In this article, I answer some of your questions about waking early and forming good sleep habits … please read this, as these are very common problems!
How to Get to Bed Earlier
David asked: “I am now finding it quite difficult to get back into my morning habit and think it’s largely because I have trouble getting to bed early enough. By the time I have come in from work, changed, had some food, tidied up, checked my emails and then worked on my part-time business I run it’s 10pm/11pm and I find I just struggle to get up. So, my question is not really how to get up early but how to get to bed earlier?”
Leo: What I’ve found to work for me:
- Wake just 10 minutes earlier than normal, and go to bed 10 minutes earlier than normal. Slowly move your bedtime and waketime by 10 minutes every few days.
- Set a bedtime-routine alarm. Shut off screens when the alarm goes off, and start a simple bedtime routine.
- Read a paper book in bed (not off a screen) for about 20 minutes.
- Meditate as you try to fall asleep. Pay attention to your body, be fully present with your breath. When your mind wanders, return to your body and breath. This helps your mind from being too active, plus it’s good mindfulness practice!
2 Problems: No Alarm Clock + Snooze Button
1. Fiona asked: “This is a silly issue, but I don’t have a clock in my bedroom. I refuse to take my phone into the bedroom and use it as an alarm, so waking regularly is a challenge. I have looked at many clocks but so many are ugly, need a power point, and WHY are they all ‘clock-radios’??? I’d really like one that uses your own music to wake you… does anyone know of one? Clearly this is a ‘block’ on getting up earlier (although I am managing a bit as the sun is getting up earlier here in Australia!)”
Leo: Yes, this does sound like a “block”. :) I recommend you take your phone into your bedroom, but set it up away from your bed â€” somewhere across the room. Use it only as an alarm, not for anything else. Shut off all message notifications too.
2. Katherine asked: “How to break the snooze button habit?”
Leo: I recommend putting your alarm clock away from your bed, across the room, so you have to get up to turn it off. Then force yourself to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. Once you’re moving, you’ll have a bit of momentum. Another trick is to make a big public promise, on Facebook for example, that you’re not going to hit the snooze button tomorrow. Then report back whether you did or not.
Irregular Bedtime Schedule
1. Studentsim asked: “I work in a highly technical field, doing a job that is fairly high-pressure/high energy in a corporate setting. It is a regular 8 hour job ‘so to speak’ but project deadlines along with the stage of life (spouse also working and 2 young kids) translates into late nights very often- sleeping past 11 pm or sometimes even 2 hours past midnight every now and then. After kids go to bed at ~8.30 pm, rest of the time is spent either doing project work and then cleaning the house, getting ready for school, office etc. This lack of regularity in bed time has in turn prevented a regular wake up time or behavior. I do still wake up most days at 6.30 am (else kids won’t either be fed or reach school!) and then spend my time getting breakfast and lunches ready for kids and us before leaving for office. I aspire to to shift that to 5 and slowly to 4ish am, which means that I should sleep at the latest by by 10 pm. I would love to spend some of that early am time practicing some of the things that you embody – like meditating, writing (scientific manuscripts), etc. That seems like such a pleasant yet almost inexecutable plan with my current stage of life. Do you have any practical solutions to overcome this ‘lack of regular wake up pattern’ hurdle because of life’s logistic issues?”
Leo: First, congrats on still getting up at 6:30am even when you have late nights! That’s an advanced skill, as many people can’t manage that. Second, it sounds like you want to get to bed earlier and wake earlier … and again, I recommend that you do this very slowly. It’s hard to deal with sleep changes, not to mention irregular sleep patterns, so slow change is best. Just wake 10 minutes earlier, and try to go to bed at a more regular time when possible. Be patient, and accept that with your schedule, there will be many setbacks.
2. Leonid asked: “From time to time I get home really late, like last night I got home just before midnight (met really interesting international people and kept talking to them until 11 pm), so I went to bed around 1 am. I got up this morning at 5:50 am and had to skip my meditation, because I want to be at work early. This kind of affects my whole day: I will meditate later in the day (and not as usual in the morning). I am pretty sure I’ll be tired and sleepy at a certain point during the day, so I’ll probably take a nap at work. My questions is: what would be a wise thing to do? I could sleep in, but I really hate it and don’t want to break my early rising habit. On the other hand, it’s no good feeling tired the whole day.
Leo: There’s no right answer here. I’ve found that most of the time, it’s better to sleep in and feel better throughout the day, and just try to get back on your early wake schedule the next day. But if you do this too often then you’re not really forming a habit. So try to figure out how to prevent this from happening too often. That said, we should understand that there will be setbacks, there will be things that come up to disrupt our habit, and this is perfectly normal and acceptable. There is no perfect habit that doesn’t get interrupted. Learning to deal with these interruptions is one of the key habit skills.
Wanting to Sleep Longer in the Winter
Leonid asked: “I live in the north west of Europe (Netherlands). Winters can be really depressing over here: little sunlight, lots of rain, wind and cold. I enjoy getting up early in the summer (because it’s already light outside), but have major difficulty getting out of bed in the winter. It seems I need 9 to 10 hours of sleep in winter, and only 6 to 7 hours in the summer. I am not sure how to deal with it. A couple of weeks ago I started light therapy: every morning I spend 30 minutes doing things at my computer (like right now) with a 10,000 LUX light therapy lamp at my side. I hope this will help with my sleep pattern during the winter. Do you have any experience or advice on dealing with this?”
Leo: I come from the tropics, where it’s pretty much the same all year round. So when I moved to my current home in northern California (near Sacramento), I found that dark mornings really affected me. I was not motivated to get up early, and needed more sleep, and my mood was affected. This is totally normal, I understand. I’ve found that it’s better to let myself sleep in. I haven’t tried light therapy, and I think that’s a great experiment, but it’s helpful to accept that we probably need more sleep in winter when the days are shorter. Maybe it’s good for us, to let ourselves recover with longer sleep. I tend to let my body get what it wants, as long as it seems healthy.
Turning Off Your Brain
Jill asked: “I have made improvements in waking early through Sea Change but have had several nights where I haven’t slept well and so have slept later to help me function OK at work. I do much better when I can ‘switch off’ early in the evening but some nights I have a busy mind. In this circumstance do you think it is better to go to bed anyway or stay up until I am ready for sleep? Any tips for switching your brain off at busy times!”
Leo: This is a problem I’ve had a lot. It helps me to switch off screens and unwind with an evening routine and a book for about 30-45 minutes before trying to sleep. I’ve found I can’t just hop into bed and then sleep â€” I need a period of letting my brain slow down. But when I am ready, it helps to meditate, by focusing on my body and breath. Another meditation I’ll do is close my eyes, and try to remember everything I did that morning after waking â€” every single action in detail, not just a rough outline. I’ll picture every motion, every sip of water, everything, in as much detail as I can. This usually puts me to sleep after awhile.