The Real Trick to Waking Up Early

Devir Kahan at The Geek’s Companion recently wrote a post about The Trick to Waking Up Early.

This post caught my eye since recently I’ve been trying to reform my sleeping habits and start getting up earlier in the day. In doing so I faced the challenge of actually waking up when the alarm clock goes off, then getting up.

Devir suggests:

…when you wake up, roll over, grab whatever screen you choose to use, and use it. Go through emails. Catch up on RSS and Twitter. […] Write. Read. Whatever.

Being a fellow geek, I love this idea. In addition, I can speak from experience that it is effective in waking you up; however it can have a major drawback, depending on the type of person you are.

First, let’s differentiate between waking up and getting up. Waking up is going from sleep to awake. Getting up occurs when you actually crawl out of bed to start getting things done, and this is where the issue is.

On my laptop and phone there are so many things to do that I could spend all day on them without getting anything productive done. Processing email. Reading articles. Reading Twitter. Reading Wikipedia1. Reading Reddit. Playing games. I could go on and on.

I found that I would stay in bed for far longer than planned by wasting time on my phone or laptop, often making me late for classes. While I would wake up, I wouldn’t get up. In addition, by starting the day unproductively it set the pace for the rest of the day and I would have trouble getting things (e.g. homework) accomplished.

This problem certainly won’t apply to everyone, and clearly it doesn’t apply to Devir. It was, however, a real problem for myself and one to be wary of for those trying this technique.

How do I wake up and then get up in the morning, then? A combination of two things:

  1. I have a morning routine, or ritual, that I perform without exception.
  2. Get at least 8 hours of sleep, always.

Let me explain those in a little more depth.

I first learned about the morning ritual from Asian Efficiency — a great site on how to improve productivity. They have an excellent podcast (with transcript) and blog post explaining what a morning ritual is and the kinds of activities you should have in it.

In their podcast, they sum it up quite nicely:

A morning ritual describes what you do from the time that you wake up until the point where you start your day, whether that’s at work or elsewhere. It’s basically your default autopilot way to start every single day.

I would consider this the key for me to wake up and get up in the morning. Having a set of tasks that are easy to accomplish and already laid out is a huge motivator. In turn, it forces me to start my day productively, setting a great pace for the rest of the day and letting my mind fully wake up.

While the morning ritual is the key to me getting up in the morning, getting a proper amount of sleep sure makes everything easier. I realize that getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night without exception is a pipe dream though. Life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s fine. What matters is getting 8 hours of sleep overall. Once again I refer to Asian Efficiency and their post about how to manage sleep for productivity; in particular, the section on Sleep Debt.

The basic concept is that your body requires a certain amount of sleep every night on average. If you fall short one night, you can recoup that through naps or getting extra sleep a following night. I follow this theory religiously, sometimes having to perform a “sleep reset”, as I like to call it, where I get far more hours of sleep than I require (e.g. 12-14 hours) in a single night, then the next night return to my normal schedule.

By being well rested, I find that I am naturally more motivated to get out of bed and then be productive throughout the day.

Ultimately, these are suggestions and I encourage you to try different techniques until you find one that works for you.


  1. In case you haven’t noticed, I really like reading. [return]