Sleep hacking: 21 days of rising before 06:00 AM

Sleep hacking: 21 days of rising before 06:00 AM
30 Jun

For the past 21 days, I have been getting up before 06:00 AM. Like in my posts, I will start off with detailed descriptions of my day-to-day experiences. These descriptions encompass how I feel, both physically and mentally. After these descriptions, I will look back on the entire experience and talk about what I noticed, liked and disliked about this sleep hacking experiment. Also, I will provide some helpful tips for those who would like to try this sleep hack themselves.

Prior to the hack, I decided that 05:45 AM should be the time my alarm will sound. This gives me enough time to snooze twice, just in case I can’t get out of bed right away.

The comments you will read, are the thoughts I collected at those specific days but have been modified afterwards. Yes, I keep a journal.

Table of contents

Sleephack day 15 – Sunday

I wake up feeling full of energy. No snooze needed. This steady rhythm is great.

Last night, the clock got set back an hour for wintertime. This means I got an hour of extra sleep. However, I cannot say this extra hour has done anything for me. I feel no different than the previous days. I suppose this is a good thing.  

Work as usual from 06:30 to around 21:00 with scheduled breaks for second breakfast, lunch and dinner. No power naps today and no dips in energy. I took good care eating at the appropriate times (just before I would start go get tired) so all is fine. Today was a good day.

Bed at 22:00.

Sleephack day 16 – Monday

I wake up at 03:00 AM. It’s seems like an apocalypse is on the rise. What is going on? The weather is going crazy. I give it no further thought, close my bedroom window and go back to sleep.

Waking up is surprisingly easy given my nightly interruption.

Today is the day I move to Berlin. I am in luck, it’s 05:45 AM and the weather has calmed down. My transport from Holland to Germany (Berlin to be exact), is meant to be via train. I spent my morning packing my belongings for my migration since my train doesn’t leave until 12:00.

However, from around 09:30 AM, the storm outside just keeps getting worse and worse. We live only about 20 kilometers away from the ocean, so when weather conditions take a turn for the worst, that’s usually bad news for us people close to shore.

Bad news is an understatement on this occasion. It is the worst storm the country has seen in the last 25 years.

Some visuals of the storm: (very Dutch)

In short, our entire sundeck got destroyed. A few thousand euro’s in damages – which is fortunately covered by insurance for the most part. Given the tiny country that Holland is, this storm atrophied the entire northern part of the country. All public transport got cancelled and airports closed down. No moving today.

Needless to say, no significant amount of work got done today.

Bed at 21:45.

Sleephack day 17 – Tuesday

Wake up at 05:45 AM. No snooze needed. Too easy.

In fact, today I feel so good, that, after working from 6:30 AM to 10:30 AM, I finally hit the gym again for the first time since I got ill. Mind you this is about 2 weeks ago. In the comments of the second update of this sleep hack, Tom asked about my performance in sports. To be frank, I wasn’t on the top of my game. But this was to be expected after such a long time without gym and the illness that only just passed. So these ‘results’ are hardly representative of how rising early affects athletic-performance.

Because I knew a crash after my post-workout meal was inevitable, I bought a can of energy drink. I tried to postpone drinking it for a while, but given that a single coffee and a power-nap didn’t wake me up enough after this big lunch, I drank the contents of the can around 15:00 PM.

It’s 21:45 and what a shock, I am too wired to go to sleep. An hour later, although I am not tired, I decide to at least try and just lie with my eyes closed. Fortunately, this is all it takes. I fall asleep within a matter of minutes.

Sleephack day 18 – Wednesday

Getting up today is a lot tougher than it has been as of late. That can of energy drink.. Big mistake.

Yes, it gave me energy, but it completely messed up my night’s rest. The quality of my sleep was very low – something I can now easily determine given the steady rhythm I’ve been having.

First coffee at breakfast. It’s 06:45 AM and I have been awake for an hour. I still can’t get myself to do anything remotely productive. Second coffee. I am starting to come to life. About 20 minutes later, I am back to work.

I am so smart, countering caffeine-induced problems with caffeine.. Like curing a hangover with a beer. Ah well..

Despite my slow start, I am surprisingly productive. It’s 11:00 AM, time for second breakfast. Two and a half hours of work and then time for lunch. These meal-breaks really work wonders for me. After the lunch however, I suddenly feel incredibly sleepy and decide to take a 30-minute power-nap. I am reinvigorated. Back to work!

I cheat on my rule not to work after 21:00 PM. I am too excited about something I am working on and don’t want to stop. I’m in the zone and don’t want to ruin that.

Sleep at 23:45 PM  

Sleephack day 19 – Thursday

The alarm sounds. I snooze. 8 minutes later, it sounds again. Sigh.. no snoozes left. Up I go.

Getting out of bed was tough, like yesterday. It’s no surprise why though, I ‘only’ slept for 6 hours, whereas I generally need about 8. All of this nonsense started with a single can of energy drink on Tuesday. It affects me even two days later. Really, don’t do it. If you must, not after 13:00 PM.

Today I move to Berlin. In the morning I mostly do research for a new hack. During the 8-hour journey by train I write for a few hours, but mostly I relax and take in the scenery. I get into a conversation with two guys who are also on their way to Berlin. One of them tells me he is very much into meditation – something I have been considering to try. I am convinced. I will give it a try for 21 days in the nearby future.

