135 days of getting up at 345am (and how I fell off the wagon)

The snooze alarm is based on the idea that when the alarm goes off, you are not getting up.

~Jerry Seinfeld

I’ve always struggled with sleep. Everyone has their vices; mine is staying up late and sleeping into the late morning. This has been a central struggle of my adult life, partly because my wife is completely the opposite: in bed at 10pm and up at around 530am, day in and day out. I’ve struggled with this mightily over the years, and made good progress on-and-off since 2007. Here’s a post from 2008 about the general method that I used to become an early riser.

By mid-2010, however, I was back to my same old habits of staying up late then sleeping in. It all came to a breaking point in August 2010, when I overslept and missed an outing to wine country that Alexis and I had planned. She was justifiably angry and I was angry at myself. I decided that sleep had ruled my life for long enough and that I would be a slave no longer. The next day, I started this (somewhat embarrassing) routine:

  1. I went to bed by 9pm, almost every night.
  2. I got up at 3:45am, every morning. Seven days a week, no exceptions.
  3. I did five “wakeup drills” from Steve Pavlina’s method, every single day, for thirty days.

#3 is the embarrassing part, but the entire key to this working. Every single day, usually in the afternoon or evening, I would put my pajamas on, darken my bedroom, set my alarm for a few minutes later, and go to bed. When the alarm went off, I’d jump up, silence it, and walk to the bathroom and splash water on my face. Then I’d set the alarm for a few more minutes in the future and do it all over again. I did this cycle five times a day, seven days a week, for a month.

It’s embarrassing, but devastatingly effective. From mid-August 2010 through Christmas 2010 (4.5 months), I can count on one hand the number of days I didn’t get up at 3:45am. Seven days a week, no matter what. Including some days when I didn’t get to bed until after 1am. I’d supplement with a nap the next day where necessary, but I did everything possible to ensure that I got up at 3:45am. Most days I was out of bed, had the alarm turned off, and was walking to the bathroom within ten seconds of the alarm starting to sound. I wasn’t even really awake, just operating on autopilot. That’s the point of the wakeup drills, to make getting up as subconscious as my affinity for the snooze button is :)

It was hard at first as my body struggled to adjust, but my energy and productivity have never been higher. My favorite days to get up early were actually the weekends, when I didn’t have any external responsibilities: it’s amazing what you can accomplish on Saturday and Sunday morning before most of the world even wakes up. Or you can just catch up on TV shows and video games without feeling guilty, because after you play for five or six hours, most people still aren’t up.

But sadly, that’s not the end of the story. I took a couple days off between Christmas and New Year’s, and everything fell apart. For the last two weeks, I’ve been bouncing between 430am (my new wakeup time) and 1030am (like yesterday). I think I thought that since I had been solid for so long, I could let my guard down a little.

Lifehacks are incredibly powerful. The right habits can change your life, but sometimes they can’t change who you are. Just like ex-alcoholics who can never take a single drink again, I have to always remember my limitations in this area. I’m a sleepaholic, and no matter how long I stay in control with my sleep habits, I still have to be vigilant and strict with myself. I started the 3-step recovery method again yesterday, and today I got up at 430am. I’ll continue to do the “wakeup drills” for at least a week or two. The upside is that now I know I can master this area of my life.

What areas of your life have you finally accepted as they are? Not that you can’t control them, but that you must control them?