Now that you know all about my morning routine, I want to tell you about the steps I take at nighttime that prepare me to easily get up between 4 and 4:30 am. When I was reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, I knew that just getting excited to wake up early every morning wasn’t going to stick for me. The book did a fantastic job of laying out what my mornings should look like. However, it didn’t cover how I could get better sleep so that I could get to that point. I did a little of my own research and came up with a routine that allowed me to make the best use of the sleep I was getting. Following this routine, I gained an extra couple of hours to my day every morning. In exchange, I only had to go to bed about 30-60 minutes earlier.
I’m a strong proponent of limiting caffeine intake overall anyhow. It create highs and lows of energy throughout your day. This makes you feel less energetic at times you might normally feel wide awake. The end result is an increased need to have more caffeine.
If you knew my wife, however, you’d understand like I do that certain people just need their coffee. I get it. I’m a huge fan of Coca-Cola, and if I hadn’t swapped to caffeine-free, I’d still be taking in just as much caffeine as Angela. I’ve also worked Beachbody Energize into my morning routine, and its caffeine gives me a little boost of energy for my early morning workout.
So I’m not going to tell you to eliminate caffeine from your diet like I did, but sleeping while not under the effects of it will greatly improve your sleep quality. Caffeine stays in your system for up to five hours. Try not to ingest any caffeine within that timeframe before bed, so that you can be completely relaxed before bedtime and ensure that you get better sleep.
Turn Off Electronic Devices
Television, laptops, cell phones – they all have screens that over stimulate your mind. The harsh, bright light paired with the myriad tasks you’re using your device for keeps your brain active in a negative way. It keeps your mind from relaxing.
This is probably the one thing I still struggle with. Not only do we live in a society where almost all of our entertainment can be found on a screen of some sort – the Internet, TV shows, video games. We also live in a society where we are almost expected to be working during all of our waking hours. We have email on our phones and electronic versions of reports that need monitoring. It all leads to what I used to do – constantly check my email in case something critical came up that I needed to handle.
The best thing to do to help your mind relax and get better sleep is to step away from all electronic devices a full hour before bed. I took it a step further and removed my work email completely from my phone. I still use the evening as “TV time” or “movie time,” but I try to leave myself an hour at the end of the night to calm my brain.
Get Ready for the Next Morning
I would do this on occasion before I started waking up at 4 am. It always made my morning go smoother. Being prepared also makes it easier to get up in the morning. You aren’t immediately dreading all the work you need to do before even leaving the house.
I suggest preparing your meals for the next day, selecting and laying out your clothes, and packing up any items you need for work.
If you’re not ready to jump completely in to optimizing your nighttime routine for a better morning routine, you can get the biggest gain from implementing this one step.
Write in a Journal
No, I’m not suggesting you get a gem-encrusted little book with a lock and start every entry with “Dear Diary” (though that’s okay too – I won’t judge). Journaling is a fantastic way to not only relieve stress but also to express gratitude for the things you have, plan you next day and a million other things.
I’ve talked about the SELF Journal that I write in before bed and when I wake up. At night, I list three things that happened that day made it an amazing day. Maybe a long-lost friend reached out to me, I got praise at work or my kids had great days at school – anything positive that happened.
I also repeat my practice of gratitude from that morning. I look for three more things to be grateful for, usually specific to the day I just finished. Gratitude is a very powerful way to stay positive as it turns the mind’s focus from feeling sorry for yourself for what you don’t have to being happy about the things you do. This may not help you get better sleep directly, but a happy mind is a relaxed mind.
Finally, I come up with a plan for the next day. I list goals and 1-3 items that I feel I must get done. This helps relieve some of the stress the next morning, because I already have a clear picture of my top priorities for that day.
The final step in settling your mind before bed is to read a good book. The trick is that it shouldn’t be something educational, self-help or non-fiction in nature. Generally, that type of reading still engages your mind on a level that stimulates rather than relaxing.
Now, a lot of people will argue that reading fiction can be stimulating, and I won’t argue. The difference is that fiction stimulates your creativity, not your problem-solving and hard thinking. Fiction removes you from the stress and anxiety of the real world. It puts your mind in an imaginary setting where it can relax. Sure, the book you’re reading might be full of elements that get your heart racing and ups your level of anxiety — I’m thinking of all you crime mystery/suspense readers out there. So if that’s the case, then you should probably step away from that story as well.
Find something to read that’s enjoyable, relaxing and takes your mind away from the day-to-day pressures of your life and you’ll find it will help you get better sleep.
The other trick is to set a definite end time to stop reading. This is a problem I struggle with – after all, it’s just one more chapter, right? I need to find out what happens next. Before you know it, one chapter has turned into five, and you’re now going to sleep an hour later than you planned. Set an end time, and stick to it – that’s what bookmarks are for!
Set a Sleep-Cycle Alarm
Before going through this process, I had no idea that sleep-cycle alarms existed. With the advent of smartphones that can sense movement, a whole plethora of sleep apps have sprouted up. They track your movements while sleeping and determine where you are in your sleep cycles. Understanding your sleep cycles is a key piece of information needed to get better sleep.
What are Sleep-Cycles?
I’m by no means an expert on sleep patterns, but let me explain the basics as I understand them.
Essentially, when you are sleeping, you go through waves or cycles of deep sleep to light sleep. Deep sleep cycles are generally where you get the most rest, although a healthy sleep pattern swaps back and forth. Light sleep cycles are when you are closest to being awake. Waking from a light sleep cycle will feel more natural and will reduce your grogginess in the morning.
How Does a Sleep-Cycle App Work?
A sleep cycle app requires that you place your smartphone somewhere in your bed – generally under the corner of your fitted sheet, next to your pillow. The phone can then sense your movement. A high amount of movement means that you are most likely in a light sleep cycle. Lower amounts of movement mean a deep sleep cycle.
You then set an alarm for the latest possible time you would like to wake up. The app’s alarm will then go off at any point within a defined window (say, 30 minutes) when it detects that you are in a light sleep cycle.
What’s the Benefit?
The benefit is that you are woken up gently when your body is already in a state of being almost awake. This reduces the grogginess you feel when the alarm goes off – most likely caused by being jolted awake while you are in the middle of a deep sleep cycle.
If you don’t have a smartphone, don’t want to put it in your bed, or just think this all sounds way too complicated (it’s not as bad as it sounds, trust me), then you can sort of guess when you will be in a light sleep cycle. Generally, sleep cycles go in waves of 90 minutes. If you go to bed at 10 pm, then you will be in a light sleep cycle around 11:30, 1:00, 2:30… you get the idea. Just set your alarm for a time that falls around a light sleep cycle. You’ll decrease your chances of waking up while in the middle of deep sleep.
My Net Gain: 1-1.5 Hours per Day
So that’s it for my nighttime routine. Like my morning routine, it returns far more than it takes in terms of time and effort. The biggest challenge for me has just been to eliminate or cut down on my nighttime TV.
Following this nighttime routine, I have only shifted my “lights out” time from around 10:30 pm to around 10 pm. In the mornings I have been able to shift my waking time from 6:30 (after multiple “snooze” alarms) to 4-4:30 am. Combined with waking up completely refreshed as opposed to groggy and tired, my nighttime routine has allowed me to get better sleep and has been a complete life changer.