Question from a reader about waking earlier --
1. It was my pleasure to write this review for you.
2. This might sound silly, but my question is what do you do to get up early in the morning? What's the first thing you think, and what makes you snap out of the "I'll sleep 10 more minutes" (if you ever feel that at all) and move up your ass and start doing things? That's what I'm currently struggling with.
Thanks for the review of Ikigai.
My thinking on the topic of waking early has evolved a bit. I think, first and foremost, that if you're underslept, this can make it all very difficult.
I have, through lots of my life, been a "mind over matter" kind of person who just de-prioritized sleep and brute-forced myself to wake early. That's fine for even weeks at a time, but eventually the cognitive hit swamps the gains you get from the extra hour or two.
To that end, the most successful way I wake up early is to get great sleep far in advance of whatever time I set my alarm. So if I want to wake up no later than 5AM, I'll go to bed around 7PM the night before, and set an alarm for 5AM.
That means that most of the time, if I'm going well, I'll actually wind up awake between 2AM and 4AM, which is 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
As an aside, sleeping around dinnertime, avoiding the nighttime crush and peak times when everyone is off work, and waking early is marvelous for productivity if you can do it. And this isn't just for entrepreneurs; I know some talented people in the corporate world who go home and crash out to sleep immediately after work, and then wake very early for their training or creative projects.
But the point is about waking early -- and if I'm depleted or need the extra sleep, maybe I'll get the full 10 hours from 7PM to 5AM.
If I'm sick, I might even budget 12 hours or 14 hours... and I figure, if my body sleeps that long, I probably needed it.
Also helpful --
*A better diet that doesn't generate withdrawal symptoms; that is, no simple processed carbohydrates, especially before bed. Ideally high protein with high fiber for the last meal of the day (at least, that's for me... do your own research; there's probably alternative hypotheses for best end of day meals).
*Exercise, of course, is good for health and makes you fall asleep faster.
*Light-proof your room, get great sheets, get the temperature right for you. Invest a bit of time and thinking into building a good bedroom for sleeping. It's really, really worth it.
*Sometimes I take melatonin supplements, since all the artificial light and modern world means our melatonin is artificially low. Gwern's article is a good primer on it.
*In the ideal world, I'd cycle off the computer and any glowing screens a few hours before I slept, but in practice I've had a hard time adopting that habit. It's great when I (rarely) do it, though.
Final thought: Unless I'm traveling or something unusual is happening, I follow basically the exact same routine every time I wake up. I always set my phone/alarm in the same place, next to my computer, and immediately fire up my computer and start filling out my start of day time tracking sheet. My phone/alarm is also relatively quite a walk from; I can't turn it off without getting up and walking to it at my desk. Beyond that, I don't think or debate about whether I wake up; I just start my routine every day.
And I think this last point helps, yes, but higher sleep quality and letting your body determine your sleep needs with a broader window is probably more important than wakeup routine long-term.
Let me know how it goes, and I'd love to hear the experiences/routines/thoughts of other early risers in the comments.
Some unsolicited Advice to anyone reading:
Regarding Melatonin, you don't want to be using it too often, since it can affect your endogenous supply. Best reserve it for when you need to catch up on sleep, and if possible, use a patch instead of a pill (the patch releases it slowly, like your body naturally does). Ben Greenfield recommends this patch. He also recommends passion flower extract as a natural alternative to melatonin -- listen to this podcast episode.
Regarding carbohydrates at night, this measure being effective is a sign of a problem in my opinion. Common problems include high night-time cortisol (attenuated by eating carbs), or by neurotransmitter imbalances (like a lack of Tryptophan and therefore serotonin, which be boosted by carb consumption).
Ideally, you'd NOT eat carbs 4 hours before bed, because doing so spikes insulin, which then inhibits the prolactin surge and pulsatile Growth Hormone release that should happen during sleep. See this post for a quick primer.
Put differently, carbs may help you get to sleep, but they keep you from having good sleep.
Another supplement that you hear working for folk is GABA, which is just a combination of amino acids, so there's no risk of addiction, etc ... The same cautionary principle goes here -- GABA is normally too big to pass from blood to brain, so if it works for you, then your blood-brain barrier is already leaky, and the underlying condition should be addressed alongside the shotgun approach
Get f.lux installed on your computer, and put on some blue blockers after sunset while using the computer if possible.
Regarding travel and possible jet-lag, listen to this podcast with Dave Asprey and Jack Kruse. The formula is essentially: lots of water, grounding, anything that boosts gluthathione (Ubiquinol, NAC, Vit C, Zinc), adaptogens (Curcumin, Resveratrol), and possibly playing around with meal timing to be in sync with your destination timezone (don't eat until your first morning at the destination).
