Hot Tips, Cool Resources
It's the end of the month and so it's time for some Hot Tips & Cool Resources...but first...
Brrrrrr...it's getting chilly here at home and I’ve been struggling to wake up at my normal early hour. Thankfully, it's not just me...I'm hearing from a lot of people who are usually early risers, that they've started sleeping in later and later over the past few weeks.
It sure can be tough to jump out of bed with the same joy and aliveness as we descend into winter and the mornings become darker and colder.
I think it's really normal at this time of year to struggle with getting out of bed. (I also know that some of us struggle with waking early year-round - and that some people aren't even interested in waking up pre-dawn.)
But what if your life depends on you rising early even if it’s pitch black and freezing outside your warm bed? What if you want to take your life to that next level of success, achievement, independence or fulfilment, and you want to get a jump start on the day? How do you do it when every cell in your body is screaming "Stay in bed. Just another 10 minutes."
Liar! It's never just 10 minutes.
The Alarm Clock/Phone
Personally I’ve never been a fan of noisy, loud, beeping alarms to get me up. It feels like an unwanted shock to my body to be ripped from a deep sleep in this way. But, let's face it - its effective - as long as you don't hit snooze...and the best way go avoid that is to place the alarm clock or phone on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
For many years I allowed myself to wake up naturally, allowing my body to choose its wake-up time. And that's a wonderful thing if you can do it. But my whole schedule was later in those days. I didn't start work til 10am and I didn't go to bed until 10 or 11pm.
More recently, I've wanted to get up early to take advantage of the peace and quiet of those early hours, as well as to fit in exercise, meditation or yoga.
So I experimented and discovered that my body has a very effective internal time-keeper and that, if trained, I could get it to wake me up on time. This worked so well that I could wake up to the exact minute - just by setting an intention before going to sleep! It's quite incredible how your body can keep track of time while you are sleeping - and this has taught me never to underestimate the ability of the human mind.
But I know the idea of relying on an intention will make some people very nervous - and rightly so - especially if you have to be at an early meeting, job interview, or just need to be on time for your train to work.
And when winter comes, I find that this internal time keeper might wake me up on time, but it won't necessarily keep me awake. That's because there’s another factor at play here and it’s powerful too. It’s evolution.
Our Inner Alarm System
The human body is designed with an internal alarm system, one that is responsive to light. Basically, when the sun goes down your body releases melatonin which helps you get sleepy, and in the morning - at first light - your body nudges you into wakefulness with a quick shot of cortisol (I'm massively oversimplifying a very complex process, but you get the drift!).
It’s a brilliant system. It should be. It’s been designed over hundreds of thousands of years!
Problem is this: humans have created too many unnatural environments. If you live in the city, you’ll have a lot of light pollution - unnatural external light sources, like street lights and neon signs, traffic lights, lights from neighbouring houses etc. You can block most of this out with some good heavy curtains or blinds. But, unless you diligently remove them, you probably have inside light pollution too - lights from clocks, computers, microwaves, devices that are charging etc. On top of that, many of us are staring at screens late into the evening - TV, computers, iPads, phones - and the light from these can throw your body clock out of whack, making you stay up later, and impact the quality of your sleep.
I never used to worry about light pollution or being on my screen before bed, but the more I learn about sleep hygiene, and the way evolution causes us to react to light signals, the more diligent I have become about blocking blue light on my screens and turning off other lights in my bedroom. That's because even the tiniest artificial light signals can reduce the quality of your sleep. I now sleep in a very dark room.
Cold is another factor. Everything I read tells me that cool temps helps us sleep better, and my sleep definitely improves in winter. But those cold mornings also make it harder to get out from under that cozy warm donna.
The body says: Stay in bed. Sleep more. Hibernate. It’s only natural right? But if we want to be early risers, even as winter closes in around us, we need a better plan.
