What I Learned from my 5am Challenge + Why I Am Still Waking Up

PrintI did it. I woke up every day in the month of May at 5am. It was super hard and I still can’t quite believe that I did it. What’s even more unbelievable is the fact that I’m still getting up early. I don’t want to quit.

A little background: At the beginning of May I wrote a blog post to explain why I wanted to torture myself and get up at 5am every day for a month. I was tired of my lazy, indulgent sleep habits and got inspired by a bunch of people on the internet when I googled ‘how to wake up early’. (Try it, it’s fun) Turns out a lot of people do it and no one has died from it…imagine that. So I made up a challenge for myself.

Turns out, this was the best challenge I’ve ever done. Like, totally a game-changer for me. Here we are almost through the first full week of June and I’m still getting up early. Though, not quite at 5. My husband requested that I push it to 5:30 to make going to bed on time a little easier. But still. Waking up at 5:30 for any length of time, not to mention, with actual joy in my heart, is a miracle.

I hated mornings before this. And you know what my problem was?

Well, lots of things. But one of my main hang-ups was that there was no reward for me to get up that early. I didn’t have anything specific to look forward to.

In my research for figuring out how to get up at 5am, I read a helpful article by Paul McGregor on how to wake up early. One of the tips that stood out to me was about creating my motivation for why. A difficult thing is made so much more difficult when you don’t know the why behind it. He mentions the example that we never had a hard time waking up on Christmas morning as kids. And that’s because we were sooo excited about what was waiting for us in the other room. So create your own Christmas morning.  Every morning.

So I did. I created a fun schedule for myself doing only the things I really wanted to do.  Exercise dropped off during the month but everything else stayed basically the same: reading my Bible + praying, letter writing, creative reading, journaling, + minimizing.

Side note, I’d like to get back to exercising. But this is just honestly what happened. One hurdle at a time.

Can you imagine starting work after a solid three or so hours of doing your favorite things for being creative? I am now exponentially more focused, inspired, and productive every day at work. Waking up early has totally revolutionized my work flow. No more rushing into my studio after sleeping way too long and not knowing what to work on. No more feeling guilty all day for sleeping in past a normal time. No more wondering if I’m getting enough work done during the day. I quit for the night when my husband comes home from work and feel very accomplished every single day. Even on my slower days.

The only semi-negative effect–and I’m not even completely convinced yet that it is a true negative–is that our social evenings are a bit tougher to do. Especially during the week. We are typically busy 3 or 4 nights every week with church, friend or family events. But I fight as best I can for a 9:30 bedtime and it’s okay if I’m a little tired the next day. I have allowed myself to sleep in on Saturdays when I can, so Friday night has become our let’s-go-crazy-and-stay-up-til-10pm night. Once during May I went dancing and didn’t get in bed til 1am. But yes, I did get up at 5. That was a tough day. I don’t really remember a whole lot of it. But again…did I die? No.

Doing something like changing your schedule this dramatically is so incredibly enlightening. Priorities have to be rearranged. Good communication has to happen to prepare expectations. Soul-searching is constant. Like way constant. Especially since I’m up in the morning by myself for a long time. Just so you get an idea of how dramatic this was for me, before this I was sleeping from 10/11pm to about 9/10am every day. I have this luxury because I work from home but that is still way too much sleep. I didn’t need that much, I just liked it. Is sleep gluttony a thing?

So anyways, that’s my little spiel.

If you’re interested in trying something like this for yourself, here are my five best tips for starting your own 5am challenge:

  1. Answer the ‘why’ question. Why do you want to get up? What do you want to accomplish with the extra time? Make a plan/schedule for yourself. Like I mentioned earlier, plan out a really exciting morning. What are your favorite things to do? Make a list of the things you dream about doing but you think you don’t have time for them. Anything you’ve been wanting to learn? Or a hobby you want to pick up? Don’t be afraid to get super specific because, even if you change it later, you will be glad you’d pre-decided how to spend your time. If you’re anything like me, who wakes up super angry at the alarm clock, I don’t have the capacity to figure out what to do with myself in the midst of sleepy 5am brain fog. And feeling like you’re wasting the time is not going to help you be motivated to struggle through the first couple of weeks.
  2. Go to bed early! This is an obvious one but you have to do it. The goal of an early morning challenge is not to sleep-deprive yourself, so make sure you’re getting enough sleep. I usually start my pre-bedtime routine of bath + reading (when I have time) about an hour before I want lights off and to close my eyes. Yes, so if you’re tracking here, I’d have the lights off by 9 every night, which means I was starting to get ready by 8. Yikes. I know that’s early. But it’s the only way to survive. Figure out what time that has to be for you and be weird about sticking to it. Even if it feels completely crazy–it definitely did to me at first.
  3. Eat good food. This one is just good advice for a healthier life in general but you won’t feel nearly as drowsy during the day or too stimulated at night to fall asleep if you avoid things like sugar that negatively affect your brain. I’m not a nutritionist or anything so I’m not going to give you super specific food advice but I basically just ate the Whole30 diet, with some cheats here and there during the day and I stopped eating by 7pm as often as I could. The more you eat before bed, the heavier your stomach feels and it’s hard to fall asleep to that. I’m not the only one who claims this either. This guy says to stop eating a whole 3-4 hours before trying to go to sleep. With my bedtime at 9, that wasn’t super feasible, but I did the best I could.
  4. Get some accountability. Every day that I woke up, I posted on Facebook by 5:15am. This was a really fun way of getting other people involved in what I was doing. A lot of people in your life probably already have good waking up habits that they’d love to share with you. But if they don’t know what you’re doing, they won’t be able to help. If social media isn’t your thing, text somebody who knows and cares about what you’re trying to do. Even if they’re not awake at the same time, they’ll know to expect your text and ask you about it later.
  5. Don’t hit snooze. For the love of everything that is good please don’t hit snooze. I don’t care if you do none of the other things I’ve mentioned. If you only do one thing, do this one. Every time you hit it, you are giving yourself one more opportunity to fail at waking up. Every subsequent time you hit it, it will be easier to just stay in bed. I’m saying this as a chronic snoozer, so no excuses here. Find a strategy that works for you. This is what I did: I bought an alarm clock that I don’t know how to hit snooze on and put it on the other side of my bedroom. When that thing goes off at 5am, I have to rush over to it in the dark to turn it off before my husband wakes up. There’s lots of advice out there on how to wake up without an alarm but I’m not there yet. Since I’ve already jumped out of bed to turn the awful noise off, I just get my robe and keep walking out the bedroom door. That’s half the battle right there.

Thank you for reading! I hope you made it through this long post and that it was at least a little helpful and inspiring.

Interested in trying your own challenge? Or have some tips from your own accomplishments in this area? Share them with me! I’d love to hear from you.




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