Agreed on the exercise point. Exercise during the day helps you get to sleep that night.
Agreed on light-proofing. Travellers should always travel with a good set of earplugs, and a sleeping mask.
On sleeping in noisy places, get a good set of headphones and put on some white noise.
Finally, we were designed to get up when the Sun goes up, and go to sleep when the Sun goes down; 8hours of sleep from 2am to 10am isn't as good as the same 8hours from 10pm to 6am (sunrise). Use the above measures if the ideal isn't possible.
Excellent comment, TVW.
- "deviations in habitual sleep time produce performance losses equivalent to those produced by shortened sleep" (Taub & Berger, 1976)
- For me,what has been working is using the Sleep as Android app to track the quality of my sleep. 7,5h (exact here, multiple of 90-min sleep cycle) + a 20-min nap is just perfect.
- This commentfrom reddit is awesome and made me really self conscious to how much I sleep.
Can a person ever really catch up on sleep?
The answer to the question depends on the timescale. The human response to sleep restriction is different, depending whether it is acute or chronic.
In the early days of sleep research, most experiments involving sleep restriction were total sleep deprivations, meaning participants in the study were allowed no sleep at all for some period of time, usually 1-3 nights (although a few crazy studies did go over 200 hours).
In these types of experiments, it was discovered that recovery tends to occur quite rapidly. To explain this, I need to refer to a model of human sleep regulation called the two-process model. In the two process model, it is assumed that human sleep is primarily regulated by two physiological processes: a circadian process and a sleep homeostatic process. The circadian process is the approximately 24-hour biological rhythm in sleepiness/alertness. The sleep homeostatic process is the process that promotes sleep more the longer that you have been awake.
Sleep homeostatic pressure builds up during time spent awake and dissipates during time spent asleep. Although we don't yet know precisely what causes the sleep homeostatic process (it may be the build up of sleep-promoting substances in the brain, including adenosine), it turns out that there is a good physiological marker for the sleep homeostatic process.
Normally, during a night of sleep, people cycle semi-regularly between states of NREM sleep and REM sleep. If you record somebody's brain electrical activity using EEG, you find that during NREM sleep, there is a high level of delta waves. These show up as big waves cycling about once per second in the EEG recordings. Across the night, the amount of delta waves in NREM sleep decreases approximately exponentially. Moreover, if you deprive someone of sleep and then let them get recovery sleep, their delta waves still decline exponentially across the night, but the initial level of delta waves at the beginning of the night is significantly higher.
It turns out that the two-process model can do a very good job of explaining the changes in delta waves across the night and in response to total sleep deprivation if you assume that the homeostatic sleep pressure builds up exponentially with a time constant of ~20 hours during wakefulness, and decays exponentially with a time constant of ~3 hours during sleep.
This has two important implications. First, the homeostatic sleep pressure would be expected to saturate to a maximum level quite rapidly -- within only a few days, given the time constant of ~20 hours. Second, even after a huge sleep deprivation, the homeostatic sleep pressure would be expected to return to approximately normal levels within a night or two of sleep, because the time constant for dissipation is only ~3 hours. Indeed, both of these predictions are true for total sleep deprivation. Even when people are deprived of sleep for 100+ hours, they tend to sleep for no more than about 14 hours on the first night of recovery. In other words, they do not pay back every hour of sleep missed.
For a while, it seemed like we therefore had sleep regulation figured out, at least in essence. However, the two-process model fails miserably when it is applied to the more common type of sleep restriction in day-to-day life: chronic sleep restriction for many consecutive days, e.g., getting only 6 hours of sleep per night for 14 consecutive days. Under these conditions, the two-process model would again predict that sleep homeostatic pressure would level off within a few days and recovery would be achieved at the end within one or two nights, i.e., a weekend. That is absolutely not what we see.
When individuals are chronically restricted of sleep for periods of 2-3 weeks, we instead find that cognitive impairment accumulates day by day, almost linearly. There is no sign of saturation or leveling off. Things just continue to get worse and worse. Paradoxically, delta waves do level off, just as the two-process model would predict, and so do subjective ratings of sleepiness, meaning people become less and less aware of their level of objective impairment as they are increasingly sleep restricted. After two weeks of getting 6 hours of sleep per night, individuals have the same reaction time as somebody who has been awake for 24 hours, which is approximately equivalent to an individual with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%. After two weeks of getting 4 hours of sleep per night, individuals have the same reaction time as somebody who has been awake for 48-72 hours.
