What I learned from waking up at 5AM

Apr 25, 2021 8 min read
What I learned from waking up at 5AM

The past few weeks I’ve felt a bit out of alignment with myself, and to be honest, feeling a little burnt out. I was hearing my alarm at around 7am, snoozing it (sometimes unconsciously!), and then when I was actually awake I’d be scrolling scrolling scrolling. I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

I knew I wanted to do better and be better. Then one day last week, I scrolled across this tweet by @nitacoda1. 5AM challenge you say? This piqued my interest. I do love a challenge. But then came the inner thoughts that try and keep me in the comfort zone, and got me thinking about how comfortable, warm and toasty my bed is in the morning. I actually left it for a day before replying. Told Mark I’m in for Monday to Friday. Immediately felt scared. But no turning back now – in your face, ego!

Day 0 - Sunday

Tried to get to sleep at 9:30PM, but struggled to actually fall asleep until 11:30PM according to my watch. Nervous. Alarm on for 4:58AM. Let’s go.

Day 1 - Monday

beep beep beep

Okay I’m up! Actually got out of bed surprisingly easy. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to my alarm at that time and my body was like “WHAT’S GOING ON?!”.

First conscious thought of the day was “omg it’s so dark?!”. I’m not sure why I expected it to be lighter. 😂 I didn’t check the sunrise time beforehand.

The #5AMCoder challenge involves tweeting a photo showing we are up. I didn’t expect to me using my flash but it is what it is! It’s a good job Jonny has a sleep mask. It was nice knowing that other people were getting up at the same time too. I’m rooting for you internet strangers. 👏🏼

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I went to brush my teeth and get ready for the morning. The cat is confused.

I headed into the living room and drank some cold water to try wake my insides up, before doing some meditation. I usually do 2 – 5 minutes of unguided meditation using the free app Insight Timer. The birds were so loud I didn’t actually listen to my usual meditation sounds! It was pretty cool. Trying my best not to fall asleep whilst my eyes are shut. Inhale. Exhale.

Wrote in my journal 3 things I’m grateful for, plus a brain dump of anything else on my mind. It’s only 5:30am at this point and it feels like I’ve been up for ages.

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I’m currently doing #365DaysOfCode so I spent around 25 minutes working on a Front End Mentor project. I was surprisingly…focused?

The sun started to come out and so I went outside to get some light. Yesterday I listened to an Andrew Huberman podcast that someone mentioned on Twitter. He talks about what makes us sleepy and how we can feel more awake. One of the forces that determines when we want to be sleep and when we want to be awake is the circadian rhythm, our internal clock.

Light has a big impact on this. He mentions that our circadian rhythm responds best to sunlight, when the sun is lowest in the sky, and not optimally activated by our phone light or artificial light. He recommends that we should get natural sunlight earliest in the day, and watching the sunrise is perfect for activating our neurons. Apparently it’s 50% less effective when looking through a window, so it’s best to get outside and get that light into your eyes (without directly looking at the sun of course).

What a glorious day! It was mega cold but it was just so nice to have the sun in my face listening to the birds. I feel so ✨ energised ✨.

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It’s 7AM and I’m really hungry. I usually have breakfast at around 9AM-10AM. On the plus side I can start work earlier and finish earlier!

I can’t believe how long my evening has been. I got to go for a walk in the beautiful sunshine after work and for the first time in a long time haven’t spent my evening at my desk! I chilled out in bed in the light of the sunset and played some Animal Crossing, which I keep saying I will get round to playing again and I finally am, woohoo!

Went to sleep at around 9:30pm and fell asleep around 20 minutes later!

Day 2 - Tuesday

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Let’s get this bread! Actually felt more refreshed today, probably because I managed to get about 2 hours more sleep than the night before.

Last night was the first time I tried sleeping with earplugs, and I don’t remember waking up during the middle of the night like I usually do. Maybe it blocks out the cat running riot at 3am. Either that or I was just very tired!

I also set my sunrise light to be on when I woke up this time so I think that helped me deal with the early morning darkness.

