“If unwilling to rise in the morning, say to thyself, ‘I awake to do the work of a man.'” – Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 121 AD-180 AD
I have never been, nor am I at the time of this writing, a ‘Morning Person’. That’s my disclaimer. I’m not a professional. Summer (the wife) is a naturally early riser which I find an incredibly admirable trait in a woman. When she wakes up, she is awake. For me, it takes a while for the systems to switch over. I go from dreamy, stupid land, to hateville, and then to reality. Don’t visit me in hateville, just give me a few minutes and I’ll be alright.
When I was a kid I was an absolute bear to wake up. My grandparents would try to wake me up a few times and then come in with a wet rag to the face! Over the years of adulthood and the military I have improved, but it’s still hard. However, rising early is one of the traits that most (if not all) successful men have in common. Here is what has helped me.
Why You Should Wake Up Early
“Diligence is the mother of good fortune, and God gives abundantly to industry. So plow deep while the sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep.” – Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father, 1706-1790
We can’t control all of the circumstances which might make us successful, but there is a playing field which is the same for all men: Time. Each of us has a 24 hour day to use wisely. You may be thinking, “ I don’t need to plow a field. Times have changed. Is it really necessary for me to wake early to be successful?” This is a fair question. Let’s define what I mean by successful.
You can wake up with just enough time to get ready for work and head out the door and your career may not suffer for it. That is not the successful I am thinking of. I am thinking along the lines of our full potential. To say at the end of our days that we did our best to not squander the time we were given.
I am also thinking of the opportunities that pass us by because we are limiting our day rather than stretching it: Writing a book, reading a book, thinking over you day, working in the garden, morning sex, having a real breakfast, exercise, meeting with friends, watching the sunrise, leisure time.
What Wakes You Up?
It’s helpful to understand what actually causes us to wake up, physiologically, so that we can address any issues that may be interfering with our sleep\wake pattern. Cortisol is the main ticket here. As mentioned in an earlier article, Cortisol is part of your fight-or-flight system that kicks in when you are under stress, but it is also what gives you that boost of energy that tells your body it’s time to get up. If you’re having a hard time getting out of bed, it may be due to cortisol not kicking in.
Regulating cortisol can be pretty difficult since trying to manipulate one hormone independently can set off a chain reaction of problems. The best way is to reduce stress through right thinking and exercise and developing a regular sleep\wake pattern.
Also, a full bladder wakes you up. Every time.
What Makes You Sleep?
At the end of the day, when the sun is going down and natural light begins to decrease, your body produces a hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin is derived from Serotonin which comes from Tryptophan. People who have a hard time “turning their brain off” at night are likely not creating melatonin which may come from low serotonin or tryptophan, or perhaps are creating cortisol instead. Melatonin supplements can be purchased inexpensively and will help you get to the sleepy state, even in very small doses. It’s not the same as a sleep aid. Just like with cortisol, the best solution to regulate melatonin production is a healthy lifestyle.
Follow the Sun
At the root of a good sleep\wake pattern is your circadian rhythm. It has been long observed that we operate on a 24 hour internal clock that can be changed over time. This is why people get jet lag, their body is saying it is a different time than it is according to the new time zone. Until recently, mankind had to do most of his work during the daylight hours. With the invention of gas lights and then the light bulb this changed and we typically push ourselves beyond the standard daylight hours. This isn’t necessarily bad, but when we also don’t have exposure to sunlight throughout the day (working and living indoors), our bodies don’t get the needed notification that tells us to begin producing melatonin.
Make sure you are up to see the sunrise and start toning down the lights in your house after the sun goes down, or at least an hour or two before bed. Step outside for at least 15 minutes in bright sunlight a few times a day to help your body recognize that it is indeed daytime (as the fluorescent lights don’t provide the same signals to our brain). Exposure to sunlight causes the production of Vitamin D, a key hormone (not a vitamin) that helps produce Testosterone and regulates mood and energy levels.
