Sam Holstein

How I Wake Up Happy & Full of Energy Every Morning at 7 AM Without an Alarm

How I Wake Up Happy & Full of Energy Every Morning at 7 AM Without an Alarm

For the last two weeks, I have been spontaneously waking up before my alarm, anytime from six to eight am. More than that, I have been waking up happy, full of energy, and eager to get started with the day’s work. 

My sleep quality, as judged by my phone sitting on my end table.

This has not been a gift of genetics or a happy accident.¹ It’s the result of many intentional decisions I make throughout the day that prioritize and respect sleep.

I Don’t Consume Alcohol & Caffeine, Ever

Alcohol and caffeine are both well-known for negatively impacting sleep. Caffeine impairs your ability to enter sleep cycles, and the “good sleep” most people think they get from alcohol actually more closely resembles unconsciousness, which definitely doesn’t produce healthy sleep cycles. Both substances can impair sleep for days after use, and most people use these substances nearly every day.

I’m not able to drink caffeine because of congenital sensitivity, and I don’t drink alcohol because I am sober by choice, so I do not suffer from any sleep impairments caused by either. This sets the stage for healthy sleep cycles to take hold for me.

You do not need to quit caffeine entirely to have healthy sleep, but you do need to make sure you don’t consume any 12 hours before bedtime. If you go to bed at 11 PM, you can have your last cup of coffee at 11 AM. Absolutely no afternoon coffee.

Alcohol is… well, it takes the body 25 hours to entirely eliminate alcohol, so pretty much any consumption fucks with your sleep. The closer you consume alcohol to sleep, the more it will fuck with it. You could drink in the morning, but morning drinking is frowned upon for a reason. You probably just shouldn’t drink, honestly.

I Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night: 10 PM

For most of these modifications, you need a target bedtime. You determine your target bedtime by picking a target wake-up time and setting your bedtime 9 hours before that time. 

My target wake-up time is 8 AM. I had to set a target bedtime 10 hours prior to bedtime, not 9 (because one of my medications has a side-effect of sedating me), so my target bedtime was 10 PM.

You need the target wake-up time to be at the same time every day because your circadian rhythm does not shift quickly. For every night of sleep, you can only shift your circadian rhythm one hour. This is why you can’t go to bed at 1 AM one night and go to bed at 10 PM the next night. 

Set your alarm and keep waking up at the target time every morning. If you stick to your routine for a few days in a row, your body will adjust, and you will stop hating the alarm.

I Turn All Screens off at 9 PM 

The urge to sleep is regulated by two hormonal cycles that both respond to two things: your circadian rhythm and the stimulation of your environment. Your circadian rhythm changes really slowly, but the hormones dependent on the environment respond instantly. If your environment is busy, you stay alert even if your circadian rhythm says it’s time to sleep. If it’s dark and quiet, your brain will release the second necessary hormone and let you get sleepy.

If you want to get great sleep, your environment needs to match the pacing of the environment of primitive humans — dark and calm in the morning and the night, with all the light and sound and energy in the middle. 

Modern environments don’t match this pacing. They are light and sound energy at the same intense level all day every day, with abrupt starts and stops for sleep. The stimulation messes with our hormone production, which means less and lower-quality sleep.

For your brain to balance those hormones and heal, you need to take control of your environment. Don’t expose yourself to bright or blue lights after sunset, especially if sunset comes late in the day. Don’t watch movies, play video games, or listen to busy music within an hour of going to bed. Don’t stare into screens, either — red light filters help your brain process the light, but not by much. LCD screens with red-light filters still disrupt your circadian rhythm even if they’re red. 

Turn off all digital devices one hour before your target bedtime. I used Downtime on my iPhone & Macbook to program my computer to turn off all programs I’m using at 9 PM automatically. I also downloaded the Nintendo Switch Parental Controls for my Switch and programmed it to shut down on me at 9 PM, no matter what I’m playing.

Dim your lights, too. I also bought a cheap smart bulb for my bedroom and programmed it to dim and turn red at 9 PM. When I bought a desk lamp a few weeks later, I bought one with temperature-controlled lighting.

In Review

No one aspect of this list is more important than any other. They are all necessary if you want to get great sleep and wake up energetic and happy.

