morning cheerfulness can be extremely obnoxious.” – William Feather
But when I asked myself why I found early risers kind of irritating, I realized that I was actually jealous of them. By simply getting up earlier than I do, they can get more done, they’re generally happier people, and they don’t actively snarl at the sun like some sort of bizarre reverse werewolf.
“It’s simple: If you want to be more productive, get up early.” – Ryan Holiday, international best-selling author.
Scientists at Aachen University conducted brain scans of 59 people. Sixteen were early risers, 23 were night owls, and 20 were intermediate sleepers. The brain scans showed those who got up early had significantly more white matter in several areas of their brain when compared to their counterparts.
White matter is the fatty tissue that facilitates communication among the nerve cells, meaning that early risers literally have different brain structures. This makes them possess higher cognitive function and be much more likely to be creative and productive. There’s a reason why the majority of successful entrepreneurs are notorious for getting up early.
Getting up early means that you’re likely to be better at thinking proactively, anticipating problems, and being a big-picture thinker. All of these are defining traits of the successful entrepreneur.
Furthermore, studies by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine have found that late sleepers are more likely to eat unhealthily and are more likely to become dependent on drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Additional research has found that those with reduced white matter are more prone to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin
So if increasing your chances at success, or just plain getting healthier doesn’t interest you then don’t read on. But if you do want to start getting up earlier, here’s what you need to start doing before you go to bed.
How to wake up early
1. Create a to-do list
One of the reasons morning people are more likely to be big-picture thinkers is very simple: They actually plan out what they’re going to be doing the next day.
Think about it; the reason most people sleep late is because you’re either working late into the night or you have that nagging feeling that you should be doing something. Eventually, too many nights like this turn into a habit and you just find yourself binge-watching Netflix into the early morning.
Night owls tend to focus what’s in front of them. Because they get up later instead of earlier, most of the day is gone and as the sun sets, your motivation and productivity decline. So instead of being super productive in the morning, you end up trying to play catch up with all the work you wanted to do that day. In the end, you end up too stressed, staring at the ceiling and trying to fall asleep while filled with anxiety.
Instead of counting sheep, you’re too busy counting all the missed tasks that day and stressing yourself about the pile of work you need to do tomorrow.
So the solution is very simple, do what the most successful people in the world do and instead of worrying, just start preparing for tomorrow by creating a to-do list.
As wonderfully amazing as the human mind can be, it can also be kind of a jerk. Never underestimate your brain’s ability to over-exaggerate your fears and anxieties, to get you worked up over problems that simply don’t exist.
Writing down a to-do list for tomorrow forces you to think proactively. Plus, writing everything down takes those scary monsters out of your head and lets you see them for what they really are. So stop stressing and thinking about how bad it is going to be tomorrow, and just start preparing for it.
I personally use the bullet journal system, meaning at the start of every week I’ll write down the most important tasks and events that I can refer to throughout the week. And every night, I’ll write my to-do list for tomorrow, including any other smaller things that may have popped up. It keeps me prepared and ready to take on whatever tomorrow brings.
Here’s a video on how to create your own bullet journal if anyone likes to go a bit old-school with a pen and paper like me.
2. Give yourself a reason to be excited
Pardon the pun, but you don’t simply change your sleeping habits overnight.
After all it takes, on average, 66 days for a habit to form, and unless you’re planning on doing the extreme method of resetting your body clock by staying up for 40 hours, you’re going to be doing this consistently for at least a couple of weeks.
One of the first steps you need to take on your journey to becoming a morning person is a simple change of mindset. Instead of dreading everything that tomorrow may bring, instead find something to get excited about.
What you’ll notice among successful entrepreneurs who get up notoriously early is that they don’t immediately go to work. Most of them spend their first couple of waking hours spending time with their family, or having a meditation session, or even having an hour-long tennis session. If you ever get discouraged by stories like how Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi wakes up every morning at 4 a.m., what you’re forgetting is that she only gets to work at 7 a.m.
Like I mentioned earlier, a very common problem for night owls is that they always feel like they’re playing catch up with the rest of the world. So instead of spending the first couple of hours getting your head into the right place, you’re immediately off to work and stressing the hell out. No wonder you hate mornings!
Instead of getting anxious about the next day, do what the most successful people in the world do and start looking forward to tomorrow by making sure there’s something to enjoy when you wake up earlier in the day.
Now you don’t necessarily have to start making drastic changes like suddenly going for a four-mile run every morning, but instead just find small, simple things to appreciate.
For example, I just bought a new blend of green tea. I went out to the specialty tea shop in my area and talked to the attendant for over half an hour before choosing this specific blend. So now, as lame as it is, I’m actually quite excited to be having tea every morning. You can do the same by planning yourself an exciting breakfast perhaps, or setting aside time for a book you can’t wait to read.
By getting up early, I get to sit back for an hour and a bit before my day officially starts and just sip on my tea, listen to an episode of my favorite MMA podcast, and get a good session done at the gym without having to spend a single moment worrying about work. So by the time I do get to work, my mind’s at a great place and I can start the day off right.
You’ll soon find out that your mornings are going to be the quietest hours of your day, free from distractions. You’ll have ample opportunity to get excited by incorporating these morning rituals into your day.
