“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” (Benjamin Franklin)
What is the common factor amongst Apple CEO Tim Cook, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior, Starbucks president Michelle Gass, Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin? Apart from being successful, they all attribute the most crucial factor for their success to their waking up early in the morning!
A german biologist Christoph Randler in 2010 found in his research that early risers are more likely to anticipate problems and be proactive and thereby have a productive mindset. You can not only accomplish a lot from your ‘list of things to do’ when you get up early but also you’ll find yourself breezing through the rest of the day with a sense of achievement, feeling lighter and most importantly with significantly less anxiety. When I look around, I see people on a perpetual ‘catch-up’ mode at their work places leaving hardly any time for family, friends and other meaningful pursuits in their lives. I believe this is the number 1 factor for stress in the lives of millions of people across the world today! Think about it, if you woke up 1/2 hour early everyday, you will have gained 300 extra hours in a year! A well known writer I read about regularly, said in those 300 extra hours that he gained in his life last year, he wrote 6 books, started 3 new businesses, completed an Honors degree and all this keeping his day job! That’s a lot of achievement, isn’t it? In my own life, I noticed that whenever I woke up early, my productivity was almost always higher, not just in the morning but all through the day and I also felt a significant feeling of well-being.
It is recommended by all the old sages and teachers in the yoga tradition, especially in the Bhakti or devotional schools, that if one is serious about a yoga-based lifestyle, one should be awake and performing some spiritual activity during the brahma-muhurta. The brahma-muhurta begins approximately one and a half hours before sunrise. It is generally accepted as the most auspicious time of the day to perform spiritual practices. During this time of day the world is peaceful and the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance are less thus enabling us to focus more on our spiritual practices.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says,
yogo bhavati duhkha-ha
He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.
Leading a regulated life helps us to overcome the influence of the modes of material nature and thus be situated in a position more conducive to developing a higher state of consciousness which is the means to a life of peace, unlimited happiness and fulfillment which everyone aspires for.
But I must admit, waking up early did not occur to me naturally. I’m still training myself to become a natural early riser.
The benefits are well known but the question is how do I become successful in waking up early…everyday, for the rest of my life? There are lot of articles that teach you techniques to get up early but I really like one tip from a well researched piece of information. This research shows that we sleep in cycles and an average sleep cycle (of transition, light sleep, and deep sleep) is about 90 minutes. Which means that even if you’ve enjoyed a full night’s sleep, getting out of bed can be difficult if your alarm goes off when you’re in the middle of deep sleep. So, if you want to make a more realistic attempt at getting up early, set up a wake-up time that is a multiple of 90 minutes. For eg: If you go to bed at 10pm, set your alarm for either 4.00am or 5.30am (if you need your 7 hours of sleep) instead of 5.00am or 6.00am. You may feel more refreshed at these times than if you add an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep because you’re getting up at the end of a sleep cycle when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness. You see that in our own experiments with sleep & waking up, sometimes you wake up feeling fully refreshed and sometimes very groggy irrespective of the number of hours of sleep is because of this very reason! This is the reason that most attempts such as trying to wake up 1/2 hour earlier than your normal time usually fails.
Steve Pavlina best known for his polyphasic sleep experiments, writes that the success mantra for early rising is to get up at the same time every day. I believe in the truth of this statement. It is also recommended in ancient Indian Vedic Scriptures that one should get up at the same time everyday. So, you have to decide what is the right time to wake up for you (consider factors such as realistic number of hours of sleep for your body type). But here comes the hard task! The alarm clock, which unfailingly goes off. Are you inspired and motivated enough to wake up right away or your mind cajoles you into stealing those 5 precious minutes of extra sleep and you wake up after two extra hours of sleep! Well, let me reassure you that this is the most common problem in the world. The proof is in a new emerging market for alarm clocks with ingenious designs to get you to wake up!
If you are caught in this trap of snoozing the alarm, please know that by repeatedly doing it everyday over several years, you have conditioned the habit into your subconscious. Every time you fail to get up when your alarm goes off, it becomes ever more your default physiological response. If you want to change that behavior, you’ll need to undertake a conscious reconditioning program. How do you do that? Your willpower alone might not help you get out of the bed. Remember you have conditioned yourself to doze off and made it your default physiological response. There are other factors such as ‘brain fog’ i,e your brain isn’t yet fully conscious and alert and decisions you make in this state aren’t necessarily the ones you want to trust! Instead, you can adopt a simple techniques you learnt as a kid and replicate them! During my schooldays, I seldom used the alarm clock, I used a practice my mother taught me. Previous night, just before falling asleep, I would keep affirming my mind that I want to wake up at 4.00am and pray to the Lord to enable me to get up and lo! I would spring up from bed, dot at 4.00am!
One way that Steve Pavlina suggests that sounds interesting is to switch off the conscious mind and turn to your subconscious mind and repeat the practice of getting up, till you become skilled at it. Its called Rote memory function. Eventually your subconscious will take over and run the script on autopilot. It might sound too simplistic but you have to get up immediately after the alarm goes off, without allowing your mind to think anything at all. Cut your conscious mind out of the loop because its very easy to convince yourself of a multiplicity of reasons why you wouldn’t want to get out of the bed yet. Don’t even allow those thoughts-just get up! With practice, he says, you’ll condition a new physiological response to the sound of your alarm. When your alarm goes off, you’ll get up automatically without even thinking about it. The more you run the pattern, the stronger it will become. Eventually it will be uncomfortable not to get up when your alarm goes off. The more you practice your wake-up ritual, the deeper you’ll ingrain this habit into your subconscious. You only have to go through the conditioning period once, then you’re set for life and it will eventually become your favorite ritual. I particularly like this suggestion because it has worked for me, to just mindlessly get up instead of using the mind and failing to get up. Ofcourse, during these trials, in the beginning, I would feel that I am not getting enough rest (but guess what, its a psychological trap!), this phase will only last for a short time while your body adjusts to the new settings, so some naps may be necessary. But if you stay with the schedule, you will find that after a while that you will automatically wake up early without difficulty. If you decide to adopt this schedule, it will honestly take you about two weeks to adjust to it physically, but the rewards are beyond belief.
One other factor that support early wake up that I use is eating a super light dinner e.g, a soup or a glass of milk 2 hours before sleeping or eating nothing at all. By eating a heavy meal at the end of the day you force the body to stay awake instead of giving it much needed rest and that is the reason for feeling sluggish in the day.
Finally, I would like to add that it is very easy to fall back to old bad habits unless one is consciously practicing it, every day of your life until the habit becomes natural to you. So, choose a mechanism to keep you going and motivated. I suggest practicing early wake up with a group of enthusiasts, exchanging notes and celebrating success! My prayers for your success!