How to Fall Asleep in Less Than 30 Seconds
Chapter 1: How to Fall Asleep in 30 Seconds
Chapter 2: How to Become an Early Riser
Chapter 3: How to Get Up Right Away
Chapter 4: How to Give Up Coffee
Does it take you a while to fall asleep at night? Do you find your mind dwelling on various thoughts before you’re able to finally drift off and relax into sleep? Do you find that you just aren’t sleepy enough when it’s time for bed?
Realize that if it takes you 15 minutes on average to fall asleep each night, that’s more than 91 hours per year that you’re wasting. This is the equivalent of spending more than two 40-hour workweeks just lying in bed waiting to fall asleep.
And if you have insomniac tendencies and take more than an hour to fall asleep each night, you’re spending more than nine 40-hour weeks on that pointless activity — every year. That’s a tremendous amount of wasted time.
If you’d like to change this situation, keep reading. I’ll explain the details and share a process for training your brain to fall asleep almost instantly when you’re ready to go to bed.
First, if you drink coffee, tea (including green tea and white tea), yerba mate, cola, or any caffeinated beverages on a semi-regular basis, this method won’t work very well at all, so I strongly recommend that you get off all caffeine for at least 2 weeks before you attempt to make improvements in this area. Read the chapter How to Give Up Coffee if you need help with that. I also advise that you drop chocolate during this time as well, including cocoa and cacao, since those contain stimulants too.
Even a small cup of coffee in the morning can disrupt your ability to fall asleep quickly at night. You may also sleep less restfully, and you’ll be prone to awaken more often throughout the night. Consequently, you may wake up tired and need extra sleep.
Simply eliminating all caffeine from your diet can improve your sleep habits tremendously. So if you haven’t already done that, please do that first before you attempt the training method I explain later in this article.
If you really love your caffeine though, the good news is that it’s okay to add it back once you’ve gone through this adaptation training. It will still disrupt your sleep a bit, but once you’ve mastered the habit of being able to fall asleep in 30 seconds or less, then most likely you’ll still be able to continue the habit even if you consume some caffeine during the day.
A decade ago it might have taken me 15-30 minutes to fall asleep most nights. Sometimes it would take more than an hour if I had a lot on my mind. And very occasionally I could fall asleep within 5 minutes or less if I was very sleepy.
Today it’s fairly normal for me to fall asleep within 30 seconds or less, and often I’m able to fall asleep in less than 1 second. My best is probably around 1/4 of a second.
How do I know this? Because I have a witness that tells me how long I was out. I also know that I was sleeping because I awaken with the memory of a dream. If my sleep time is only a second or a fraction of a second, then it’s obviously a very short dream. Some time dilation occurs though, so a 1-second dream may feel significantly longer… perhaps as if 5-10 seconds have passed within the dream world.
Is this narcolepsy? No, narcolepsy is very different. I don’t just fall asleep at odd times throughout the day, and I don’t have excessive daytime sleepiness. Most days I don’t take any naps. One thing I do have in common with narcoleptics is that I can start having dreams immediately when I fall asleep, whereas most people don’t enter the dream state for at least an hour. I regard this as a positive adaptation though, not a problem or defect.
I can’t normally force myself to sleep when I’m not at all sleepy. But when I’m ready to go to sleep, I can go to sleep very quickly without wasting time trying to fall asleep.
I’m not able to do this 100% perfectly. If I have a stressful day and there’s a lot on my mind at night, I may find it more difficult to relax and go to sleep. But most of the time under normal, average conditions, I can get to sleep within 30 seconds or less.
I reached this point not by the exertion of conscious will but rather through a long-term process of sleep training. So don’t think that there’s some mental trick that you can use right away to make this happen instantly. However, once you’ve trained yourself to this point, the process is effortless. You’ll be able to do it automatically. It will be no more difficult than blinking.
The training process may take a long time — months or even years, depending on how far you want to go — but it’s not at all difficult, and it needn’t take a serious time commitment. In fact, the training will most likely save you a significant amount of time. The only challenging part is maintaining consistency long enough to get results.
First consider that it’s possible for you to fall asleep faster. Have you ever been really tired and sleepy at the end of a day, and you fell asleep very quickly after getting into bed? Have you ever drifted off while watching a movie or reading a book? Have you ever fallen asleep within less than 2 minutes after lying down? If you’ve done it before, then consider the possibility that your brain already knows how to fall asleep quickly, and if you create the right conditions, then you’re capable of doing this again. You just need to train your brain to do this more consistently.
The main reason that you aren’t falling asleep faster is that you haven’t trained your brain to do so. You may be able to reach that point eventually, but you’re not there yet. Similarly, you may be able to do the splits if you engage in flexibility training, but in the absence of such training, you probably won’t be able to do the splits at all.
