Waking up for work has always been a challenge for me, historically enabled only by the aid of a ringing alarm clock. Yet today I wake up earlier than ever, without an alarm. How is this possible?
Some background: I've been chronically sleep deprived for as long as I can remember. In high school, when my alarm went off at 6:30AM, I would curse existence and try every trick in the book to squeeze out another 15 minutes of sleep. Not much has changed since (except for getting less exercise).
Every day, no matter what I had to do and where I had to be, I would start with my first appointment and work backwards from there, to precisely calculate the last minute I could wake up. I would allow myself minimal margin; sleep was simply too precious a thing to waste. The first thing I would do upon waking up was look at the time; if it wasn't "time to wake up," I would go back to sleep, even if my alarm was set for 30 minutes from then. It was like there was free money on the table - why wouldn't you take it? Most of the people I've known, except for a few annoying morning people, have operated on a similar paradigm.
Miserably stuck in this pattern, I recently I started reading about sleep and sleep hygiene. I researched biphasic sleep. I learned about 90 minute sleep cycles. I noticed that I almost always woke up before my alarm, and that I was pretty awake when that happened, but then when I would go back to sleep I would wake up exhausted when the alarm went off. On a hunch, I decided to sleep without an alarm, and just get up when I got up.
After the initial anxiety, I found myself sleeping like a baby. I realized having to wake at a certain time had been putting subconscious pressure on me to do sleep "right." I wake up most mornings before 7, sometimes before 6, occasionally after 8. After a few weeks of this, I have a pretty good sense of my sleep cycle, and can predict with reasonable accuracy what time I will wake up in the morning, naturally. I try to avoid scheduling appointments before 10, so that I won't have to calculate anything too closely, but mostly those morning hours function as my "me time," enabling me to write, plan, and focus on the day ahead free of distraction, sometimes in the office, sometimes at home. As a newly minted CEO and first-time founder, these moments of clarity are priceless for making sure that I'm focusing on what needs to be done and not just ticking off busy work.
A side benefit of sleeping without an alarm clock is that it enables me to sleep with my phone in the living room, another life hack to clear my mind of information overload and enable me to achieve more peaceful sleep. But that is a topic for another morning ...