I've always been a night owl and craved the alone time it gave me. All through my 20s, I followed the cycle of begrudgingly waking up early for work on weekdays and then sleeping in until noon on weekends.
But upon discovering Ayurveda, I began tinkering with a lot of its teachings. I was especially intrigued by its concept of Dinacharya, or a suggested routine of morning and nighttime practices, which includes waking up early. Really early.
Last year, I finally mustered the courage to admit to myself that I wanted to do this. It took months and months of trying different things, and my determination to wake up early would often fall by the wayside by the fourth day. But I also began to notice that sleeping in was not doing me any favors; it was the reason I felt sluggish and heavy all day despite sleeping eight hours.
After a lot of trial and error, I finally developed a sweet repertoire of activities that help me wake up at 5:30 a.m. every day. Today is the 60th day of my journey. Here are a few tips that helped me along the way:
1. Wake up before 6 a.m. to feel energized.
Ayurveda is all about timing. It is not about whether you're clocking eight hours of sleep per night—but rather what time you're going to sleep and waking up.
The last phase of our 24-hour body clock is from 2 to 6 a.m. This is the period of Vata, or movement. If you're asleep, it’s during this period that you tend to dream a lot. To stay in sync with nature, Ayurveda recommends that it's best to wake up before sunrise, when there is natural movement in the atmosphere. To give you a surfing analogy, waking up before sunrise is like catching a wave. That wave will ensure that you ride through rest of the day effortlessly.
In comparison, the period between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. is Kapha time. Kapha energy is heavy, slow, and steady. By getting up before this Kapha period, you'll avoid that feeling of heaviness you can get even after a good night's sleep.
2. Finish dinner early.
I always thought that by eating at 8 p.m. and sleeping at 11 p.m., I was turning in early, because in the modern context, this is what we have come to define as early right? Turns out, in Ayurveda, early is a lot earlier.
I now have my dinner by 6:30 p.m. or before sunset and am in bed by 9:30 p.m. with the lights out by 10 p.m. To make this happen, I had to move a few things around and resist the temptation of Netflix. However, this has been the single biggest enabler for Project Wake-Up Early.
3. Create a wind-down routine.
Unlike my husband, who can go to sleep immediately, I need at least an hour to myself just to wind down. This really helps me fall asleep once my head hits the pillow.
I'd highly recommend incorporating a few rituals of your own that you find relaxing. A simple one is to massage your feet before sleeping. According to Ayurvedic physician Dr. Vasant Lad, ayurvedic foot massage can be traced back 5,000 years and offers myriad benefits: It nourishes the skin, helps reduce fungal and bacterial infections, and soothes an agitated mind. "The doors to the body's inner pharmacy are under the bottoms of your feet," he says.
You can also try having Golden Milk before you fall asleep. Milk contains the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, and having warm milk at bedtime is a good way to help lull your body into sleeping.
4. Set an intention rather than an alarm.
I hate alarms. And I'm quite sure you do too. No matter how sweet sounding your alarm might be, it's a rude and unnatural way of waking up your body. Our ancestors woke naturally and gently before or with the rising of the sun.
What I do now is I set an intention to wake up early each day and then go to sleep before 10 p.m. When I do this, along with eating and sleeping on time, the natural energy in the universe always wakes me up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. I kid you not!
5. Wake up the Ayurvedic way.
According to ancient Indian wisdom, before you get up in the morning, you must rub your hands together and place your palms upon your eyes. That's because there's a heavy concentration of nerve endings in your hands. So when you rub your palms together, these nerve endings get activated and the system awakens right away.
Once you get out of bed, immediately make yourself comfortable. If it’s winter, I keep myself as warm as possible with a sweater, socks, and sometimes even a hat so that the bed doesn't look as tempting anymore. In the summer, I take a quick shower to completely jilt any remnants of drowsiness. Splashing your face with water works well too.
6. Find your reason for waking up early.
One frequently mentioned benefit of waking up early is increased productivity. But I could never connect with this reason. Instead, what I love about waking up early are the spiritual and health benefits. Early rising for me is a spiritual journey that also happens to make me more productive—not the other way round.
For instance, one of my long-term personal goals has been to wake up early and carry out my Buddhist practice of mantra chanting to my heart’s content before I begin my day. Waking up early helped me achieve this. I could roll with the punches for the rest of the day knowing that I had done my most important task for the day first thing in the morning. (Note that I say important, not urgent. There is a difference.)
So, find your own reason. Schedule your favorite things for the morning. This could be going for a jog, journaling, practicing yoga, or simply sitting in silence. You will feel like a million bucks.
I know this is easier said than done. But I can confidently say that developing this one keystone habit will lead to many other positive changes in your life. Start by trying this for 21 days—and you'll never want to go back to hurrying your way out the door again.