If you want to fall asleep faster, you must incentivize your brain to drop all other activity and immediately transition into sleep when you desire to do so. That is the essence of this approach. If there are few consequences for a lazy approach to falling asleep, then your brain will continue to be lazy and inefficient in this area. You haven’t given it a good enough reason to select more efficient behaviors.
Your brain is always active, even during deep sleep, and it operates in different modes of consciousness, including beta (waking), alpha, theta, and delta phases. When you lie in bed waiting for sleep, you’re waiting for your brain to switch modes. An untrained brain will often take its own sweet time making the necessary state change. So you may dwell on other thoughts… or toss and turn… or just lie awake until your brain is finally ready to transition. This is a common experience. Without incentives to become more efficient, your brain will remain naturally lazy by default.
Your conscious mind might very much like to go to sleep, but it isn’t in charge. Your subconscious determines when you fall asleep. If your subconscious mind is in no hurry to fall asleep, then your conscious mind will have a hard time forcing it. In fact, your subconscious may continue to bubble up thoughts and ideas to occupy your conscious mind, distracting you with mental clutter instead of letting you relax and slide into sleep.
A trained subconscious mind is obedient and fast. When the conscious mind says to sleep, the subconscious activates sleep mode immediately. But this only works if you’re feeling at least partially sleepy. If the subconscious doesn’t agree with the need for sleep, it can still reject the request.
The process I’ll share next will teach your brain that putzing around isn’t an option anymore and that when you decide to go to sleep, it needs to transition immediately and without delay.
The process involves using short, timed naps to train your brain to fall asleep more quickly. Here’s how it works:
If and when you feel drowsy at some point during the day, give yourself permission to take a 20-minute nap. But only allow yourself exactly 20 minutes total. Use a timer to set an alarm. I often do this by using Siri on my iPhone by saying, “Set a timer for 20 minutes” or “Wake me up in 20 minutes.” The first one sets a countdown timer, while the later phrase sets an alarm to go off at a specific time. Sometimes I prefer to use a kitchen timer with a 20-minute countdown.
Begin the timer as soon as you lie down for your nap. Whether you sleep or not, and regardless of how long it takes you to fall asleep, you have 20 minutes total for this activity… not a minute more.
Simply relax and allow yourself to fall asleep as you normally would. You don’t have to do anything special here, so don’t try to force it. If you fall asleep, great. If you just lie there awake for 20 minutes, also great. And if you sleep for some fraction of the time, that’s perfectly okay too.
At the end of the 20 minutes, you must get up immediately. No lingering. This part is crucial. If you’re tempted to continue napping after the alarm goes off, then put the alarm across the room so you have to get up to turn it off. Or have someone else forcibly yank you off the couch or bed when they hear the alarm. But no matter what, get up immediately. The nap is over. If you’re still tired, you can take another nap later — wait at least an hour — but don’t let yourself go back to sleep right away.
I think it’s best to do your nap practice during the day if you can, but you can also do it in the evening, as long as it’s at least an hour before your normal bedtime. Perhaps the best time for an evening nap is right after dinner, when many people feel a little sleepy.
You don’t have to take the naps every day, but do them at least a few times a week if you can. I think the ideal practice would be one nap per day.
The next part of this process is to always wake up with an alarm in the morning. Set your alarm for a fixed time every day, seven days a week. When your alarm goes off each morning, get up immediately regardless of how much sleep you actually got. Again, no lingering. If you need help with this, be sure to read the chapters 2 and 3, “How to Become an Early Riser” and “How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off”.
Now when you go to bed at night, seek to go to bed at a time that will essentially require you to be sleeping the whole time you’re in bed in order to feel well rested in the morning. So if you feel you need a good 7 hours of sleep each night to feel rested, and you plan to get up at 5am every morning, then get yourself into bed and ready to sleep at about 10pm. If you take 30 minutes to fall asleep, then you’re getting less sleep than you need, and this is a disincentive to continuing that wasteful habit.
The message you’re sending to your brain is that the time you have to sleep is limited. You are going to get out of bed after a certain number of hours no matter what. You’re going to get up from your nap after a specific amount of time no matter what. So if your brain wants to sleep, it had better learn to go to sleep quickly and use the maximum time allotted for sleep. If it wastes time falling asleep, then it misses out on that extra sleep, and it will not have the opportunity to make it up by sleeping in later. Sleep time squandered is sleep time lost.
When you go to bed whenever and allow yourself to get up whenever, you reward your brain for continued laziness and inefficiency. It’s fine if you take a half hour to fall asleep since your brain knows it can just sleep in later. If you awaken with an alarm but go to bed earlier than necessary to compensate for the time it takes you to fall asleep, your still tell your brain that it’s fine to waste time transitioning to sleep because there’s still enough extra time to get the rest it needs.
