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Generation 'Y' Can't We Sleep?

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I freaking love sleep.

Unfortunately, the hamster running the word-wheel inside my head starts his nightly marathon around 11 p.m. and this HGH-induced all star is ready to run until 3 a.m.

This can be a pain in the ass so I started analyzing my daily routine. Am I truly struggling with insomnia, can I do anything to change my behavior, or am I simply more productive at night?

For years I wondered if flying with early birds rather than night owls might result in increased productivity.

My dad never used a single sick day in 40 years.

Like clockwork, he woke up everyday at 5:45 a.m. He ate breakfast by 6:15 and would pull out of the driveway by 6:30. Rain, shine, epic 100-year blizzard, or your average Tuesday -- my old man epitomized an early bird.

There were times when I thought I was adopted, or he had lost the plot. Different strokes for different folks, I guess? But as I grow older with fewer hairs on my head and more on areas impossible to manscape, I've learned lessons and reflected on my life. One being how I admire my father's work ethic and have longed to be more of an early bird.

This story is my first attempt at reprograming my brain, the tools I used, and early results. Suitably dubbed, The 6 a.m. Experiment.

"The Getting Shit Done Sleep Cycle"

Recently I connected with a cool guy named, Andrew Torba, who wrote an interesting piece about his biphasic sleep cycle.

It's a quick read and was spot on in my life, I recommend it. My biggest takeaway came not from his post, but from practicing an exercise he inadvertedly inspired; recording your daily work routine.

I'm obsessed with tracking. I have numerous tools for tracking metrics, hours, and even an activity tracker for my personal life. Oddly enough, I never tracked my daily work routine from waking up to dozing off, until now.

What does your average work day look like?

8 a.m.: Walk the dog, eat breakfast, prioritize my 'to do' list

9 a.m.: Yoga or coffee meetings

10 a.m. -- 12 p.m.: Emails, meetings, or phone calls

12:00 -- 4 p.m.: Client work. Shut out the world, say "NO" to distractions.

4 p.m. -- 5:30 p.m.: Hit the gym, walk the dog, or skate/run the SD boardwalks in search of coastal inspiration.

5:30 -- 8 p.m.: Finish remaining work, happy hour meetings, networking events, jot down anything I need to accomplish tomorrow

8 p.m. -- 10 p.m.: Eat dinner. Decompress.

10 p.m. -- 3 a.m.: Create or read. For me, this takes on many forms, but if it requires an ounce of creativity, it's been happening after hours.

Tracking revealed 4 interesting data points:

  • I grind between ~12 -- 4 p.m. and 5:30 -- 8pm
  • I create from ~10 p.m. -- 3 a.m.
  • I sleep roughly 5 hrs a night
  • Total work day = ~19hrs

I determined that for this experiment to prove useful, I wanted to:

  1. find a way to be equally or more productive
  2. maintain or gain more sleep
  3. decrease the total hours in my work day

If I nailed 2 out of 3, I considered this test a good start.

Translation, I couldn't simply get up at 6:30 a.m. and go to bed at 3 a.m. I needed to reprogram my brain to adopt a new sleep pattern.

Before optimizing any aspect of your life, identify areas you want to test. Laying out a plan and objective holds you accountable and makes it easier to interpret results.

Step 1: Don't Add Fuel to the Fire

I struggle to sleep, often laying in bed finding myself overwhelmed with racing thoughts and ideas. The ideas have helped produce some of my best work, but they ensure waking up at sunrise is out of the question.

I've tried to distract the thoughts with technology. Thinking that I could harness these racing thoughts and be productive. Turns out, this is a shitty idea. If you're like me, "going to bed" with racing thoughts and accessible technology means you are horizontally positioned using a laptop or iPad. This will not help induce sleep, but when you're struggling to fall asleep you're desperate.

I've always thought of multitasking as an excuse. A scapegoat people use when they can't focus and do one thing well. To this point, I have arrogantly thought of myself as a horrible multitasker. Turns out, I needed a reality check. Multitasking on a device late at night when I should be sleeping is not the solution. This coping mechanism was the first thing that had to go.