So, I’ve been researching and experimenting with waking up early in winter, and I think I’ve found a neat solution. You see, in the course of my research I read about these things called “sunrise alarm clocks” - the really clever ones have a globe that graduates over 20 or 30-minutes from deep red to bright warm yellow or white light, effectively mimicking sunrise in your bedroom. You set the timer for 20-30 minutes before you need to wake, and voila!
Problem is, I couldn’t find one that has consistently good reviews, even in the more expensive range ($200-300). They seem to break down and stop working - and reliability is important with an alarm system - plus if I’m paying top dollar for something, I expect it to work, and work well, for a long time.
A couple of weeks ago, I’m discussing all this in a coaching session and we strike upon the idea of using a digital timer to turn on a lamp 20-minutes before you need to get up - we even jokingly discussed having multiple alarms with different coloured globes and having them turn on in a sunrise-mimicking sequence (which I still think is a ripper of an idea, just haven’t got the logistics sorted yet).
Over the past week I’ve started using a lamp on a timer in my bedroom as my first alarm. The lamp happens to have a nice warm yellow globe, rather than a harsh white light, so it’s perfect for this task because it mimics morning sunlight.
So it comes on, then 15-mins later I have a gentle music alarm as a back-up. (You could also put your heater on a timer to make your room toasty warm.)
After a few false starts - caused by my ineptitude at setting my digital timer - followed by some successful troubleshooting, I finally got the system working. I then allowed a few days for my body to get used to this new system:
The first day I slept right through the light’s 20-minute ‘on’ period; on the second day the lamp woke me up but I just pulled the doona over my head and went back to sleep; repeat of that strategy on day three; then on the day four, I woke up and actually thought I’d slept in and that it was 6am (sunrise), then realised it was my lamp, and it was 4.45 and pitch black outside. Yay!
Now, just a few days later my body clock is starting to adjust to this unnatural light source as though it’s the sun. It’s waking me up ‘naturally’ within a few minutes of the lamp switching on, and I can tell the cortisol has kicked in, because I don’t feel super drowsy. I feel ready to start the day. And that’s how I want to feel when I wake up.
I'm not aware of the light switching on (i.e., i don't hear it)...but it seems that gradually my body senses the light and releases cortisol and I begin to rouse from my slumber.
I still have a back-up ‘gentle alarm’ on my phone which is set to go off 15-minutes after the lamp comes on, but I’m now waking up and getting up before that musical alarm goes off.
Now, let's say I want to wake up even earlier, say 4am. My plan is to start winding back the timer to earlier and earlier times, and do that in 5 to 10 minute increments to allow my body to gradually adjust to getting up sooner. A progression over a week might look like this: 4.45, 4.40, 4.30, 4.25, 4.20, 4.10, 4am. (Of course, you'll need to adjust your evening routine as well.)
A Complete Wake-Up System
If you wanted to harness all of these ideas for better sleep and easier early morning rising, you would want to follow these steps...
1. Use a colour temperature app like flux
on your screens after 6pm (I love darkroom mode)
2. Stop using all your screens 30-60 minutes before bed (and read a book or magazine instead)
3. Make sure all light sources in your bedroom are off or covered with blu-tac or tape.
4. Use a digital timer to turn on a bright, warm lamp in your bedroom 20-30 minutes before you need to rise (and make sure it's out of reach)
5. Set a second digital timer to turn on a heater 30-40 minutes before your wake-up time so it's more inviting for your body to get up and start the day
6. Have a back-up alarm set on your phone/alarm clock and place it on the other side of your bedroom
Write and tell me what's happening with your morning routine right now. I want to hear your struggles, challenges and success stories...
HOT TIPS, ARTICLE
This month in my Hot Tips article I've decided to focus on something that I know a lot of us struggle with - receiving criticism and feedback from others. So if you want to get better at accepting criticism gracefully, head over to my blog and have a read...
(click the image or link below)...
The YouTube video
you need to watch so you can set it up properly first time
- makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day
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