Going to bed early has changed my life.
It’s the crucial other side of the “early to rise” coin.
One supports the other.
For me, becoming a morning person and taking my a$$ to sleep are both accomplishments.
I understand if either of them seem trite to you.
They are major in my life.
Life changing, in fact.
It wasn’t easy to replace old rhythms with new ones—I’m actually still working on it.
But making the change has definitely been worth it.
The old me might’ve scoffed at the notion, made that stale face…
Ultimately, I want to join “the 5AM club.”
I’ve been thinking and saying that for 3-4 years now.
Now, I’d say I’m a part of the 8AM club. It’s pretty difficult for me to stay asleep once the sun comes out. This is a great improvement on the 2PM club I use to be a card-carrying member of. Sometimes, I even ran those meetings.
That was largely built on the back of being a “night owl.” It was a major part of my identity, something part of me probably took pride in. Before, I “grew up” it was hard to see the value of going to bed early.
That’s kinda crazy.
Because there are plenty of reasons why going to bed late sucks.
So let’s talk about some of the reasons to stop doing so.
Here are the main benefits of going to bed early as I see them:
Circadian Rhythms. Our bodies are made to respect the sun. When we don’t they fall apart faster. We feel worse mentally and physically, even if we don’t realize it. Obeying your circadian rhythms probably increases your lifespan and feelings of equanimity. I’ve made many changes over the last few years so it’s hard to know which ones have truly impacted my life most. What I can say is that the more I respect my circadian rhythms, the better I feel.
Being an Early Bird. Several years ago, I couldn’t have fathomed the benefits of waking up in the morning. Now, I am working my way towards guys like The Rock who wake up at before 4AM. I like the idea of getting a competitive edge. I think I could have used this earlier if I had understand sooner what Achievement truly is.
Cognitive Function. Brain fog be gone. I used to know but I didn’t know. Waking up mid-morning or later feels like crap. It feels so crappy it makes you want to go back to sleep. That’s bad news bears, a recipe for disaster. For someone who prides himself on being smart, it’s amazing how often I’ve let myself wander the earth in a sleep-deprived stupor. Silly Zach, wanting to stay up late is for kids.
Physical Health. I’m sure I’ve written this somewhere on this blog before. But I get bouts of back spasms sometimes. Eating enough salads solve them. Amazing right? What’s more amazing though, is the fact that I didn’t realize I could just go to bed like a regular person instead of falling asleep on the couch and I would never have to worry about back spasms (or kale intake) in the first place. Imagine that.
I’m sure there are also some advantages I’m not aware of yet. After all, this is a relatively recent thing. And I still have a ways to go yet.
Enough “why’s” though.
Let’s talk “how’s.”
How I Started Getting to Bed Early
Like most accomplishments:
It started with desire.
Too bad wanting something badly isn’t enough to make it happen. Or perhaps it’s better that becoming your best takes work.
Whatever the case, action shows commitment.
So let’s talk about the actions that helped spur on my circadian rhythm Renaissance.
Killed My Inner Night Owl
First things first.
Self identity is a crucial part of making permanent changes.
Staying up all night was once a part of who I was.
There was a part of me that took pride in being a “night owl.”
I went on an owl hunt. I caught that owl. I put him on a rotisserie.
Then I fed him to the new me:
The Early Bird.
It was a delicious meal—a once in a lifetime treat. I will never need to eat it again.
The Night Owl is dead.
Long live the Early Bird (Eagle, Phoenix, Dragon).
Affirmations have played a major part in transforming my “I am.” I started writing affirmations about getting up early at the beginning of 2018.
Certain affirmations are a big part of my Morning Routine. These are a part of my night time routine. When I write things like this as part of my nighttime journaling, it’s like my brain remembers it the first time I wake up. It’s surprisingly effective. But it also makes good sense.
On the flip side, I’ve had a harder time coming up with ways to mold my bedtime identity.
Sometimes I can get excited to go to bed early. But it’s not as enticing as joining the 5AM Club.
I’ve only got a few affirmations for this so far:
“I take care of my body.”
“I respect the sun.”
“I take my a$$ to sleep.”
None of these are that compelling—especially compared to things like Carolina vs. Duke at 9PM.
We can talk about eliminating distractions like sports another time.
