I’d been a night owl for as long as I can remember. Rarely did I sleep before midnight or 2am, and I most certainly didn’t wake up before 9 or 10am on my own accord. I believed that I got my best work done in the wee hours of the night, free of interruption and ample time to think. Some of the best papers I’ve written began at 12am and under the pressure of a deadline.
Recently, however, I began to question this way of thinking, which led me upon a quest that at the start felt so important, but in hindsight was shortsighted as my journey was longer than I expected. I’d thought that I was on a path to meditation, but little did I know that further along my way I’d find something truly enriching.
My journey began with a desire to deepen my meditation practice (a habit that's been a daily part of my life since high school) as I felt that I wasn’t getting the uninterrupted silence and space I needed for it to be truly effective. I’d read and heard often that the best time to meditate was early in the morning, between 4:30 and 6am. My husband also talked about how waking up earlier would improve his day and cited various articles touting its benefits, but I’d mostly continued believing that I wasn't a morning person, that I worked best late at night, and that there wasn’t a better way for me.
Call it serendipity, but I’d also just finished reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, which discussed the ability to focus on a cognitively demanding task without interruption, so I had some extra inspiration. Determined to see what all the hype was about, I set my alarm for 4:30am and gave it a try.
What I Learned Along the Way
The first few days were tough. I’d wake up 4:30am and attempt to sit up in bed, but I’d just fall back asleep without realizing it until hours later. The next couple days got better: I’d wake up, sit up in bed successfully, meditate for a few minutes but then mostly drift in and out of sleep and awareness. Not exactly what I was looking for so I knew I needed to do something a bit more drastic to help me stay awake.
For the next few days, I’d wake up, get out of bed, and meditate in our guest room upstairs. The chilly walk up was enough to wake me, but I’d still go back to sleep once my meditation was done. This went on for a few more weeks with some very successful days and others not as much.
I eventually realized that to make this work the first thing I needed to do was to create consistency in my routine. So I rearranged the furniture in our room, took a little e-trip to Amazon and created a meditation corner just for me. This got me out of bed and into a space, “a zone”, that was used only for meditation and silence. After a few days, my brain began to register this habit and getting into a state of meditation became easier, no matter how tired I was.
My Meditation Space :)
With time my meditations naturally became longer, about 45-60 minutes total, and had a greater impact throughout my days, but I continued to go to sleep afterward. I was content on this schedule and proud of myself for waking up daily. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could be doing even more.
That was until my husband sent me this article about a group of successful people who had one trait in common: getting a head start on their day. Reading about their stories inspired me to give it a try. I was already waking up at 4:30 anyways, and I knew the peace and serenity they spoke of, so I thought to myself, ‘let’s see what staying up and using those early hours to do some “deep work” can do for me. Maybe I’d find the answer to my lurking career path questions? Maybe I’d create something beautiful?’ So, I gave it a whirl.
As expected, the first few days were tough. Although I was successful in waking up, I was exhausted by 7am and dozed off on the couch multiple days in a row. While trying to cement this change in my life was difficult at the start, with some dedication, my sleep schedule had somewhat regulated. I was falling asleep by 10pm, making it much easier to stay awake the next day, and the things that I was accomplishing before 8am amazed me!
By the time the rest of the world was getting their day started, I’d already knocked major tasks off my to-do list or spent 4 uninterrupted hours focusing on me and doing the things that make my mind, body, and soul smile (e.g., yoga, meditation, reading, writing, and sipping a hot cup of tea while watching the sunrise).
With this positive loving energy and everything in a state of calm, I’ve become more enriched than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m now able to do the things I love for what amounts to nearly half a work day, every single day! Let me repeat that: I get to do what I love every single day!!
While most people are snoozing those prime hours away, I’ve started my own business selling handmade, organic beauty products, I’ve rekindled my love for writing and sharing my story (hence this blog post), and I’m even leaving my house to exercise, joining my first serious fitness class since intramural sports back in the day. All of the promises of having a more efficient day came true.
But most importantly, and perhaps the least talked about, I’m able to spend quality time with myself. In this day in age, and what looks to be the foreseeable future, it’s too easy to disconnect from our core, forgetting to ask the age-old question: “Who am I and what kind of person do I want to be?” From a place of peace, I’m able to have this conversation with myself. I’m able to explore the inner workings of my soul, to grow and create and inspire myself to be better and to work harder. I’m able to dive deep into the stillness within me, allowing my intuition to guide me wherever I go. I’m able to get in touch with my center and to keep that balance throughout my day, making each and every moment even brighter.
Though I often fall asleep before 10pm and sometimes have to take a nap, what I’m able to accomplish on a personal, spiritual and professional level during those early 4 hours, is unmatched by any other routine I’ve ever had. I’ve become more mindful, grateful, and aware, and surprisingly have the energy and patience to do things that I’d normally find draining. I learned that it’s all about balance. That this time is to be used not only for working but also for connecting with myself and the world around me. Otherwise, it would only be about becoming more efficient rather than growing and evolving as a person.
