by every definition.

21 Early Days Week 1: 3 Easy Steps to Change your Sleeping Habits

 Photo Credit:  purplemattfish  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: purplemattfish via Compfight cc

I live in Singapore, and in 2014 it was named the world's most slave-driven country. We work long hours, earn lesser than we think we deserve and put important priorities such as our health on the back burner.

It's all about opportunity costs when trying to succeed in life. And with only 24 hours a day, can we seriously consider getting ahead in their careers while maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle?

I am OKJ and in a span of 21 days, I pushed myself to the limit with ONLY 6 HOURS OF SLEEP EVERY WEEKDAY to find out just how crucial sleep is as a factor for success.

My Sleeping Habit Before Getting the Challenge

Before starting out this challenge, I was a Night Owl. I thrive on working into the wee hours of the morning and love to sleep into the afternoon.

But like many, I live in a world where the alarm has to be set to 6am to 7am in the morning, and with only a few hours after work, the choice between sleeping and living is a daily dilemma.

Photo by David Martin via Wikipedia

However, Early Birds don't seem to have that dilemma as often as Night Owls. Following a simple principle of "Early to bed and early to rise" - becoming an Early Bird can really put you at an advantage.

But even Early Birds suffer from the usual lethargic start of the day and most of them were influenced by their environment, thus it is a natural response rather than a form of discipline.

I want to wake up before the world does. To get ahead before they do, to take that next step before they do.

I am sold by the benefits that Early Birds have over Night Owls in this world.

In my opinion, being an Early Bird is nurture not nature, and I am willing to take on the challenge to become one!

From Night Owl to Early Bird

The routine is simple - I wake up at 4:30am every weekday and sleep at 10:30pm, giving me 6 hours of sleep.

On weekends, I get the freedom to sleep as and when I please, and wake up naturally. (NO alarms!) This is to ensure that I do not get burned out. My weekend life is also very different from the work week.

These rules were also the basis of the #21EarlyDays challenge by Filipe Castro Mato. And it was the recounting of his experience that inspired me to take on this challenge - not only to improve my life but also to do it in a way that can add some true data into a challenge that many had undertaken.

To provide data for this challenge, I used the Jawbone UP24, an activity tracker that also tracks your food intake through its mobile app as well as track my sleep patterns using smart algorithms to determine my quality, quantity and type of sleep.

The first week in my #21EarlyDays challenge had just passed. And here's how I performed.

Check out the data from the 17th to 23th November 2014. Collected from my Jawbone UP24 via the UP app:

(Click here for a detailed view of all 21 days!)

Here are some observations I made.

As you can see, while I went to bed around 10:30pm, I did not get the full 6 hours every day, nor do I wake up at exactly 4:30am. But since it is only the first week of the challenge, I think I did alright, expect on Day 5, Friday, where I went back to sleep after waking up at 4:30am and only woke up at 6:10am.

Why? It was because on that day, I did not have to go to work. Instead, we have an event that allowed us to report 2 hours later than usual.

With a break from the usual routine, I failed to resist temptation and went back to sleep after waking up to the alarm.

Tip: When you miss a step when on a routine. Don't let it build up, but don't focus on paying the "debt". It could discourage you from going on. Instead, reaffirm yourself of why you are doing this routine, and proceed as you normally would.

This brings me to my reflection of the week - that if there is one observation to point out, it would revolve around sleeping habits, how to change and how to maintain them.

Throughout the week, I have been researching on this very topic amongst others relating to sleep, but for this article, I'll be sharing 3 effective steps to change your sleeping habits with ease.

Step 1: Create a Sleep Routine

 Photo Credit:  Procsilas  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: Procsilas via Compfight cc

  1. Determine how many hours you want to sleep.
  2. Set a time that you plan to wake up.
  3. Backtrack your wake up timing with your planned hours of sleep to determine your bed time.
  4. Adjust the timings slightly to fit other factors such as your work time, travel time, what you plan to do between you waking up and getting to work, what you plan to do after work and so on.

Doing it in this order makes more sense to me than any other because it prioritises what we want to ultimately achieve - improving our sleeping habit.

Here's an example of my decision making process.


How I came up with 6 hours of sleep, 4:30am and 10:30pm

In my case, I originally gave myself 7 hours of rest, something that has been almost universally accepted to be within the range of a healthy duration of sleep. If the Singapore Army swears by having 7 hours of uninterrupted rest for the safety of its men, then I could not go wrong with that duration.

However, I have to take the train at 6am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 6:25am on Tuesdays and Thursdays to reach to my workplace on time. Following a guideline of maintaining a consistent wake up timing, I originally set the alarm at 5:30am, giving me sufficient time to prepare for the day ahead.

However, with this challenge, I wanted to push myself to truly get the most out of my life. I planned to workout on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as it coincided with my workout regime. I also planned to eat breakfast before travelling to work during those days, something that I have never done being a night owl. In principle, I want to get ahead of my world by waking up before they do.

Bringing these factors into account, I settled with a timing of 4:30am, a timing that is do-able though extremely early for most. It was also the same time as the #21EarlyDays Challenges that others had done.

With a wake up timing of 4:30am, that would mean I would have to sleep at 9:30pm to get 7 hours of potential sleep. But travelling between my home and my workplace takes about an hour and I will usually reach home by 7pm if work ends on time.

Accounting for activities such as eating dinner and showering, that would leave me with about 1.5 hours of the day left to do other things, in my case, it was working on the blog. 1.5 hours is simply too short to get anything done, so I made the bold decision to cut my sleep duration from 7 hours to 6 hours.

And that is how my routine was set up.

Setting up your routine is one thing, sticking to it is another. To maintain your routine, you will need to prepare, and that brings us to...

Step 2: Use the If-Then Method

The If-Then method is quite simple. It involves us placing "triggers" around our lives to trigger a specific action that would encourage us to do the next step - "If I do this, Then I will do that."

For example, I want to work out after I wake up. But when I wake up, I feel very lethargic. So instead of setting my mindset to force myself to workout immediately after I get up from my bed, I add a "trigger" - brushing my teeth.

It takes less effort for me to link my actions between waking up and brushing my teeth, and I have set my mind to do that in order to push myself to the next objective, which is to workout. The minty after-taste that comes from brushing my teeth perks me up with that instant refresh I need to hit the mat, and that helps with triggering my body that it is time to really wake up, allowing me to continue with my routine. - "If I brush my teeth, then I will workout."

The If-Then method can be used in almost any situation and for any reason. Take the end of the day for example. I usually end the day off with packing my bags. This activity is one that I have set as a "trigger" to tell my brain and body that it is time to end the day. - "If I pack my bag, then it is about time to sleep."

Whatever your "trigger" may be, make sure it is easy to link it between the "trigger" and the activity before it. The harder it is to transition between the two, the less likely you are to succeed.

Tip: Like drinking your morning coffee or tea? Make that your "trigger" to set the mood to get to work. If you already a daily drinker, all you need to do is to consciously think of it as a trigger.

Using the If-Then method will help in maintain the routine that you had set up, especially in the early stage of adapting to it. But to increase your chances of succeeding, we got to...

Step 3: Make the Day Easier to Start

When embarking on your new sleeping habit, the first day is either the hardest or the easiest depending on your level of motivation. But regardless of which you may experience, the following day will be more difficult. That is why to increase the chances of success, we will have to make it as easy as possible to follow through the routine we just step up.

Here are some simple tips that I used to make my start of the day smooth and carefree:

  1. Have my bag packed the night before.

  2. Choose what I want to wear the night before.

  3. Review what I want to do the following day the night before.

Photo Credit: bitmask via Compfight cc

As you can see, ease comes in the form of preparation the night before. This preparation rewards us with a smooth and truly carefree start to the day that will not be wasted on unnecessary situations of panic like "where is my wallet?" or "where did I put my files?".

Time you used to spend making simple decision early in the morning when you are still blur and lethargic is now brought forth to the night before where you are still in a clear state of mind.

Reserve your start of the day to starting your day right and well. We already have the upper hand when we wake up earlier than the world does. Take advantage of that by:

  1. Doing an activity to shake that lethargic-ness off.

    A workout always work. But a hearty breakfast make do the trick. A light run maybe?
  2. Clear your email and other matters that could hinder your day.

    I recommended only doing light work because it is more enjoyable to work on. Waking up and immediately hitting the difficult work will often times set people back because of the negative elements it brings.
  3. Relax and do things like surf the internet.

    Many of us have the urge to procrastinate throughout the day and get distracted by social media and the others of the internet. But if you get that desire out of the way early on, you have a greater chance to remain focused throughout the day. Personally this works for me, so it could work for you, though remember, discipline is still the most important factor.
Tip: Starting a routine requires discipline. Maintaining a routine enhances discipline. A little discipline from the start will make you go a long way.

At The End of it All: Keep it Pleasant and Enjoyable

 Photo Credit:

The main point that I would like to bring up is that to succeed in a routine as stringent as this seem to be, you have to make it pleasant and enjoyable.

The more pleasant it is, the more obvious the benefits and the more likely it is to succeed in maintaining the routine over a sustained period of time.

It also helps us improve the routine - because we enjoy it, naturally we look for more ways to improve on it, and this virtuous cycle is something that I think everyone wants to achieve, be it a sleep routine or anything else in life.