Sleep. Is there anything more nourishing than a good night’s sleep? If a little bit is good, even more will be better, right?
On the other hand, most entrepreneurs like to claim they’ll sleep when they’re dead. There is a strange phenomenon that occurs in the start-up world where people wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor.
When I was a teenager, there was something anti-authoritarian and rebellious about using Mountain Dew and Doritos to cram for a test or write a term paper. Later on, when I was in college, some students were already experimenting with prescription medicines like Ritalin to stay awake during exam week.
For most of our lives, we have functioned with metered sleep. Most of us use alarm clocks or some method of forcing ourselves awake to start the day or go to work. It might seem like a luxury to wake up whenever your body wakes up, but that is probably, biologically speaking, what your body needs.
Sleep seems to be the thing that we have to do to get to the next thing we have to do. While some people drastically cut the number of hours they sleep, they find that their body might need to make it up in other places.
Culturally speaking, we all seem to get up earlier than we would like to. But what if you took a different approach?
Career authors get as much sleep as their bodies need, but they do not use sleep as an excuse not to do the work. Career authors don’t lie around in bed or sleep in for hours beyond what they know they should.
This advice will apply to most people, but, if you are one of the few who have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome or something similar, then I acknowledge that this isn’t for you.
The solution to not sleeping in and sacrificing your writing time is to go to bed earlier. There is no shame in going to bed early. Many of the world’s most brilliant and successful people start their days at what an ordinary person would consider an ungodly hour, such as 4 or 5 a.m.
These people believe that their brains are sharp early in the morning, and they are less distracted at that hour of the day because very few other people are awake—and that means people inside of their own house or people online. The phone is not ringing, the kids are not tugging at your skirt, and the dog might still be asleep.
But to make the decision to get up earlier, it’s important not to cut down on the net number of hours of sleep you get, and therefore, it means going to bed early.
I began writing in the dark hours before I would have to leave for the day job. I knew that someday I wanted to be a career author, and that trying to write in the evening, exhausted from the day’s activities, would not result in my best work. So even on the weekends, I decided not to sleep in. I would get up, whether it was with the aid of my alarm or naturally, and begin writing at five in the morning. Some days I would get 30 to 60 minutes of writing time in, and other days, it might only be 15 or 20 minutes. But I knew that I was getting up early with a purpose. I was not sleeping in.
If you don’t sleep in and make it a point to get up earlier than you must, a whole host of other options become available to you. You can now explore the idea of journaling, you can begin a daily meditation practice, you might be able to start an exercise regimen, or all of those.
By getting up early and not sleeping in, you get to begin to work on your material first, not your boss’s or your company’s. Resist the temptation to check email or social media and use those precious minutes to do your most important work.
This doesn’t mean that you should never sleep in. There will be times when you will be exhausted, and you will not be able to get up in the wee hours of the morning to do your most important work. But those times should be the exceptions and not the rule. If you continue to get up early and make progress, your habit or system will create the motivation. You don’t need to be motivated to get up early, you will use your success to create the motivation to get up early.
Some people will claim that they are not a morning person, and while there could be biological dispositions towards being more intellectually alert in the evening versus the morning, most of us can train our bodies into a certain set of habits.
Our ancestors did not eat three meals a day. That was something that started just a few hundred years ago. And there is historical evidence to suggest that people did not always sleep through the night. Some people would get up at two or three in the morning and have a meal, or socialize with friends, or play games, before going back to sleep for another few hours. So although it is tempting to believe that just because you have done something the same way your entire life, and therefore, you cannot change, in most cases, that is not true.
But getting up early does not have to be a shock to your system. If you are the type of person who enjoys sleeping in or feels as though you are more active in the evening, start getting up just a few minutes earlier than you normally would. Set the alarm clock and when you start getting used to your new waking time, reset the alarm for a few minutes earlier. You’ll be surprised at how your body will acclimate over time, and soon, you will become one of those “morning people.”
Your bed can be warm and comforting, but it can also be a force of resistance. No matter what your lifestyle or what time your responsibilities begin in the morning, or afternoon, or evening, you can always get up earlier and make your most creative work your day’s priority.
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