For now, it will suffice to say that the self-identity side is still a work in progress.
Still, I’ll take progress.
Moreover, I’ll track it.
Habit tracking is certainly one of my favorite life-changing habits.
This helps me see the impacts of going to bed early.
It also highlights other factors that influence my sleep schedule.
Like my morning routine, closing the night strong has a full block in my weekly habit tracker.
Historically, I score poorly on my nighttime habit block. 10 out of 35 is a pretty good week at the moment. At other points, I might have approached 20. It’s never been close to hitting the perfect score my morning routine constantly flirts with.
Still, getting close to 10 means I probably had a good week. For someone who’s gone to bed after midnight the majority of his adult life, even a poorly executed night time routine can have a significant impact.
Like all of the Habits I try to build, they changes over time.
The two targets that have made the biggest difference so far:
Go To Bed – Again, I used I fall asleep watching TV on the couch a lot. I often pay for it with neck and back pain. It’s silly, because beds are amazing. Duh.
Same Date – In essence, this one means “go to sleep before midnight.” Eventually, I might move my bedtime target to sundown. We’ll see.
A few months ago, I (was feeling myself and) combined these into Go To Bed Today. I added Read in its place.
I failed miserably.
So now, I’ve broken them back out into GoTo Bed and Same Date.
And I’m back to making progress.
That’s all I can ask of myself.
We should learn more about Evolutionary Biology in school.
Certainly, things are changing. Humanity has learned a lot about itself since I went through high school (Jeez! 12 years ago now 😨). No one is really “to blame.”
However, it doesn’t change the fact:
Change your biology; change your life.
It’s hard to make a positive impact on things you don’t understand. For me, the Biohacking mindset has really helped provide frameworks for all sorts of change.
And there is no overstating its importance here.
These human bodies have lived on this planet for 200,000 years, every single generation obeying…
The Sun’s Cycle
Now, we shun that cycle.
We don’t realize our bodies and minds are healthiest when we respect it.
The human body has very specific responses to light. Some of those are dictated by how light flows into the eye. Others have to do with light on the skin. I’m no expert, but I’ve heard and read enough to be convinced.
These lumps of flesh were subservient to the cycles of the Sun for tens of thousands of years. Fire changed that a little. The light bulb changed everything. In evolutionary terms, our bodies have not had time to adjust.
Moreover, I’ve heard about issues with light exposure and how much time we spend indoors. It had to do with how much more total light there is outdoors than indoors. It seems like it was over 10 or 100 times more. I’ll look it up and catalogue it eventually but I’m pretty sure I heard it on an episode of Health Theory. All I know is that it was enough to make an impression on me.
I quickly created a new daily practice out of it.
It’s easy and seems to be effective.
Light in my eyes. Several times throughout the day, I go outside to help my body “recognize the true time.” I stretch. I look at the sky and distant trees. I try to do it before it’s fully light outside and again once it is. Then I go for a few times in the late morning and afternoon. Finally, I take my last dose when the sun is going down. From the first day, I noticed that this causes my eyes to get tired between 6:30 and 8:00 PM. That has been an extremely helpful new trigger.
Of course, this all could be placebo.
That’s fine. Either way, it’s making a difference in my life.
Eyes getting tired is a great first step.
But the light bulb isn’t the only (or most dangerous) threat to circadian rhythms today.
Without a doubt…
This is how I became a Night Owl in the first place.
Modern devices emit an unnatural light signature that wreaks havoc on the human internal clock.
Basically, your smartphone is tricking your brain into thinking it is morning all the time.
It has to do with the sky and melatonin production.
Again, I’ll eventually catalogue the science.
But the gist is this:
Your body is programmed to wake up based on blue light (from the sky) entering your eye. It is programmed to shut down in the absence of blue light. But our smartphones and other devices emit unique signatures that are high in blue light.
Meanwhile, people lay in bed… stare at the Facebook app… and write statuses like “can’t sleep, who wants to facetime?”
Ignorance is not bliss.
Personally, I work on the computer. More often than not, I’m on it from 8:00AM to 8:00PM or longer. Over the last year or two, I’ve done an increasingly better job putting a hard stop on my work time. Still, I’m sending my brain conflicting signals about what time it actually is.