  1. Avoid caffeine before noon and avoid alcohol entirely.
  2. Go to bed at the same time every night
  3. Turn off all digital devices and get ready for bed at the same time every night

These requirements may feel like a huge sacrifice. They are things most people are not willing to do. 

I could tell you that huge rewards are worth huge sacrifices, but you know what? They’re not that huge. I don’t grieve not being able to consume caffeine, I don’t miss alcohol, and turning off my devices has now become soothing to me — it’s permission to let myself relax and wind down without a worry or care in the world, no matter what’s going on in my life.

It’s true, though. To experience things most people don’t get to experience, you need to be willing to do things most people aren’t willing to do. That sounds significant, but it’s just the boring truth.

Things I Get Away With

There are things I do in my sleep routines that are unhealthy. If I were older or more vulnerable, I wouldn’t be able to get away with these sleep indiscretions. To wake up happy and energized early every morning, you may find you have to do everything on the list above and these things as well. But for whatever reason, these are the things I can get away with. You might call this my sleep privilege.

Also consider, you may have to avoid something on this list, but not worry about something I have to worry about. Maybe marijuana use affects your sleep too much, but your circadian rhythm bounces back from changes much more easily than mine, so you can stay up late once or twice a week and not suffer from it. Use caution when entertaining this possibility, though, because it’s tempting to minimize the damage things we like cause us.

Marijuana Use

While significantly less dangerous than alcohol, marijuana use does still affect sleep quality. I don’t know whether any research has been done about this, but I and many of my friends have noticed marijuana suppresses dreams (and when we cut back on marijuana, we start having crazy dreams). 

Since dreams are a function of REM sleep, I’m guessing marijuana has a profoundly negative impact on the length and quality of REM sleep cycles. No doubt it also negatively affects NREM sleep too. 

Everything else in the world that negatively affects REM and NREM sleep cycles is really bad for you. Damage to the sleep cycles can affect things like your IQ, memory, immune health, and cause dementia. I don’t relish the idea that marijuana is damaging my ability to sleep, but it probably is.

Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills are on the cons list because sleeping pills impair the brain’s ability to perform sleep functions. They are like a bait-and-switch for people suffering sleep problems: They give you more time spent asleep, but they decrease the quality of your sleep.

My antidepressant just so happens to also be a sleeping pill. This is not the reason this medication was chosen for me. I still sleep fine without this medication — in fact, I sleep better, since it isn’t damaging my sleep cycles.

Eating & Drinking Before Bed

Aging people or people with digestive difficulties often have to avoid eating or drinking food within two hours before bed if they want good sleep. Food stays in the stomach for up to two hours, and sometimes lying prone with food in the stomach can cause acid reflux, nausea, an urge to pee, or many other sensations that keep people awake. If you’re one of these people, you may have to set a rule about when you can eat in the evening if you want good sleep.

Accept that Sometimes Sleep Isn’t Possible

This should go without saying, but sometimes, you can’t stick to a sleep routine. Parents of young children, people who work irregular shifts, and people with trouble falling asleep know what I’m saying here. If a strict routine isn’t possible, it isn’t possible. Bosses who encroach on your time and middle-of-the-night crying are not things you can control.

Don’t let interruptions to your schedule throw you off your sleep routine any more than necessary, though. Set a good routine for your days off so you can make the most of your free time, even if that means matching your sleep schedule to your irregular shift. Be honest with yourself about where your personal power ends and begins.

In Conclusion

Do you know the sleep you get when you’re on vacation? Deep, restful sleep like nothing you experience at home? If you are able and willing to do what it takes, you can enjoy a deep restful sleep every night.

  1. Avoid caffeine before noon and avoid alcohol & marijuana entirely.
  2. Go to bed at the same time every night.
  3. Turn off all digital devices and get ready for bed at the same time every night.
  4. Don’t eat or drink anything two hours prior to bedtime.
  5. Don’t use sleeping pills to help you sleep if you can avoid it.

1: Not having a genetic sleep disorder is a happy accident, but my genetics are responsible for less than 50% of this outcome — probably somewhere between 20% and 30%.

All medical facts in this article come from Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker.