Saturday 12 October 2019

How (and why) I got into the habit of waking up at 5:30am

Years ago, the thought of waking up at 5:30am every week day would have made me head straight back under my doona. However, about two years ago, as I settled into a working-from-home routine, I decided to try exercising first thing in the morning, rather than at lunchtime or in the evening. Over this period, I have discovered a number of things that have helped me get into the routine of waking up at 5:30am each week day, which I thought might be useful to anyone who may be wanting to set their alarm a bit earlier each day.

Why I decided to start this 5:30am routine

Even though I am naturally a morning person, I did struggle with waking up at 5:30am when I first started this routine. However, I found that when I planned to do a gym class after work, or even at lunch time, I would make excuses throughout the day and often would end up staying at home. At the time that I started this new habit, the gym I went to offered a number of classes at 6am, at lunchtime and in the evening. I decided that if I could get into the habit of knocking over a 6am class before my work day started, this would get me out of the house first thing in the morning, would allow me to start the day feeling energised and refreshed, and I wouldn't have that lingering feeling throughout the day of needing to fit in a workout later on.

Currently, the gym I go to is about a 15 minute drive away, and as traffic in Hobart can be somewhat unpredictable around peak hour, I have found that going to 6am classes means that I never have to worry about traffic (even when I'm coming home at 7am, I am going against the flow of peak hour traffic, so it's never a problem then either).

The feeling of finishing a class at 7am, driving home, having a shower and enjoying a delicious breakfast as I start my work day around 7:30am far outweighs the feeling of waking up, heading straight to my office and sitting at my desk, feeling sluggish and guilty all day that I should do a workout later on, but not being in the mood to change into workout gear and sit in traffic to get to the gym.

What I did to make the habit stick

I decided that the best way to make this habit stick was to slowly transition my waking time back a little bit each day. I was previously waking up between 6:30am and 7am, so I started moving my waking up time back by about 15 minutes each day, until I felt that waking up at 5:30am was (somewhat) manageable. I have to admit, the first couple of weeks of waking up at this time were very hard, and the autumn and winter months were even harder with the cold and dark Tasmanian mornings, however I knew that as soon as 7am rolled around, I would feel amazing having already completed a workout (often before the sun had risen). It also helps that I have to book in classes in advance at the gym I attend, and if I cancel a class within 12 hours, I will get charged $10. So, when the alarm goes off at 5:30am and that thought of going back to sleep crosses my mind, knowing that my bank balance will suffer a little bit each time prevents me from rolling back under the doona.

One of the most crucial things to stress is the importance of getting enough sleep, and therefore making sure you are going to bed at least 8 hours before you need to wake up. If you are going to bed around 11pm or 11:30pm and trying to wake up at 5:30am, the last thing you will want to do is roll out of bed on 6 hours' sleep. I make sure I am in bed by around 9:15pm or 9:30pm each night so that I can wake up feeling refreshed and not sleep deprived. I also make sure that I only set one alarm, and don't have the option to press snooze, because knowing that I only have the one chance to wake up means that I won't be tempted to close my eyes and rely on an alarm going off 5 minutes' later.

Another tip is to lay out your gym clothes the night before. I keep a small basket at the end of my bed and place my gym gear into it, so that when I wake up I can throw it on and head out the door in 5 minutes. I also keep my drink bottle, towel and keys next to the front door so I can easily grab these on my way out. This smooth transition means that I'm not running around like a headless chook in the dark at 5:30am, just after I've woken up.

Hopefully these tips will help anyone who is thinking of trying a pre-work exercise routine, or who simply wants a bit more time in their morning to do the activities they love but often can't squeeze them in later in the day.


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