Growing up, I loved nothing more than sleeping in on Saturday mornings. In fact, the only reason I woke up was to catch an episode of Saved by the Bell.
During the week, I would stay up late chatting with friends on AIM and tell myself that sleep was for the weekend. This ‘no sleep Monday – Friday / sleep late on Saturday and Sunday’ occurred for the next 15+ years, despite the proven inability to ever catch up on sleep.
I had this cycle of sleeping late on the weekends even when I had little to no stress in my life. Flash forward to today — I now work demanding 10-hour days and deal with a hellacious Houston commute on a daily basis.
Older and (supposedly) wiser, I still fall victim to the same sleep deprived routine. And although I’ve never experienced insomnia, I sure as hell know what the 2pm afternoon slump feels like. In fact, the 2pm slump used to occur at 10am and last for hours — every single day.
A self-destructive routine takes a turn
Early on, I ignored the need for sleep and told myself that “I can power through being tired.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Each day would look something like this:
6am – Wake up (finally) after snoozing multiple times/ – Skip breakfast
7am – Drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic/ – Grab a breakfast burrito and extra large latte
8am – Get to my desk, eat breakfast and check my email/ – Go through the motions of work
12pm – Go out with friends for lunch/ – Go through the motions of work
6pm – Drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic (again)
7pm – CrossFit
8pm – Arrive home/ Shower
9pm – Eat another takeout dinner
10pm – Watch Netflix, check out Reddit, Facebook and Instagram
12pm – Sleep
Let’s break this down and see how I used to prioritize my day:
10 hours – Work, albeit very amateurish
6 hours – Sleep
2 hours – Driving in traffic
2 hours – Eating
2 hours – Netflix, Reddit, Facebook and Instagram
I continued this cycle for years without thought. I thought this was “normal” and I should be happy with my life. In truth, I had become very unhealthy — even as a CrossFitter — and found myself hating life and wishing for meaning. This became especially evident with my weekend day-drinking that oftentimes didn’t stop until 2am.
Ugh. It hurts to even think about how I used to be.
Thankfully, this all changed after watching an hour-long interview with author Gretchen Rubin.
A perfect day starts with sleep
Gretchen’s inspiration for her book, The Happiness Project, transpired when she questioned her own happiness. From the outside looking in Gretchen appeared to be happy. She devoted her life to family and had a budding writing career. Similarly, I was labeled “successful” as I made six-figures, lived in a booming city, and had a Facebook profile full vacation pictures from all over the world.
To the contrary, we were both questioning our own happiness.
During the interview, she recommended using two alarm clocks — one in the morning and one in the evening. This lifehack changed everything.
Using this methodology, I worked my schedule backwards and made sleep a priority, which snowballed into other positive habits.
Now, I “start” my day with an evening alarm. It looks like this:
9pm– Evening alarm/ – Pack gym back and get ready for tomorrow/ – Drink Sleepy Time tea/ – Read fiction until I fall asleep
10pm – Sleep
5am – Wake up/ – Eat breakfast (Oatmeal w/ blueberries and hard-boiled eggs)
5:30am – Crossfit/ – Drive to work (before rush hour)/ – Shower at work
7am – Get to my desk, drink a protein shake/ – Start my day, laser-focused/ – Enjoy a mid-morning snack (apple or yogurt)
11am – Eat a healthy, prepared lunch/ – Continue working with energy
5pm – Drive home (slight traffic, but not as much as before)
5:30pm – Arrive home/ – Work on side projects (writing), coach at CrossFit (on Wednesdays)/ – Cook and enjoy dinner with my girlfriend/ – Watch Bravo (her choice) or ESPN (my choice) together
This, to me, is a perfect day. Let’s see how it breaks down:
10 Hours – Work, with constant energy and drive
7 Hours – Sleep, at a MUCH higher quality
3.5 Hours – Side projects, time with girlfriend and guilt-free TV
30 Minutes – Fictional reading, something I haven’t enjoyed in years
The answer to my sleep was a shift in mindset (not necessarily more sleep). With my routine officially starting at 9pm, I virtually guarantee a perfect day. I now am exponentially more productive and deliberately enjoy time with my girlfriend, writing, and even watching BS television.
Take the challenge to forever cure your sleep
Here’s my simple, life-altering challenge to you. For the next seven days, set an evening alarm clock and get at least seven hours of sleep. That’s it.
And when you’re done, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear how this helped improve your life.
Eric Conley overcame years of sleep deprivation and now wakes up with energy at 5am. He loves CrossFit, studying behavior change and exploring Houston’s best brunch spots with his girlfriend.