Coffee and chocolate are also crutches because if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can come to rely on a stimulant to keep it going when necessary. If you remove these outs, then your brain will soon connect the dots. It will learn that taking too long to fall asleep equals not getting enough sleep, which means going through the day tired and sleepy. By closing the door on potential outs like stimulants and extra snooze time, you leave only one remaining option for a solution. Sooner or later your brain will determine that going to sleep faster is indeed the solution, and it will adapt by transitioning into sleep much more quickly, so as to secure the full amount of rest it desires.
Instead of continuing to give your brain the message that oversleeping is okay or that stimulants are available, begin to condition it to understand that sleep time is a limited resource. Your brain is naturally good at optimizing scarce physiological resources; it evolved to do so over a long period of time. So if sleep time appears to be a limited resource, your brain can learn to optimize its use of this resource just as it has learned to optimize the use of oxygen and sugar.
If you get sleepy during the day as a result of limiting your sleep time at night, that’s perfectly okay. Take naps as needed. It’s okay to take multiple naps during the day if you need to, but keep them limited to 20 minutes max, and don’t have two naps within an hour of each other. Whenever you get up, stay up for at least an hour.
Once you get used to 20-minute naps — or if you don’t have that much time available for napping — try napping for shorter intervals. Give yourself 15, 10, or even 5 minutes for each nap. I sometimes take 3-4 minute naps (with a timer), which are surprisingly refreshing, but only if I fall asleep quickly.
Teach your brain that a 20-minute nap means 20 minutes of total time lying down. If your brain wants to ruminate during part of that time, it always means less sleep.
Also teach your brain that X number of hours in bed at night is all it gets, and so if it wants to get enough sleep, it had better spend virtually all of that time sleeping. If it spends time on non-sleep activity, it always robs itself of some sleep.
Once you’ve adapted and you’re able to fall asleep quickly when you desire to do so, you can slack off on the training process, ditch the alarm, and wake up whenever you want. Most likely the training will stick. You can even add the caffeine back if you so desire. But for a period of at least a couple months to start, I recommend being strict about it. Take naps regularly, and use an alarm to get up at a consistent time every single day.
I still prefer to get up with an alarm most days. I don’t need it to fall asleep quickly, but I tend to linger in bed more than necessary without the alarm.
If this is too strict for you, I doubt you’ll succeed with this approach. If you give your brain an easy out, it will take that out, and it won’t learn the adaptation you’re trying to teach it here.
Everyone is different, so how long it takes you to adapt depends on your particular brain. I’m sure some people will adapt fairly quickly, within a few weeks, while others may take significantly longer. There are many factors that can influence the results, with perhaps the biggest one being your diet. In general, a lighter, healthier, and more natural diet will make it significantly easier to adapt to any sort of sleep changes. Regular exercise also makes it easier to adapt to sleep changes; cardio exercise in particular helps to rebalance hormones and neurotransmitters, many of which are involved in regulating sleep cycles. If you eat a heavily processed diet (i.e. shopping mostly outside the produce section) and you don’t exercise much, just be aware that I rarely see such people succeed with worthwhile sleep changes of any kind.
One last item I’ll share is that I’m able to fall asleep fastest when I’m cuddling someone, both for naps and when going to bed at night. On my own I can get to sleep in under 30 seconds normally, but when I’m cuddling a nice warm female body, that’s when I can often get to sleep in less than a second. So I invite you to experiment with this if you have a willing cuddle partner who enjoys serving as a human teddy bear. :)
It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
Are morning people born or made? In my case it was definitely made. In my early 20s, I rarely went to bed before midnight, and I’d almost always sleep in late. I usually didn’t start hitting my stride each day until late afternoon.
But after a while I couldn’t ignore the high correlation between success and rising early, even in my own life. On those rare occasions where I did get up early, I noticed that my productivity was almost always higher, not just in the morning but all throughout the day. And I also noticed a significant feeling of well-being. So being the proactive goal-achiever I was, I set out to become a habitual early riser. I promptly set my alarm clock for 5AM…
… and the next morning, I got up just before noon.
I tried again many more times, each time not getting very far with it. I figured I must have been born without the early riser gene. Whenever my alarm went off, my first thought was always to stop that blasted noise and go back to sleep. I tabled this habit for a number of years, but eventually I came across some sleep research that showed me that I was going about this problem the wrong way. Once I applied those ideas, I was able to become an early riser consistently.
It’s hard to become an early riser using the wrong strategy. But with the right strategy, it’s relatively easy.
The most common wrong strategy is this: You assume that if you’re going to get up earlier, you’d better go to bed earlier. So you figure out how much sleep you’re getting now, and then just shift everything back a few hours. If you now sleep from midnight to 8am, you figure you’ll go to bed at 10pm and get up at 6am instead. Sounds very reasonable, but it will usually fail.
