How to Wake Up Early Without Sacrificing Your Sleep

Regulate your body's clock so you can maximize your own energy and productivity.

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By Greg Wells


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When your circadian rhythm is out of whack, your work life can get off kilter as well. It is almost impossible to have a high-performance work day, every day, when you are sleep deprived and your 24-hour cycle is chaotic. One of the best things you can do for your clarity of thought, creativity in problem-solving and calm in the face of business storms, is to sleep adequately and regulate your daily patterns.

Here are four steps to creating regularity and ensuring a high-performance work day:

1. Get your sleep

First, you need about 7.5 hours of sleep every night. Research is clear that people are healthiest and perform at their best both physically and mentally when they get 5 complete sleep cycles in each night. Sleep cycles take about 90 minutes hence the need for 7.5 hours.

If you're trying to hit a deadline or you have a big project that demands extra hours for a short period of time try to get 3 complete sleep cycles or 4.5 hours. That is the amount of sleep you need for your brain to recover, regenerate and consolidate learning from the day.

2. Get consistent

After you commit to getting adequate sleep, set up a great daily rhythm that both delivers energy and protects that precious sleep time. Capitalize on the fact that we are naturally designed to repeat daily patterns. Setting up great patterns at the beginning and end of the day helps you feel better and work smarter during all the parts in between.

Your body loves consistency. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day is good for your brain and body. Consistent times allow your hormones and other chemicals that your organs release to get into a rhythm. If you change that pattern, it takes time for your body to adapt. That is what happens when you fly across time zones and get jet-lagged. Changing your sleep-and-wake pattern changes your body's circadian rhythms and gives you micro jet lags every day. You feel groggy, your performance drops and your health suffers.

3. Get up early

Some of the best performers in business consistently wake up early. Waking up early lets you get a head-start on the day. You won't be bothered by emails or messages. The world is quiet. There is less traffic if you're going to the gym. You can run on empty roads. You can read a book in peace. You can meditate or do yoga. Just get out of bed. Win the battle of the bed!

That is one way to boost your daily performance is to get up a bit earlier than usual. You can then get the important things done for yourself that make you better. And nothing will get in your way. Build your morning routine so that you get up early and do the most important things for you first thing. I recommend that you don't work during this period. This is a time to refill your personal bucket. When you feel full of life's satisfactions, you have more to give to the business you need to sustain.

So, set up your mornings to do good things for yourself and start the day with the energy you get from honoring your passions.

4. Get serious about night-time relaxation

Once your morning pattern is established, defend the last hour of your day so that you can fall asleep quickly and deeply. Having a routine that allows you to decompress and relax can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. Many of my clients who have trouble sleeping have had stressful days and are also working late into the evenings, right up until they collapse into bed.

Find a calming activity that you love and do it before bed. Ideally, stay away from screens (TV, computer, smart phone – the brightness stimulates your brain to stay awake) and from any to-do items that require a lot of mental energy. Read a novel, take a bath, listen to relaxing music…. whatever peaceful activities help you wind down.

Protect your time. You will enjoy that hour immensely and benefit from a regular circadian rhythm.

Greg Wells

Professor, Scientist, Broadcaster, Author

Greg Wells is a scientist, professor and author. He is an expert on human performance in extreme conditions.

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