Meditation, check. Journalling, check. Coding, check. Watch the sunrise, check.

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Managed to get a lot of stuff done in the first hour of work time which is cool because I usually prefer to do my focused work in the afternoon as I feel like my brain has fully woken up by then. But now I feel much more ready to go by the time I start work!

It’s 4:30pm and I’m flagging a bit! Resisting the urge to nap.

Day 3 - Wednesday

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Today has been the hardest day to wake up so far… but we move! Saw that today was also a bit of a struggle for some of the other #5amCoders. I’m not alone. 😌

I enioyed having a good amount of time to mentally prepare for a meeting first thing in the morning. Feeling very happy. Surprisingly feeling energised still for the rest of the day.

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One thing I’m enjoying is winding down when the sun is setting. Usually, I’m still coding in the evening at my desk and normally turn around to look out and window and be like “oh, it’s dark now” 😂. So an evening bask in the sun is GLORIOUS.

Went to sleep about 30 mins later than I’d liked, but this is still a massive improvement from my normal bedtime!

Day 4 - Thursday

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Was a bit groggy when I got up but it did wear off a couple minutes after being up and about.

Today I received the new book of my favourite poet, April Green, called ‘Reaching the Sun’.

“One day you will discover that happiness is never going to be a moment you reach, but a thousand different moments you choose it to be.” - April Green

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It really feels great to be starting work earlier and finishing earlier. My evenings feel so long, especially when I get my coding done before work.

I also went for a small walk when I went outside this morning and oh my goodness, it was just so blissful. I am truly feeling grateful for my surroundings, nature, the blue sky. Today I’m noticing the little things more. I feel present.

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I spent a good moment this evening sitting in golden hour, just looking out the window at the sunset. A moment that can be described by what Pete Walker in the book ‘Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving’ as a numinous experience.

“A powerful moving feeling of well-being accompanied by a sense that there is a positive, benign force behind the universe, as well as within yourself. This in turn sometimes brings enough grace with it, that you have a profound feeling that you are essentially worthwhile, that you belong in this life, and that life is a gift.”- Pete Walker

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Day 5 - Friday

My final day of the #5amCoders challenge.

Alarm went off mid-dream so felt pretty crispy when I got out of bed. I am up though, I made it! Happy Friday!! I am pretty proud of myself for not snoozing my alarm for the past 5 days, and proud of my fellow #5amCoders too!

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How I got up early - what helped me

  • Getting a battery-powered alarm clock and charging my phone on the other side of the room, not next to my bedside. In BJ Fogg’s ‘Tiny Habits’, I learned that habits are more likely to be done, when they are easier to do; this also applies to bad habits! Having a seperate alarm clock and putting my phone out of reach made it harder to pick up my phone and scroll.
  • Having a plan. I made sure to have at least a rough idea of what I’m going to do in the morning noted down. It helped me to think less and reduce decision fatigue. Laying out an outfit the night before helps with this too!
  • Reward. The habit loop goes: cue (e.g. alarm going off) > routine (e.g. getting out of bed) > reward (e.g. something that makes the habit worth repeating). In my case, I have been choosing a motivational sticker each day to post with my tweet. This gave me a happiness hit, and so I think it helped to start making positive associations with getting up.
  • Accountability, for sure. Thanks to Mark for setting it up and genuinely wanting to help other people be their best selves, whilst also encouraging self-compassion when it felt more challenging. I think this is so important when we are implementing change in our lives.
  • Community! It was actually really nice knowing other people were doing this too. I enjoyed reading everyone’s tweets, and I also love that people enjoyed my motivational stickers!

Reflections

Starting off the day with well helped me to have a better day later too; feeling better doing my workouts, more focused when working, and more energised for taking some time for myself.

I would really like to continue waking up at 5AM during weekdays. Motivation and energy levels are going to fluctuate, but I can really see the benefits of making the most of the time when the world is sleeping.

I am so grateful for this challenge; it was the reset I needed.

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