Why I get up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am

Ever since becoming a dad, first to my now 3-year-old son, and then to my now 2.5-month-old baby girl, I felt that my me-time was dwindling. Previously, it was easy to find time to myself outside of working hours and after spending personal time with my girlfriend, now wife.

I’d also consider myself an introvert, so after having socialised for large parts of the day at work and with my wife, it felt good to get some distance and recharge on my own.

The long-gone me-time

Having kids changed that. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids, I love my wife and I enjoy my work. I wouldn’t want to change any of that. But having kids now added to my ‘socialising’ agenda.

But for me, I felt if I didn’t get my one or two hours per day to myself, I’d go mad. I noticed it on days when I came home, exhausted from work. That quickly transformed into anger at home towards my kids for little things like toys not being packed away or loud screams (things I was well aware of when I signed up for all this but nonetheless things that would’ve stressed me less if my batteries were somewhat charged).

I needed to find time to myself and I had two options. Wake up before everyone or go to sleep after everyone. I didn’t want to necessarily lose out on sleep either. Matthew Walker‘s book Why We Sleep has shown the importance of sleep and I knew that being sleepy throughout the day would only add oil to my fire.

As a rule, I wanted to sleep a minimum of 6 hours (not what Walker recommends but a start for consistency and establishing a habit); just enough to feel rested but not too much to lose out on the hours that might reinstall my sanity.

Why I hate staying in bed

I chose to get up earlier than everyone else due to mainly 3 reasons:

  • Most importantly, I want to spend the end of the day solely with my kids and wife.
  • I wanted to focus on myself first. The beginning of the day kind of resembled this metaphorically, meaning a fresh new start. I was hoping to use the time for doing important things first and to build momentum for the day ahead. Ryan Serhant, one of New York’s most successful real estate brokers, starts his day at 4:00 am with exercise. He says when he finishes his exercise, he’s done the hardest thing of the day. Everything to follow will be easier.
  • The morning is more consistent in offering opportunities for exercising outdoors. The Australian summer can bring lots of storms in the late afternoon. After work, I’d be less likely to do my cardio exercise outdoors.
  • And finally, I’d be too tired after work and after putting kids to sleep. The chances of me getting important things done at the end of the day after hard work at the 9-5 and hard play with the kids, were slim.

How to wake before the early bird

Previously, I had periods where I woke at 4:30 am, earliest 4:00 am. But this time would be different.

Setting the alarm for 3:30 am was something I had never done before.

The look that people give me when I tell them I wake up at 3:30 am is kind of the look I imagine crazy people getting shortly before they're admitted; a look of complete disbelief with strong sent of concern for my sanity.

This only works for me because of 5 key things I do the night before and in the morning:

  1. Early to bed, early to rise: I’m in bed by 8:30 pm / latest 9:00 pm. When 3:30 am rolls around, I will have had my 6 - 6.5 hours of sleep.
  2. No coffee after 12 pm: I don’t drink caffeine after 12 pm. The half life of caffeine is 4 hours, so there’s a good chance that enough caffeine remains in your system to impact your sleep quality if you drink coffee after 12 pm.
  3. No blue screen after 6 pm: I don’t look at blue screens after 6 pm. Shortly after dinner, I put my phone on silent, focus on playtime with the kids, maybe read a book on my Kindle if there’s downtime. Andrew Huberman has, as have many other experts, explained the issues of blue light exposure late in the day.
  4. I'm up with the alarm: I don’t snooze my alarm. My phone is in the bathroom, so I have to walk a good 15-20 steps to turn it off.
  5. Be consistent: I get up at 3:30 am every day of the week. Also on Saturday. Also on Sundays. Sleeping in for a day seems to be ok and I can quickly reestablish my routine. However, sleeping in for multiple days in a row starts to mess with that consistency, making it much harder to getting up earlier the next day.

What changed?

Getting up at 3:30 am has dramatically improved my overall levels of stress and feeling of overwhelm. Suddenly, there are these 2 - 2.5 hours in the morning that I have to myself: time I spend on writing, shooting YouTube videos, learning Chinese and exercising.

By 6 - 6:30 am, I’m done with most of the things I needed time outside of work and family life for. Without the anxiety of trying to find time for myself, I can focus on work from 9-5 and focus on my family from 5 - 8:30 / 9 pm when it’s time for bed. As an added bonus, I go to bed with the kids, which is a nice family ritual to have.

So, if you’re in need of time to yourself but can’t seem to be able to make time for it, carve out an hour or two at the beginning or end of the day. It doesn’t need to be 3:30 am and I know that that’s kind of extreme (although I think it’s not when you go to bed at 8:30 pm).

Find the right time for you to build, create and do something that you’ve been longing for a long time.

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