It seems there are two main schools of thought about sleep patterns. One is that you should go to bed and get up at the same times every day. It’s like having an alarm clock on both ends — you try to sleep the same hours each night. This seems practical for living in modern society. We need predictability in our schedules. And we need to ensure adequate rest.
The second school says you should listen to your body’s needs and go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you naturally wake up. This approach is rooted in biology. Our bodies should know how much rest we need, so we should listen to them.
Through trial and error, I found out for myself that both of these schools are suboptimal sleep patterns. Both of them are wrong if you care about productivity. Here’s why:
If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to day.
If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like 10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your sleep times begin to drift.
The optimal solution for me has been to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.
I go to bed when I’m too sleepy to stay up. My sleepiness test is that if I couldn’t read a book for more than a page or two without drifting off, I’m ready for bed. Most of the time when I go to bed, I’m asleep within three minutes. I lie down, get comfortable, and immediately I’m drifting off. Sometimes I go to bed at 9:30pm; other times I stay up until midnight. Most of the time I go to bed between 10-11pm. If I’m not sleepy, I stay up until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Reading is an excellent activity to do during this time, since it becomes obvious when I’m too sleepy to read.
When my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it off, stretch for a couple seconds, and sit up. I don’t think about it. I’ve learned that the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am to try to sleep in. So I don’t allow myself to have conversations in my head about the benefits of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if I want to sleep in, I always get up right away.
After a few days of using this approach, I found that my sleep patterns settled into a natural rhythm. If I got too little sleep one night, I’d automatically be sleepier earlier and get more sleep the next night. And if I had lots of energy and wasn’t tired, I’d sleep less. My body learned when to knock me out because it knew I would always get up at the same time and that my wake-up time wasn’t negotiable.
A side effect was that on average, I slept about 90 minutes less per night, but I actually felt more well-rested. I was sleeping almost the entire time I was in bed.
I read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time, you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep right away.
So if you want to become an early riser (or just exert more control over your sleep patterns), then try this: Go to bed only when you’re too sleepy to stay up, and get up at a fixed time every morning.
First, on the subject of going to bed when you’re sleepy… to do this correctly requires a mixture of awareness and common sense.
If you’re doing stimulating activities before bed, you’ll be able to stay up later and stave off sleepiness for a while. In college I used to participate in poker games that went until dawn, and then we’d often go out to breakfast afterwards. I can easily stay up later than my normal range of bed times if I work, go out with friends, or do other stimulating activities.
But this isn’t what I meant by noticing when you’re sleepy. I mentioned the test of not being able to read more than a couple pages of text without losing concentration. This doesn’t mean waiting until you’re about to drop from exhaustion.
The onset of sleepiness I’m referring to is when your brain starts releasing hormones to knock you out. This is different from just being tired. You actually feel yourself getting drowsy. But in order for this to happen, you need to create the right conditions for it to occur. This means giving yourself some downtime before bedtime. I find that reading is a great way to wind down before bed. Some people say reading in bed is a bad idea… that you should only sleep in bed. I’ve never had a problem with it though, since when I’m too sleepy to keep reading, I can just put the book down and go to sleep. But read in a chair if you prefer.
Another test you can use is this. Ask yourself, “If I were to go to bed now, how quickly could I fall asleep?” If you think it would take more than 15 minutes to fall asleep, I say go ahead and stay up.
Once you set a fixed awakening time, it may take a bit of practice to hone in on the right range of bedtimes for you. In the beginning you may see some huge oscillations, staying awake too late one night and going to bed too early another night. But eventually you’ll get a feel for when you can go to bed and fall asleep right away while allowing yourself to wake up refreshed the next day.
As a failsafe to keep yourself from staying up too late, give yourself a bedtime deadline, and even if you aren’t totally sleepy, go to bed by that time no matter what. I have a good idea of the minimum amount of sleep I need. 6.5 hours per night is sustainable for me, but I can do 5 hours in a pinch and be OK as long as I don’t do it every night. The maximum I ever sleep is 7.5 hours. Before I started waking up at a fixed time each morning, I’d often sleep 8-9 hours, sometimes even 10 hours if I was really tired.
If you consume caffeine during the day, it’s likely to mess with your sleep cycles. So the original post assumes you aren’t drugging yourself to stay awake. If you’re addicted to caffeine, then break the addiction first. I include a bonus chapter about giving up coffee in this book. Don’t expect natural sleepiness to occur at the right time if you’re screwing with your brain chemistry.
The idea of the original post was to explain how to develop the habit of arising early. So the advice is geared towards creating the habit. Once the habit is established, it runs more subconsciously. You can be doing stimulating activities like work or playing video games, and you’ll just know when it’s time for you to go to bed, even though it may be a different time each night. The sleepiness test is important for developing the habit, but subtler signals will take over afterwards.
You can always sleep in late now and then if you need to. If I stay up until 3am, I’m not going to get up at 5am the next morning. But I’ll return to my usual routine the next day.