The process of recovery also seems to be much slower after chronic sleep restriction, although it has not yet been well quantified. For chronic sleep restriction, there seems to be a much closer to one-to-one correspondencebetween hours of sleep lost and hours that must be paid back to return to baseline performance. Certainly, it is not possible to reverse the effects of chronic sleep restriction in a single weekend.
We don't yet know what is the physiological process underlying this much slower timescale response to chronic sleep restriction, but there are some hypotheses currently being tested, including up-regulation of adenosine receptors.
So, what about the effects of chronic sleep restriction on even longer timescales? What if you don't get enough sleep continually for a year, or a decade? How long would it then take you to recover? We don't know the answer to that. Laboratory studies of chronic sleep restriction cannot logistically or ethically go much longer than a month. We are therefore forced to rely on epidemiological data. We know that people who habitually get short sleep (less than about 6 hours) have higher rates of all-cause mortality, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. But we don't know how easily those long-terms outcomes can be reversed by improving sleep patterns. For that, we will need longitudinal data, where people are tracked for years to see what happens if they improve their sleep habits. Those data would be very difficult to obtain, since it is difficult to convince people to make major lifestyle changes, and difficult to control for other lifestyle changes that may go along with them. Chronic sleep restriction also leads to increased hunger and poor diet choice, for instance, which may be one important confounding factor in such a study.
TL;DR: For very short term sleep deprivations (a few days), the recovery of sleep debt is rapid. For chronic sleep restriction on the timescale of weeks to months, the recovery of sleep debt is much slower. On timescales of months to years or longer, we don't know whether chronic sleep restriction can be repaid or whether it causes more permanent damage that cannot be easily reversed.
I notice that I start doing good work at least 10 hours after I go to bed. So, if I want to be working by 8, I should be in bed by 10. I might as well sleep because if I stay up because I "only need" 7 or 8 hours, I'll just push back the start of my good working hours.
I've always thought that people who were able to pop out of bed in the morning were the luckiest people alive. Then I went traveling and I was able to do it no problem, which changed my perspective. I now think about it as an indicator of how excited about life you are. If the things you think the things you have to do are super important, then it becomes easy to get out of bed. It doesn't actually have to be that important. My mom can't sleep in the morning because as soon as she wakes up she starts thinking about the things she needs to do and lots of the time those things are stuff like wash dishes or take the dog for a walk. I've started making a to do list before I go to bed because for me, when I wake up, those things seem to be hard to remember because I love lazing in bed.
I don't sleep a lot. Definitely not 8 hours, other than a rare weekend lazy morning. I also don't use an alarm. It takes less than a month to train your body to trust it's own internal clock. It's amazing what it does for you, to be confident that your body knows when to awake each day. Plus, you wake up fully alert and ready to go, none of that groggy, bear-like stumbling.
I consider it part of the mastery of self-reliance, to be able to control my ability to wake when I need to. I have tested it in interesting situations, such as taking a 20 minute nap on the train and telling myself I need to awake at a certain time to get off the train.
It takes a leap of faith (and perhaps an understanding supervisor during the first few weeks).
My father (49) can go to sleep at any hour, early or late, and still wake up at precisely 5 a.m. + without an alarm clock!. And has been doing it since his childhood. Now that's something that I want to learn and keep as a habit in my life!.. for I can sleep until afternoon if it wasn't for the alarm clock. :D .. All he says about it is, "Practising the habit repeatedly". Tough.
If you experience daytime fatigue regularly despite enough sleep you might suffer from sleep apnea (or any of the many other sleep illnesses). Apnea is underdiagnosed and not widely known, but easy to treat. Oh and get f.lux (or redshift for linux) it is really awesome. Also make your room as dark as possible for sleep (incl. no blinking lights) and/or use a sleeping mask.
Question from a reader:
"Sebastian, do you have any suggestions on getting back on a regular sleep schedule after traveling/strange hours without resorting to melatonin supplements?"
Yeah. It's remarkably simple, actually.
Say you went from New York to Tokyo, so now you're waking up around dinnertime in Tokyo naturally, wanting to be awake all night, and sleep at the crack of dawn. Here's what you do:
You wake up like normal at 6PM Tokyo time, and then you make preparations and plans to stay up all night and all of the next day, and you put yourself into places/situations where you physically couldn't sleep.
Though I've historically been a night owl, I've finally accepted how important waking up early is to my productivity. I just don't get shit done at night. By waking up early I effectively extend my possible working hours.
It also places me in a far more productive mindset. If I sleep in, I feel like a slacker, and that bleeds into the rest of my day. Waking up early, I feel like a Productive Person who's ready to kick ass. I'm going to start setting my alarm for 7 AM, but I hope to wake up naturally by going to sleep early, which has always been a huge issue for me, so I've adopted a grab bag of tactics to help with that, which I'll post separately.