I couldn’t believe that after only one week on this extended journey, this new lifestyle had become ingrained in me; I simply couldn’t imagine living any other way. These benefits that were so quick to come had far-reaching effects on my mood and lifted the overall vibration of my day. I would never have believed what I was missing out on if I hadn’t tried it for myself.
I’ve come to realize that we can’t set limits on our own journeys. We must allow them to forever continue. Sometimes what looks like the end of our path is actually just the beginning. Little do we know that with an extra leap, or a few extra steps, there could be so much more waiting for us to discover.
Love + Light,
Ready to transform your life?!
Tips & Strategies to Help Get You Started:
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. We all need our zzz’s for our bodies and minds to rest and recharge so getting less than 6 hours of sleep just won’t cut it, and goes against the ultimate purpose of early-bird rising: gaining a fresh, positive start to your day. So if you’re waking up at 4:30, start getting ready for bed by 9:30 so you can be in bed by 10:00. And if you still feel drowsy during the day, listen to your body and take a nap. They say 90-minutes is the best because it allows you to complete one full sleep cycle, but even a 20-minute power nap will do to give your mind a little rest.
- Make sure you’re not doing, doing, doing for 16 hours straight! This was a tough one for me at first. I had so many hours in my day and so much I wanted to accomplish that I’d find myself jumping from one thing to the next all day, and before I knew it, I was pooped and totally depleted mentally and physically. This was not the best way to utilize all of my hours, and thankfully I realized that sooner than later. Here are some tips to help you break up your day:
- Schedule in breaks every hour even if it’s just to get up and walk down the hall to stretch your legs and give your mind (and eyes) a much-needed break.
- When it’s time to eat a meal or have a snack, take the time to focus only on eating and mindful chewing, and avoid the temptation to eat at your desk or to get lost in your smartphone. This really helped give my body and mind some time to breathe in between my to-do’s for the day.
- Try to refrain from reaching for a magazine, checking emails or playing on your phone during breaks, or at least until after you’ve taken 5 slow, long, deep breaths to help re-center your mind, body, and soul. You’d be amazed how effective this really is!
- Make sure to know when it's time to stop and unplug for the day. Listen to your body and use the few hours before bed to relax and unwind. While it's important to get things done, rest assured you’ll be more efficient in the morning ;).
- Get on a regular eating schedule. Being up at 4:30 definitely means you can’t wait until 8:00 or 9:00 to have breakfast. And there are not too many things that one wants to eat so early in the morning, at least not for me. However, I found having a schedule really helps to keep you on track. Remember food is our fuel. We can’t run on empty and missing meals can really impact how we feel throughout our day. Obviously, every day is a little different and I don’t follow this to a T, but having a guideline in place has made it easier for me to make sure I’m getting the extra nutrients my body needs. Here’s what mine looks like to give you an idea:
- 4:30am - Wake Up & Meditate
- 5:30am - Almonds (soaked overnight) and peeled with a cup of hot water or herbal tea
- 7:00am - Protein snack/fruit (veggie protein shake, homemade protein balls, a protein bar, or an apple with peanut butter)
- 9:30/10:00am - Breakfast, avocado toast or oatmeal
- 1:00/2:00pm - Lunch, this is usually my largest meal of the day
- 4:00/5:00pm - Snack & tea
- 8:00pm - Dinner, typically something light like a salad or soup
- Get out of bed immediately. This can be the hardest part for most people. Use the band-aid rule: rip it off quickly! As soon as your alarm rings, get out of bed. This way you’re up and can’t be tempted to snooze or snuggle for another 5-minutes because believe me, you’ll pass right out! Put your phone on the opposite side of the room. Pinch yourself. Do whatever it takes!
- Motivate yourself. Schedule something that makes your heart smile in the morning so you’ll want to wake up for it. For me, that’s meditating and then enjoying a warm cup of tea while I read or write. Knowing I can do these things without interruption or urgency feels like a daily treat. Make getting up a reward.
- Take advantage of the extra time. Don’t waste it mindlessly scrolling through your phone or surfing the net. Read a book. Go for a stroll. Enjoy a cup of tea. Ruminate. Use the early hours to do the things you love or to complete high priority tasks that will make your day easier and that will make you feel better.
- Build a support system or have someone who can hold you accountable to stay on track. For me, this was my husband, who was especially supportive in helping me get to bed at a proper time. Sharing my experience with him and also learning the changes he noted in me and my overall day was also super encouraging and helped to keep me going.
- Practice gratitude. Seeing the sunrise every day reminds me of the beauty and magic in this world first thing in the morning. It’s hard not to feel grateful when you begin your day seeing one of the most beautiful, peaceful sites. Take time to feel grateful for all the things that you make your heart smile and share your gratitude with others. After all, the more grateful we are, the more we have to be grateful for.
While it definitely takes some time and effort to figure out a daily schedule and find your own balance, it’s minuscule in comparison to the amazing benefits you’ll receive. And while I know that everyone has their own personal lifestyle and no one thing holds all the answers, I do believe that we grow and enrich our lives through the small changes we make every day. I’d like to invite each of you to explore your own path for two weeks. Challenge yourself. Commit to a new way of being. You never know what could be waiting for you on the other side ;)