I recommend getting up at the same time for 30 days straight to lock in the habit, but after that you’ll be so conditioned to waking up at the same time that it will be hard to sleep in. I decided to sleep in late one Saturday morning and didn’t set my alarm, but I woke up automatically at 4:58 am. Then I tried to sleep in, but I was wide awake and couldn’t fall back asleep again. Oh well. Once the habit is established, it isn’t hard at all to get up, assuming you’re going to bed at the onset of sleepiness.
If you have kids, adapt as needed. My kids are ages 5 and 1. Sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night — my daughter is in the habit of doing this lately, popping into the bedroom to tell my wife and me about her dreams or sometimes just to chat. And I know what it’s like when there’s a baby waking up every few hours. So if you’re in that situation, I say that the rule is to sleep when you can. Babies aren’t very good at sticking to schedules. :)
If you can’t get yourself out of bed when your alarm goes off, this is likely due to a lack of self-discipline. If you have enough self-discipline, you’ll get out of bed no matter what. Motivation can also help, but motivation is short lived and may only last a few days. Discipline is like a muscle. The more you build it, the more you can rely on it. Everyone has some discipline (can you hold your breath?), but not everyone develops it. There are a lot of ways to build discipline — you can read the whole six-part series on self-discipline to learn how. Basically it comes down to taking on little challenges, conquering them, and gradually progressing to bigger ones. It’s like progressive weight training. As your self-discipline gets stronger, a challenge like getting out of bed at a certain time will eventually become trivially easy. But if your self-discipline has atrophied, it can seem an almost insurmountable hurdle.
I’d say the main reason is that you’ll have a lot more time to do things that are more interesting than sleeping.
Again, I’ve gained about 10-15 hours per week doing this. That extra time is very noticeable. By 6:30am, I’ve already exercised, showered, had breakfast, and I’m at my desk ready to go to work. I can put in a lot of hours each day of productive work, and I’m usually done with work by 5:00 pm (and that includes personal “work” like email, paying bills, picking up my daughter from preschool, etc). This gives me 5-6 hours of discretionary time every evening for family, leisure activities, Toastmasters, reading, journaling, etc. And best of all, I still have energy during this time. Having time for everything that’s important to me makes me feel very balanced, relaxed, and optimistic.
Think about what you could do with that extra time. Even an extra 30 minutes per day is enough to exercise daily, read a book or two each month, maintain a blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A small amount of extra time each day adds up to significant amounts over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours in a year. That’s more than a month of working full-time (40 hours per week). Double it if you save 60 minutes a day, and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings was about 90 minutes/day. That’s like getting a free bonus year every decade. I’m using this time to do things that I previously didn’t have the time and energy to do. It’s wonderful. :)
When your alarm wakes you up in the morning, is it hard for you to get up right away? Do you find yourself hitting the snooze button and going right back to sleep?
That used to be part of my daily awakening ritual too. When my alarm would blare its infernal noise, I’d turn the damned thing off right away. Then under the cloak of that early morning brain fog, I’d slowly ponder whether or not I should actually get up:
It’s nice and warm under the covers. If I get up, it’s going to be cold. That won’t be too pleasant.
Oh, I really should get up now. C’mon legs… move. Go, legs, go. Hmmm… that isn’t how I move my legs, is it? They don’t seem to be listening to me.
I should go to the gym. Yeah. Hmmm… I don’t really feel like working out right now though. I haven’t even had breakfast. Maybe I should have a muffin first. Banana nut. Now that’s a good muffin.
Maybe I’m trying to get myself up too early. I’m still sleepy, aren’t I? Maybe getting up with an alarm is unnatural. Won’t I function better with more sleep?
I don’t have to get up right this minute, do I? Surely I can relax another five minutes or so. The world isn’t going to end if I don’t get up right now.
I’ll bet my wife is toasty warm right now. She told me she hates it when I try to snuggle her at 6am, but so what… she loves me enough to forgive me, right? I know… I’ll start massaging her back and shoulders first. She can’t resist a good massage, even so early in the morning. Then I’ll transition to a head scratching. Yeah, that’ll do it. And then slide right into the spoon position. Won’t that be a pleasant way to start the day?
[ Scootch… scootch… Zzzzzzzz ]
Two hours later…
Me: What time is it? I don’t even remember the alarm going off. That was a good snuggle though. Oh well, guess I’ll have to skip exercise today.
Wife: Why do you keep setting your alarm if you aren’t going to get up when it goes off?
Me: Oh, did you think that was my wake-up alarm? It’s actually my snuggle alarm.
OK, so I wasn’t really intending for it to be a snuggle alarm. I had intended to get up when it went off, but my foggy brain kept negotiating me right back to sleep.