Sleep at 22:30.   

Sleephack day 20 – Friday

Seven hours of sleep, but again an easy wake-up.

All through the day I get a lot of work done without any substantial dips in energy something I 100% attribute to the frequent breaks I take and things I eat to keep my energy levels up.

Sleep  at 22:30.

Sleephack day 21 – Saturday

The last day of the sleep hack. Waking up, again, no need for snoozing.

The entire day I do nothing work related as I am in the middle of moving into a new apartment. For this reason, I have nothing to report regarding productivity.

What I learned from 21 days of rising early

You can alter your sleeping pattern, but it takes time.

If you have the discipline to follow a steady sleep schedule for 21 days, I am certain anyone is able to change their rhythm. Normally, I always woke up between 08:00 and 08:30 and would feel groggy about 80% of the time. With this hack and after an adjustment period, I would wake up with energy. No grogginess in the morning. Very little snoozing.

The hardest part about getting into the rhythm, for me at least, was going to sleep early. But if you know the amount of sleep you need to feel rested and have the discipline to go to sleep when you should, you will most likely succeed.

If I can alter my wake-up time by more than 2 hours, so can you.

Looking back at my journal entries, it becomes evident that the main transition took place after about 10 days. Just keep in mind that sleep isnt an exact science and that I am not necessarily representative for the entire population, or for you. Having said that, around the 10 day mark is when I started feeling energetic upon wake-up. My guess is that so will you.

I felt more productive, and more creative

I purposely say that I FELT more productive and creative. there is some intentional wiggle-room. Not that I think I was less productive or creative – quite the contrary. I just have no way to tell for certain. I have no good means to measure my output and compare days to one another. My work is different from day to day and therefore not easily quantified.

All I can do is tell you what I THINK happened. And I think that my productivity was up. In the end, I suppose the most important thing is how we feel when we make a change. And felt very good about it.  

Things I didn’t like about rising early

Although I loved most days of this hack, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There were definitely occasions where I wasn’t that happy about what I was doing.

The biggest downside was that I lost my flexibility. It’s not easy to combine this rising early hack with social events. I got very inflexible for the sake of pushing this new sleeping pattern. I wanted to know if getting adjusted was possible, and how quick it was possible. For these reasons, I tried to be as strict as possible which did interfere with other things in my life.

Now, if you were to try this for yourself, I imagine you would not be so strict. And I don’t necessarily think that it’s the best thing either. My advice is to be flexible in the evenings, but no matter what, get up at your target time. That’s the most important part. Get adjusted to the wake-up time you want.  

Tips to change your own sleeping habits

If I get to the core of what it took to change my sleeping pattern, I think it really just boils down to a few very basic things. But don’t let the word “basic” fool you – following these basic principles might be a lot tougher than you think:

Figure out how many hours of sleep you need and schedule your bedtime.

Don’t just loosely guess and just do what you feel like when bedtime rolls around. Pick a time for bed, and follow it to the best of your ability.

Be as consistent as possible.

Consistency is the key to changing any habit. Especially with something so deeply ingrained into our nature as sleep.

Be disciplined.

Be disciplined in timing when you go to bed, but most importantly, when you rise. This is the hardest part. It’s so easy to cheat a little here and there. Don’t cut corners.

If you start to feel your energy levels are dropping, take a short break and eat something.

I actually started eating one extra meal per day to overcome the drops in energy. Scheduled short breaks increase your overall productivity.

If you need it, take a power nap.

However, what’s essential is that you set an alarm. Don’t go over 30 minutes or you will most likely feel groggy. Also, longer power naps tend to give me sleeping issues at night. It interferes with your goal to be consistent in sleep timing.

Dim the lights about an hour before you go to sleep.

Avoid brightly lit spaces if you can. Sure, you cannot always avoid this, but try as much as remains convenient.

If you are ill, or starting to feel ill, postpone this sleep hack.

I did not enjoy my mornings when I was feeling ill and was still getting adjusted to the new rhythm. And by “not enjoy” I am really underselling it.

The big question: Will I continue rising before 06:00 AM?

Short answer: No. But let me explain.

I loved getting up early and certainly don’t plan on going back to my old habits of 08:00 – 08:30 wake-ups. But right now, at this stage in my life, 05:45 AM is just a little bit too early. It interferes too much with other things in my life mostly socially. I will try some minor adaptations to accommodate my needs a little better.

I think my sweet-spot is around 06:30 AM. This way it is still before the break of dawn, but I get some extra time in the evenings to get together with friends or enjoy a night together with my girlfriend and watch a movie without worrying about time.

I know this is only a 45 minute adjustment, but I believe this can already make a big difference.

Additionally, I will give myself some more leeway in the weekends. Big night out? I’ll just sleep in for a day. Late-night get-together? Just take half hour extra the next morning. Other than those nights, I will try to stick to my rhythm as much as possible, as this seems to be the key to waking up energized.

I would love to hear your thoughts

I just finished my first lifehack for this website and really enjoyed doing it. However, this website is not about me it’s really about you and how you can benefit from the experiences outlined on 21 Lifehacks.

For this reason, I would love to hear your thoughts. How has this series of rising early posts affected you? What did you like? What did you not like?

I make it a point to respond to every half-decent comment. So if you could leave a comment, I would be very grateful.

All the best to you and hope to see you again for the next lifehack!

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