This is how I began waking up at 5 AM without an alarm. I share the one thing that’s actually worked.

I used to be an early riser for the longest time.

For many years (in my late teens and well into my late twenties) I used to be up by or before 5 AM. It was amazing and energizing to be up that early, literally before the sun rose and watch it emerge as dawn gently broke.

Then, when I was 28, I gave birth to my daughter. Practically overnight I went from an early bird to an exhausted night owl. Late nights (and sometimes sleepless nights) became the norm. Insomnia crept in and when it did finally wear off, my body clock just couldn’t re-adjust to the concept of early mornings anymore.

I always wanted to sleep in for a while longer. Naturally this meant staying up later than usual to make up for all the work I couldn’t finish during the day. This vicious cycle persisted for over a decade.

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A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon the eye-opening book ‘Thrive’ by Arianna Huffington and if nothing else, the book shook me out of my complacence regarding late nights and fewer hours of sleep.

And over the next year and a half I managed to cut back on late nights to a great extent. I rarely stayed up past 11 PM and started waking up around 6.30 AM. But I still struggled with finding enough time to do what I wanted to and still end the day on a note of contentment.

It dawned on me (pun intended) that in order to actually get more done and feel more relaxed, I would need to be up earlier than the rest of the household.

For the last 6 weeks, that’s exactly what has happened. 

Every single day, I’ve been up at either 5 AM or earlier; even better? I now wake up before my alarm goes off.

And it came to pass in the strangest possible way.

An interesting experiment

Red alarm clock against a yellow background with a pink arrow pointing at it with the words 'reset clocks' on it.

In mid-November, I had to be up early to attend a live session online. The session was scheduled for 7.30 AM (my time) since the instructor was based on the other side of the world. 

Knowing that I had to be ready by 7.30 AM for the session, I had to calculate backwards to determine how much time I’d need to earmark to be awake, finish my morning workout and routine, cook breakfast and be relatively free for the 90-minute session.

Determining that 5 AM would be a good thing to shoot for, I set my alarm for that time accordingly.

On that morning, I was up and out of bed before 5 AM and walked over to switch off my alarm. There was a buzz of excitement as I looked forward to the live session scheduled to begin in 3 hours.

After finishing my morning workout, the routine tasks and prepping breakfast, I settled down to attend the session, bright-eyed and ready. The session went extremely well and I was thrilled to note that the energy persisted for a long time afterwards.

In other words, waking up at 5 AM did not make me feel sleepy or groggy through the day!

After this particular incident, I found myself changing one thing in my coaching schedule. As a coach I usually have booking slots open to clients from mid-morning onwards.

I went ahead and added a 7.30 AM slot as well. Not only would this help my clients based on the other side of the world, it would help me be mentally awake a couple of hours before a possible session.

Today, 3 weeks later, I can assure you that I still stick to this routine, every day of the week.

That’s when it struck me. 

Commitment matters

The thing that would help me be up and about at dawn was a sense of commitment.

Now, this can be any sort of commitment- intrinsic or extrinsic.

An example of intrinsic commitment is the idea of improving yourself in some way. For example, this could be taking better care of your body by working out or meditating every morning, because you know that is good for you in the long run.

An example of extrinsic commitment is a sense of duty towards other people: say, your clients and showing up early to be there for them. In this case, that means being up to coach someone through their challenges.

In most cases, a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic commitment works very well to cement a habit for the long term.

I know some people will tell you that the 5 AM wake up call is a myth and doesn’t work for everyone.

It probably doesn’t and I’m not here to convince you otherwise.

All I am saying is that no matter what habit you’re trying to form, examine the motives for it, set an intrinsic or extrinsic commitment and then attempt it.

Chances are you’ll end up sticking with the habit for much longer than you’d originally intended. What’s more: you’ll end up enjoying it too.

Woman stretching her arms and sitting up in bed early in the morning

Shailaja V

I’m a blogger, content strategist & productivity coach who has been writing online and blogging since 2007. Read my story & more about my work here.

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