Fast forward to present day…
My alarm goes off sometime between 4:00 and 5:00am… never later than 5:00am, even on weekends and holidays. I turn off the alarm within a few seconds. My lungs inflate with a deep breath of air, and I stretch my limbs out in all directions for about two seconds. Soon my feet hit the floor, and I find myself getting dressed while my wife snoozes on. I go downstairs to grab a piece of fruit, pop into my home office to catch up on some emails, and then it’s off to the gym at 5:15.
But this time there’s no voice inside my head debating what I should do. It’s not even a positive voice this time — it’s just not there. The whole thing happens on autopilot, even before I feel fully awake mentally. I can’t say it requires any self-discipline to do this every morning because it’s a totally conditioned response. It’s like my conscious mind is just along for the ride while my subconscious controls my body. When my alarm goes off each morning, I respond just like Pavlov’s dogs. It would actually be harder for me not to get up when my alarm goes off.
So how do you go from scenario one to scenario two?
First, let’s consider the way most people tackle this problem — what I consider the wrong way.
The wrong way is to try using your conscious willpower to get yourself out of bed each morning. That might work every once in a while, but let’s face it — you’re not always going to be thinking straight the moment your alarm goes off. You may experience what I call the fog of brain. The decisions you make in that state won’t necessarily be the ones you’d make when you’re fully conscious and alert. You can’t really trust yourself… nor should you.
If you use this approach, you’re likely to fall into a trap. You decide to get up at a certain time in advance, but then you undo that decision when the alarm goes off. At 10pm you decide it would be a good idea to get up at 5am. But at 5am you decide it would be a better idea to get up at 8am. But let’s face it — you know the 10pm decision is the one you really want implemented… if only you could get your 5am self to go along with it.
Now some people, upon encountering this conundrum, will conclude that they simply need more discipline. And that’s actually somewhat true, but not in the way you’d expect. If you want to get up at 5am, you don’t need more discipline at 5am. You don’t need better self-talk. You don’t need two or three alarm clocks scattered around the room. And you don’t need an advanced alarm that includes technology from NASA’s astronaut toilets.
You actually need more discipline when you’re fully awake and conscious: the discipline to know that you can’t trust yourself to make intelligent, conscious decisions the moment you first wake up. You need the discipline to accept that you’re not going to make the right call at 5am. Your 5am coach is no good, so you need to fire him.
What’s the real solution then? The solution is to delegate the problem. Turn the whole thing over to your subconscious mind. Cut your conscious mind out of the loop.
Now how do you do this? The same way you learned any other repeatable skill. You practice until it becomes rote. Eventually your subconscious will take over and run the script on autopilot.
This is going to sound really stupid, but it works. Practice getting up as soon as your alarm goes off. That’s right — practice. But don’t do it in the morning. Do it during the day when you’re wide awake.
Go to your bedroom, and set the room conditions to match your desired wake-up time as best you can. Darken the room, or practice in the evening just after sunset so it’s already dark. If you sleep in pajamas, put on your pajamas. If you brush your teeth before bed, then brush your teeth. If you take off your glasses or contacts when you sleep, then take those off too.
Set your alarm for a few minutes ahead. Lie down in bed just like you would if you were sleeping, and close your eyes. Get into your favorite sleep position. Imagine it’s early in the morning… a few minutes before your desired wake-up time. Pretend you’re actually asleep. Visualize a dream location, or just zone out as best you can.
Now when your alarm goes off, turn it off as fast as you can. Then take a deep breath to fully inflate your lungs, and stretch your limbs out in all directions for a couple seconds… like you’re stretching during a yawn. Then sit up, plant your feet on the floor, and stand up. Smile a big smile. Then proceed to do the very next action you’d like to do upon waking. For me it’s getting dressed.
Now shake yourself off, restore the pre-waking conditions, return to bed, reset your alarm, and repeat. Do this over and over and over until it becomes so automatic that you run through the whole ritual without thinking about it. If you have to subvocalize any of the steps (i.e. if you hear a mental voice coaching you on what to do), you’re not there yet.
Feel free to devote several sessions over a period of days to this practice. Think of it like doing sets and reps at the gym. Do one or two sets per day at different times… and perhaps 3-10 reps each time.
Yes, it will take some time to do this, but that time is nothing compared to how much time you’ll save in the long run. A few hours of practice today can save you hundreds of hours each year.
With enough practice — I can’t give you an accurate estimate of how long it will take because it will be different for everyone — 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. It will feel like putting on your pants with the opposite leg first.
You can also practice mentally if you’re good at visualizing. Mental practice is faster, but I think it’s best to run through the whole thing physically. There are subtle details you might miss if you only rehearse mentally, and you want your subconscious to capture the real flavor of the experience. So if you do use mental practice, at least do it physically the first few times.