Problem → My bed must become a screen-free zone and I must find other means to rid the racing thoughts from my head.

Making sure all gadgets are out of arms reach has helped, but it certainly hasn't solved everything. Sometimes thoughts get lodged in your head. Plans for tomorrow, problems you're trying to solve, relationship issues, fears, you name it. These things linger, your mind races, and they just won't stop.

The long term effects of a "screen free bed" are unclear, however, I've found they are paying dividends when 'trying to fall asleep.'

Step 2: Quiet Racing Thoughts

I'm not a melatonin popper or any other sleeping pill for that matter. I just don't like the groggy feeling, but I needed something to sedate my inner voice.

I love music. So herein lies my trade off.

I believe in alternative medicine, guess I take after my mom. I believe this voodoo magic is the real deal. I started searching for "hypnotic sleep music," "meditation music" and a slew of other options and here's the best ones I've found (listed in order of delivering most effective knockout punch in ~10 mins):

  1. Brian Weiss -- Meditation To Inner Peace, Love And Joy [Soundcloud]
    * Let me know if you ever make it out of the beautiful garden
  2. Glenn Harrold -- Lucid Dreams for Problem Solving [iTunes]
    * Awesome for people who believe in Lucid Dreaming!
    Takes a bit of time to master, but this is legit.
  3. Glenn Harrold -- Deep Sleep [iTunes]
    * This guy's sleep album does the trick.
  4. Nature Sounds Relaxation [Spotify Playlist]
    * The thunderstorms I added towards the bottom rock.
    Ocean sounds work well too.

Step 3: How I Reprogrammed My Brain

Short answer: trial and error with achievable micro-goals.

  1. Record Your Daily Work Routine for One Week -- This gave insight into how I structure my days. It provided perspective into areas I wanted to optimize with this sleep experiment.
  2. Baby Steps -- Set achievable milestones out the gate. Nobody likes sucking and failing. Like a rookie runner with aspirations to run a marathon, you don't run 13 or 26 miles on day one. Start small. I decided to start waking up at 6:30 a.m. for one morning a week and adjust accordingly.
  3. Identify the Problem + Solution -- Mine was racing thoughts, using technology in bed, and hoping that would distract my mind.
  4. Don't Give Up If the First Attempt Fails -- Training yourself to do anything takes time.
  5. Commit to Your Solution to Make It a Habit -- It takes 30 days to form a habit.

Results From The 6 a.m. Experiment

This hasn't become a ritual for me yet. I like mixing up a couple days a week where I wake up at 6-6:30 and others where I start at 8 a.m.

6:30 -- 9:30 a.m.: Creative tasks

9:30 a.m. -- 10 a.m.: Coffee meetings + breakfast

10 a.m. -- 12 p.m.: Emails, meetings, or phone calls

12:00 -- 4 p.m.: Client work/daily grind

4 p.m. -- 5:30 p.m.: Hit the gym, walk, skate

5:30 -- 8 pm: Finish client work, happy hour meetings, or networking events

8 p.m.: Yoga or walk the dog

9 p.m. -- 10:00 p.m.: Eat dinner. Decompress.

10 p.m. -- 10:30 p.m.: Listen to sleep voodoo and pass out

  • I create from ~6:30 a.m. -- 9:30 a.m. (-2 hrs)
  • I grind between ~12 -- 4 p.m. and 5:30-8 p.m. (same)
  • I sleep roughly ~8 hrs a night (+3 hrs)
  • Total work day = ~16 hrs (- 3 hrs)

The results are interesting. Despite allocating less time to creating, I found that tweaking the order of grind, create, sleep to create, grind, sleep has had a solid impact.

Morning creative sessions inspire me to tackle the day (like this one). Generally, I'm finding I get more done faster in the morning than I did at night.

The added sleep is a bonus, although I haven't completely solved this puzzle. The mediation music certainly helps.

I may never fully convert to early bird or stop the racing thoughts, but I've taught myself a better method for sedating the damn hamster inside my head when I try to sleep.

Scott Fetters is a content marketer, copywriter, and Facebook marketing consultant, and a consultant for hire. He's also a co-founder of ProjectNominate and High Five Digital.