But if you’re still struggling to find a reason to be excited in the morning, relax, and remember that you’re an entrepreneur! You’re doing something that the majority of the world would fear to do themselves.
“If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning.” – Larry Page
3. Put down the phone
How many of you reading this article are doing so on your phone, while in bed? If you are, immediately turn that phone off and go to sleep! Now I’d hate to drive readers away, but if you’re finding yourself with your head on a pillow and a phone in your hand, you really need to switch that thing off right now!
In recent years there has been a troubling trend among the population. It turns out that people are, on average, getting less and less sleep every year. A recent survey found that 65% of UK adults are only getting around six-and-a-half hours of sleep every night.
This has become such a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed it a public health issue, urging adults to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
While there are many reasons behind this trend, the most prominent is the rise of mobile devices, with over 90% of American households owning three or more devices at any given time.
An infographic by Huffington Post shows that the majority of us sleep with our phones right next to our beds.
So what does your phone have to do with sleep? Well, as anyone who’s ever had a noisy neighbor will tell you, your quality of sleep dramatically affects how you feel the next morning. Only this time you can’t tape passive aggressive notes onto someone’s door for the problem to go away.
What you need to do is take your phone and put it out of your reach before you sleep. Just like you, your phone is going to start needing a bedtime.
It’s a well-documented fact that the backlight on every smartphone emits blue light. Blue light is usually only emitted during daytime, so when your body is exposed to blue light long after the sun has gone down, your body gets confused. It stops producing melatonin, the hormone that lets you feel tired, and severely disrupts your sleep cycle.
While your phone may work great as an alarm clock, can you honestly tell me that you’ll be able to resist the temptation to check one last email or finish just one more level of Candy Crush if your phone is right next to your head? If anything, these are things that will just fill your head with even more stress and anxiety, making it even harder for you to fall asleep in the first place!
So do yourself a favor and leave it charging on the other side of the room, or better yet, don’t have it in your bedroom at all. You don’t need that ominous notification light keeping you up all night.
4. Relax with some rituals
Now that you’ve made your to-do list, you feel excited for the next day, and you’ve put your phone away, it’s finally time to relax.
This is the part where you completely disconnect from the rest of the world and just decompress, because there are few things worse than trying to go to sleep while stressed out.
While getting comfy might seem like something that’s fairly easy to do, you’ll be surprised at how many people are bad at it. Here’s the thing about relaxing—unless you have a plan on how to do it, you’re likely just going to end up scrolling through your phone looking at random things instead of actually doing something you enjoy. In the end, you don’t feel relaxed at all, and in fact might even feel worse than when you first started.
The thing is, your body’s natural state isn’t relaxed or stress-free. In fact as an entrepreneur, you’re probably wired to be more stressed than the average person. So if you actually want to decompress, ironically enough, you have to work as hard at relaxing as you do at working.
Of course you can take the shortcut and get a prescription for something like Ambien or Melatonin, but sleeping pills aren’t a long-term solution. What you need is a intentional nighttime ritual.
Some of you already have one without even realizing it, whether it’s taking a shower before bed or even brushing your teeth. By following a series of specific actions every night before going to sleep, you’re actually preparing your body for rest before you even get into bed.
To help you relax even more, try activities like:
- Read a book. Notice how I said book and not email or latest performance stats. The entire goal is to take your mind off work, not stress you out even further. So find a nice fiction book you know you’ll enjoy and just let yourself get lost in another world for a bit.
- Do some light stretches. While it’s okay to do some light stretches or exercises to help you work out any of that excess energy, what you don’t want to do is start hitting the gym at midnight. Doing high-intensity and strenuous workouts will only keep you up for longer.
- Make breakfast. Give yourself something to be excited about tomorrow morning and save yourself some decision making by getting a head start on breakfast. Try making yourself some overnight oats —super easy to make, super nutritious and you can make whatever flavor you want!
- Get busy. Sex provides immense benefits for not just stress, and weight loss, but you’ll vastly improve your quality of sleep. Achieving an orgasm positively affects your body with hormones like oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, flooding your system with its calming effects. Plus, what better way to end the night than in the arms of someone you love?
Also make sure to optimize your environment and create the right habit field with your bedroom. Make sure that the bedroom is only for sleeping and sexy fun times.
Every time you do something in bed you’re subconsciously confusing your brain and your body, so instead of feeling sleep when you get into bed you start feeling like you’re in work mode. It’s important you manage your habit fields right and keep your work and place of rest completely separate. Once you start doing that, you’ll be going off to dream land as soon as your head hits the pillow.
If you’re absolutely struggling to wake up early in the morning, I know exactly how you feel.
But it turns out, you don’t need to hide multiple alarm clocks throughout your room, or get one of those crazy app alarms where you need to take a photo of something to turn it off. Don’t make waking up more of a chore than it already is.
Because, as I’ve found out, mornings aren’t actually all that bad. In those quiet couple of hours when no one forces their expectations on you at all, you have peace and quiet to yourself. It’s pretty awesome not flying into a panic attack every morning.
So take back your mornings and your day by simply getting early to bed. Do yourself a favor and start preparing for tomorrow, because who knows what the morning will bring?
How about you? What do you do to get ready for bed, or otherwise set yourself up for a great morning? Let us know in the comments.