The more you practice your wake-up ritual, the deeper you’ll ingrain this habit into your subconscious. Alarm goes off -> get up immediately. Alarm goes off -> get up immediately. Alarm goes off -> get up immediately.
Once this becomes a daily habit, you won’t have to do anymore daytime practice. This type of habit is self-reinforcing. You only have to go through the conditioning period once. Then you’re basically set for life until you decide to change it. Even if you fall out of the habit for some reason (like an extended vacation in a different time zone), you’ll be able to return to it more easily. Think of it like muscle memory. Once you’ve grooved in the pattern, it will still be there even if you let some weeds grow over it.
Any behavior pattern you experience when your alarm goes off will become self-reinforcing if you repeat it enough times. Chances are that you already have a well-established wake-up ritual, but it may not be the one you want. The more you repeat your existing pattern, the more you condition it into your subconscious. Every time you fail to get up when your alarm goes off, that becomes ever more your default physiological response. If you want to change that behavior, you’ll need to undertake a conscious reconditioning program such as the one I described above.
Beating yourself up about your bad wake-up habits will not work — in fact, you’ll just condition these mental beatings as part of the very routine you’re trying to change. Not only will you not get up when your alarm goes off, but you’ll also automatically beat yourself up about it. How lame is that? Do you really want to keep running that dumb pattern for the rest of your life? That’s exactly what will happen if you don’t condition a more empowering pattern. For good or ill, your habits will make or break you.
Once you establish your desired wake-up ritual, I recommend you stick with it every single day — 7 days a week, 365 days a year. And for the first 30 days, set your alarm for the same time every day. Once the habit is established, then you can vary your wake-up times or occasionally go without the alarm if you want to sleep in, but until then it’s best to keep the pattern very tight. That way it will become your default behavior, and you’ll be able to stray from time to time without serious risk of deconditioning it.
I’m confident that once you establish this habit, you’ll absolutely love it. I consider this to be one my most productive habits. It saves me hundreds of hours a year, and it keeps paying dividends day after day. I also found this habit extremely valuable during my polyphasic sleep experiment.
Think about it — if you oversleep just 30 minutes a day, that’s 180+ hours a year. And if you’re at 60 minutes a day, that’s 365 hours a year, the equivalent of nine 40-hour weeks. That’s a lot of time! Now I don’t know about you, but I can think of more creative things to do with that time than lying in bed longer than I need to.
I encourage you to give this method a try. I know it seems silly to practice getting out of bed, but hey, what if it works? What if you knew with total certainty that if you set your alarm for a certain time, you would absolutely get up at that time no matter what? There’s no reason you can’t create that for yourself over the next few days. Practice makes permanent.
Make it so. You won’t regret it!
Caffeine is the modern drug of choice in the work world, easily accessible, socially acceptable, readily affordable, and of course perfectly legal. As for the health effects, I’ve read evidence both for good and ill, so right now I don’t fall strongly on either side. One thing is clear though — caffeine is addictive. And this addictive nature is what leans me towards the negative side.
As a teenager I often drank sodas; cola was my favorite. I never drank coffee as a teenager, and I rarely drank it in college. But when I got into programming PC games, I’d sometimes drink coffee every day for months at a time. But I’d always eventually break the habit and have no caffeine for months at a time too. It was sort of cyclical.
Then I read the book Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, which is the story of Starbucks (Schultz is the CEO). Schultz made gourmet coffee sound so good, that I embarked on a Starbucks kick for a while and tried all different kinds of gourmet coffees, espressos, soy lattes, etc. I know not all coffee drinkers like Starbucks (my mom surely doesn’t), but I still think their coffee is among the best. Another favorite of mine was Lion Coffee from Hawaii. I bought a nice espresso maker and used it to make my own soy cappuccinos (I avoid all dairy products).
I really grew to like the taste of different gourmet coffees, which were much better than the swill I used to drink in college. But it was so easy to fall into a pattern of addiction, drinking coffee out of habit instead of only when I actually wanted some. Today I still drink coffee on occasion, but that’s the exception. Most of the time I don’t consume any caffeine for weeks or months at a time. I found it fairly easy to break the habit. Here are a couple ways to do it:
First, switch from coffee to tea. You still get the caffeine from tea, but not as much. Enjoy some good quality tea — not Lipton! I particular like Earl Grey and Green Tea. I found this easy to do right away. But if you find it too hard to switch so abruptly, then make the transition over a period of weeks equal to the number of cups of coffee you drink each day. For example, if you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, then switch to 3c coffee / 1c tea for the first week, then go 2c/2c for the second week, then 1c/3c, and finally 0c/4c for the fourth week.
Next, make the transition from regular tea to caffeine-free (not decaffeinated) herbal tea. Herbal tea isn’t really tea, but it’s close. Celestial Seasonings offers a wide variety of flavors. I recommend getting a variety pack to see which kinds you like. You can do the switch abruptly, or use the gradual method above. Now you’re caffeine free.