Interesting fact: Deer and other animals began producing a heavier coat in preparation for the winter months based on the amount of daily sunlight. As the days began to grow shorter, their bodies naturally react by producing extra hair. This is why you’ll find deer wading in ponds and streams in October and early November (in the South) because they are trying to cool down as they have these thick coats while the weather has not yet dropped significantly.
Go to Bed Earlier
This might sound like a no-brainer, but for a lot of guys being a night owl is a difficult habit to break. Shifted work schedules can also be a big factor here. Here are a few things that will get you in bed sooner.
Exercise Like You Mean It
“Fatigue is the best pillow.” – Benjamin Franklin
Exercising hard in the morning will cause some inflammation in your muscles. The extra energy used throughout the day to fight the inflammation and build new tissue will leave you more tired at night. Exercise has also been shown to increase Serotonin. Working out late at night may temporarily increase your adrenaline and isn’t advised if you have a hard time getting to sleep.
Turn Off the T.V.
Imagine you are your brain for a minute. You work and live in artificially lighted environments all day and then at night you watch television where the environment is switching between day and night and are sent a fluctuating stream of colors and sounds. This is not good for you. Turn off the boob tube and computer and read a book.
Sex releases a cocktail of chemicals that make us sleepy, prolactin being the primary one. Going it alone isn’t going to have the same effect though. Studies show that prolactin creation from sex is four times higher than from masturbation. For foreplay you can ask your wife, “Hey, can we have sex tonight so I can get some good sleep?” That is sure to go over well.
Wake Up With a Purpose
“The bed is a bundle of paradoxes: we go to it with reluctance, yet we quit it with regret; we make up our minds every night to leave it early, but we make up our bodies every morning to keep it late.” – Charles Caleb Colton, English writer, 1780–1832
While it may seem like there is nothing more to waking up than having the right chemical latte, will power is ultimately the answer. I have noticed that when my sons have something they want to do, something they are excited for, waking up is no chore at all. A big issue for men is that we can’t think of a good enough reason to wake up when it is time. As Colton says above, it’s far too easy to come up with excuses for staying in bed even though the night before we essentially swore to start getting up early. Will power is the key here but having a reason to wake up is also vital.
In order to go to bed on time and get a good nights sleep, our bodies need to actually be tired. For a lot of us, exercise sounds like a great idea until about 5am. However, if we engage our will power and start working out early, we will find that we begin to crave that morning workout. I have been working out with an F3 group for around 4 months now and I get up at 4:45am to meet a bunch of guys in the gloom at 5:30am. That’s pretty early and it was difficult to start, but I regularly wake up at 4:45am on my off days now without the alarm clock. It’s cool to see my circadian rhythm at work. Also, it’s kind of annoying on the weekends.
Meet with Men
If you can find a group of guys that are willing to get up early to meet for breakfast or exercise once or a few times a week, stick with them! These are men who are going to challenge you and will grow to mean a lot to you. Knowing there are other men who might think less of you if you don’t show up is pretty good motivation.
I know I wrote about sex making you sleepy, but let’s face it, once you start moving it’s easier to get going. Plus, morning sex is just different and can be a motivating factor all on its own.
Get a Dog
Dogs are great…when they are older. Puppies on the other hand are cute and a pain in the rear and always need to go outside at 4 in the morning. They are great for getting you up early and they will make an excellent companion for years to come. However, they may also ruin the early morning sex routine so choose wisely.
My grandparents, and most people know from their time, are early risers by nature or by habit. By the time I woke up, fruit trees were pruned, vegetables were picked from the garden, or a deer had been hunted and was hanging in the shed or squirrels already skinned and ready for the pot. They had (and still have) things to be done that called to them in the wee hours. Once you start getting up earlier, you’ll find your day is more fulfilling and there is more time for the things you want to do rather than just squeezing in the things you have to do.