Luckily, there are glasses and apps that you can use to limit your exposure as it gets later in the day.
Unfortunately, I haven’t looked too much into either.
There are other solutions though.
And I have actually picked up a unique cheat for the morning from this:
My smartphone is coffee. Sometimes, I use my smartphone to help me wake myself up. It isn’t ideal. It can easily help my morning devolve into an unproductive one. But it is effective. I think it gets the drowsy feeling out of my eyes faster than coffee does.
Now, that’s not a bedtime habit.
But it is working for me right now.
Cheating with Food
Dietary biohacking is probably the easiest.
It can be used for health, productivity, and more.
Coffee is a cultural norm but it is really the first biohack.
Drink this. Wake up.
But how about…
Eat this. Take yo’ a$$ to sleep.
I like it.
Does it work though?
In the Four Hour Body, Tim Ferris mentions an apple cider vinegar and honey tea that works as an effective sleep tonic. I’ve tried it a few times. It works. However, drinking honey before bed does not agree with what I know about dental health.
Admittedly, my alternative isn’t much better.
Blood sugar spiking BS. I’m not much for sweets. But I am a connoisseur of cinnamon rolls. 😂😂😂 My grandmother used to bake two pans of cinnamon rolls so that I could get one to myself while my cousins split one. That’s beside the point. Simple sugars spike blood sugar. One symptom of spiked blood sugar is drowsiness. Just try it. Knock out a whole pan of cinnamon rolls next time you have trouble sleeping. You won’t be an insomniac much longer.
Obviously, I don’t want to keep using this one forever. And I won’t. I will give up cinnamon rolls (and gluten) altogether eventually.
For now though, this is easily the most delicious biohack I have found.
It has been the real difference maker on my bedtime at least 50 times this year, maybe over 100.
There isn’t anything in this world that will put a hard stop on your day like 598153548451 grams of sugar.
Try it if you don’t believe me (and don’t fear diabetes).
I’ve mentioned putting hard stops on my work day a few times already.
I learned the concept from Brian Johnson.
I’m still working on it. But it is has been helpful as well. A year ago, I was basically working until I couldn’t anymore. Sometimes I got a lot done—like a whole lot. But it wasn’t sustainable. Predictable, right?
It’s not easy being a Work From Home Junkie.
However, I’m exponentially better now than I was a year ago.
I actually have my schedule pretty much down pat. There is a bit of fluctuation based on whether I have meetings or am doing something difficult like Local SEO Citations. What this has done for my mental space cannot be overstated.
I even consider my bedtime throughout my day.
This was alien to me.
Now it is amazing.
I could take this a step further if I can ever succeed in making Vishen’s 6 Phase Meditation a permanent part of my days.
We’ll get there.
In the meantime, I have been able to put a few other things in place.
Morning workouts. I get moving in the morning. I’ve been doing it since I read the 4 Hour Body. But I recently picked up another tidbit about sleep on one of Tom Bilyeu’s shows on sleep. Working out improves quality of sleep. And working out in the morning improves sleep quality more than working out at any other time. Once again, morning and night go hand in hand.
Adventures before bed. I picked this one up from Tim Ferris too. In the 4 Hour Work Week and elsewhere, he says something along the lines of, “nothing helps put the stress of your day behind you like reading fiction.” For now, I fall asleep watching anime. I need to stock up on fiction.
Again, screen time after the Sun goes down isn’t ideal.
But it’s better than video games, partying, and whatever other dumb things I used to do when the Sun went down.
So I’ll take it, especially if it’s scheduled.
Letting My Inner Night Owl “R.I.P.”
My Night Owl, had a long fulfilling life.
He got to make memories with his friends…
The Alligator of Apathy, the Possum of Procrastination, and the Lobster of Laziness. They shared many memories together, like wasting time and doing nothing worthwhile. It was a great run while it lasted.
good things must come to an end.
Sometimes, they even need multiple ends.
That is to say:
There is always a chance my night owl has a rebirth.
Not a Phoenix, but a decrepit zombie-bird.
If so, I have no fear.
My early bird will inevitably swoop down from his high perch and bite the night owl’s head clean off.
Not for me.
My night owl needs to stay dead.
I’ll watch over his grave if I have to:
Bullet Journal in one hand, cinnamon rolls in the other.