Switch from coffee to grain coffee. Grain coffee is to coffee as herbal tea is to tea, and grain coffee is naturally caffeine-free. Grain coffee isn’t real coffee, but it’s a ground mixture of things like grains, nuts, dried fruit, and natural flavors that you can put into a regular drip coffee maker and make something that looks and tastes similar to coffee. Some grain coffees I tried were very bitter and well… disgusting. After trying a few different types, I found one I really liked: Teeccino. I buy it at Whole Foods. This has the best taste of all the ones I’ve tried, and it comes in a variety of flavors: vanilla nut, java, hazelnut, chocolate mint, almond amaretto, etc. Sometimes I mix different flavors together to make interesting concoctions. While I still usually prefer the rich taste of a good cup of Sumatra coffee, this stuff isn’t too bad. It tastes similar to coffee, but it has a unique flavor of its own, and it’s not acidic like coffee is. I typically mix a little Rice Dream (rice milk) into each cup to make it creamier.
A great way to transition to grain coffee is to mix it with regular coffee as you scoop the dry grounds into your coffee filter. So if you use 4 scoops of ground coffee normally, then try 3 scoops of coffee with 1 scoop of grain coffee for the first week, and continue to transition gradually as in the first method above.
Part of the addiction of coffee drinking is having a warm beverage, so the two methods above focus on that. I really like having something warm to drink, especially during the winter. I even have a small mug warmer on my desk. I usually alternate for weeks at a time between Teeccino and herbal tea. Today I’ve already had two cups of Vanilla Nut Teeccino.
I suppose you could try a similar process if you’re addicted to soda by transitioning to something else like water or juice, but I’ve never found it hard to give up soda.
I don’t recommend decaffeinated coffee or tea because known carcinogens are used in the decaffeination process, and decaffeinated drinks are still highly acidic. From what I’ve read on this, I’d say you’re better off with caffeine.
When you give up caffeine, you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. If I’m doing 4c coffee a day and then go cold turkey, I get headaches and backaches, and generally my emotions are out of whack for several days. But I still personally prefer to transition quickly rather than gradually. I’d rather just get the withdrawal over with.
I can’t ignore the energy boost and mental acceleration that comes from caffeine. But I do notice negative side effects when I drink coffee. Caffeine seems to make part of my brain overactive and another part underactive. I become really good at doing things, but very bad at prioritizing what needs to be done. If I drink a lot of coffee, I’ll often spend hours doing a bunch of low priority tasks, and I find that other unproductive habits are more likely to be done excessively. I become like a rat in a treadmill, doing more and more but not accomplishing what really matters. I find it very hard to focus on the big picture from a holistic whole-brain standpoint if I’ve consumed caffeine.
I also feel that caffeine blocks too much of my intuition and creativity. I miss subtle sensory input, and my thinking becomes too linear. Sometimes linear thinking is OK though. If I have a lot of menial tasks to complete, and I already have a clear to-do list to follow, drinking a cup of coffee can get me through them quickly. But if I have to sit down and do high-level work like developing my next quarterly plan, caffeine will make a mess of my thought process and dramatically reduce my ability to concentrate. My mind races too much on caffeine; it’s hard to stay focused on just one thing.
Additionally, caffeine definitely disrupts my sleep habits. Even if I have a cup of coffee in the morning and none for the rest of the day, I don’t sleep as well. I wake up in the middle of the night, or it’s hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. When I consume no caffeine, I sleep more restfully and wake up easily. I also don’t experience so much midday sleepiness.
And lastly caffeine makes me feel hotter than usual, including while I sleep. I need to turn the air conditioner up to feel comfortable, so that’s another hidden cost.
I’m not saying you need to give up coffee entirely, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to remain addicted to it throughout the year, especially if you experience a drop in intuition, creativity, and holistic thinking as I do. If you find it becoming an addiction, try one of the methods above to transition to a coffee substitute like herbal tea or grain coffee. Then you still get to enjoy a warm beverage without the negative side effects. I think it’s easier when you have a substitute for coffee instead of having to do completely without, but this won’t be necessary for everyone.
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Does it take you a while to fall asleep at night? Do you find your mind dwelling on various thoughts before you’re able to finally drift off and relax into sleep? Do you find that you just aren’t sleepy enough when it’s time for bed? Realize that if it takes you 15 minutes on average to fall asleep each night, that’s more than 91 hours per year that you’re wasting. This is the equivalent of spending more than two 40-hour workweeks just lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. And if you have insomniac tendencies and take more than an hour to fall asleep each night, you’re spending more than nine 40-hour weeks on that pointless activity — every year. That’s a tremendous amount of wasted time. If you’d like to change this situation, keep reading. I’ll explain the details and share a process for training your brain to fall asleep almost instantly when you’re ready to go to bed.