The Great Experiment: getting up at 4am

Don’t do it. 

I’ve now got up to work at 5am on weekdays exactly 350 times and yesterday I tried 4am instead. It was brilliant until about 1pm when I struggled, then 4pm when I was underwater. Grabbed thirty minutes nap somewhere around 5pm when I got home and the day was done.

That feels like such a waste: finishing my day by, what, 5:30pm. I know I can argue that I did a lot from 4am to 1pm and that this is officially the length of a working day.

But now this morning I am struggling again, the 5am lurch was harder than ever and I’m somehow feeling it all in my stomach.

I’ll try it again and I’ll have to try it again sometime soon but for now, I think I’ve found my limit. It’s 5am and no earlier. 

How do people manage any earlier?

Rash Recommendation: Sleep Cycle Power Nap

Okay, yesterday I got up to work at 5am; around 6pm I had to sleep. At about 7:15pm I was back up, the went to bed at 11pm, got up this morning at 4:45am, contributed to the MacNN podcast that’s recorded at that time of the morning, then back to bed at 7:10am until 8am.

This is typical and this is a bit stupid. But during the podcast, my colleagues Charles Martin and Michelle Hermark both happened to recommend an iPhone app that helps with sleep. They rate Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock and Power Nap – actually two apps that I bought before they’d finished speaking.

I’ve tried the Power Nap one twice now, starting with that 07:10 nap. You leave the phone on the bed near you and it does some monitoring, I’m not sure how much, and around 45 minutes later it wakes you up quite softly. Each time it’s a curious surprise to find myself awake and each time I’ve benefited from it.

Whereas when I’ve given in and napped before, I’ve struggled because it’s hard to wake up promptly or anywhere approaching an actual nap time. It’s been more a couple of hours or so. Which is a problem and contributes to how napping makes me feel like an old man.

If I can do this 45 minute lark, that will help me and I hope I can get beyond feeling ancient. Go take a look at the app for yourself, will you?

The Onion: Study: Majority Of Time Machine Owners Use Device Primarily To Get Couple More Hours Of Sleep

EVANSTON, IL—In a study published Thursday that looked into the most prevalent uses of the groundbreaking technology, researchers from Northwestern University confirmed that the majority of time machine owners are primarily using their devices in order to get a couple more hours of sleep. “Among those individuals who have designed and assembled a fully operational machine that is capable of transporting them through the fabric of space and time, we found that most did so as a means of catching up on sleep,” lead researcher Jessica Farber told reporters, who noted that time travelers regularly forgo the exploration of historically significant or pivotal time periods in favor of conveying themselves back a few hours from the present so that they can curl up in their bed or futon and enjoy a little extra rest.

Study: Majority Of Time Machine Owners Use Device Primarily To Get Couple More Hours Of Sleep – News In Brief, The Onion (26 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

How to spend the last ten minutes of your day


Alternatively, do this to get yourself ready to sleep tonight and start fresh tomorrow:

Start by identifying an exact time when you want to be in bed. Be specific. Trying to go to bed “as early as possible” is hard to achieve because it doesn’t give you a clear idea of what success looks like. Instead, think about when you need to get up in the morning and work backwards. Try to give yourself 8 hours, meaning that if you’d like to be up by 6:45am, aim to be under the covers no later than 10:45pm.

Next, do a nighttime audit of how you spend your time after work. For one or two evenings, don’t try to change anything—simply log everything that happens from the moment you arrive home until you go to bed. What you may discover is that instead of eliminating activities that you enjoy and are keeping you up late (say, watching television between 10:30 and 11:00), you can start doing them earlier by cutting back on something unproductive that’s eating up your time earlier on (like mindlessly scanning Facebook between 8:30 and 9:00).

Once you’ve established a specific bedtime goal and found ways of rooting out time-sinks, turn your attention to creating a pre-sleep ritual that helps you relax and look forward to going to bed.

How to Spend the Last 10 Minutes of Your Day – Ron Friedman, Harvard Business Review (10 November 2014)

There’s more to it. Have a read of the full piece.

Tell me about it

I spent the day hours behind and carrying a ferocious headache because I entirely cocked up my sleep last night.

Coffee, late night email and the snooze button sap people of energy, compromising an employee’s overall performance at work. Though these things seem innocent, an evening cup of Joe, one quick reply to a colleague and an extra 15 minutes of shut-eye in the morning can drastically diminish the quality of one’s sleep.

9 Sleeping Habits to Enhance Your Productivity

Read the full piece for things we can do.

To sleep, perchance to put the screen down and snore

If I’m only sometimes good about adding contact phone numbers right after we speak, I’m terrible at this. I am atrocious at switching off my iPad or any screen. And I should fix that. You should fix that.

Put – the – screen – down.

Do it at least an hour before you go to bed and you will sleep better.


Pinky promise.

A pinky promise that I swear to stand by for myself too.

You are feeling very sleepy

The Blank Screen is about being productive. I have a section in the book (UK edition, US edition) devoted to the issue that “Time off is vital” and it says:


That’s all I’ve got for you about time off. I don’t do time off, I don’t know from time off.

But I’m learning a hell of a lot about sleeping.

This is still a work in progress and I would like to have figured it all out now but I’ll take anything I can get. Since January 2013 I have been getting up to write at 5am weekdays. (Not every weekday: I’ll book time off for lots of reasons like speaking engagements that mean I’m not home until 1am the night before. I’m not daft. I’m insane, but I’m not daft.) Today was day 223 and it was stunningly hard but as I almost always am, I am glad I did it because I got three big things done that were pressing on me. I’d finished them before 10am so suddenly Monday morning looked pretty good to me.


The big downside of getting up at 5am is – well, okay, it is the getting up at 5am. But the second big downside is how tired I get toward the end of the day. Both the end of the working day and of the real day of the week. Actually, in some ways that’s an improvement for me: I now want and get evenings off where before I’d just carry on working until I stopped. The trouble is that I can be so bone-tired that the evenings are a struggle to stay upright.

It’s not as if you get a choice about stopping working and taking the evening off, though. Tonight I’ve got a Writers’ Guild committee meeting, for instance, and I’ll be home from that around 10pm. I don’t know about you but I can’t just go straight to bed. At least, I rarely can: I’ve had some times in the 5am Years when  I’ve had to crash out instantaneously. But usually I have to wind down a touch so that means tonight it’ll be 11pm before I go to bed.

So 5am to 11pm, it isn’t tenable. Much as I wish it were, I can’t do it. Can’t do it without help. I’ve tried caffeine, I am currently powered by caffeine, but I’m also trying napping.

Even saying that to you feels wrong. Why is that? I don’t work 9-5, I do work for myself, why does it feel so wrong to take a nap? I was struggling today so I slept from about 1:30pm to 2:30pm. It isn’t like having a second day, like getting up entirely refreshed, but where I was finding my mind folding in on itself before the nap, after it I sprang back out of the bed.

It feels like such a waste of time but the work I’ve done since has been better for it. As far as I can tell subjectively, the work I’ve done since that nap has been as good as the work I did first thing this morning. That’s got to be a good thing, that’s got to be a productive thing to pull off.

So we’ll see. There are so many days when I can’t do this – because I’m working in someone else’s office and they’re paying me to, I don’t think naps would go down well there – but when I can, I’m going to try doing it. I should try to do this with some statistical measure so I can assess what’s working regularly and reliably.

One thing that may help is a new app that I haven’t tried yet but wanted to tell you about. It’s called Best Sleep Hygiene and that’s one of those titles that doesn’t make any more sense the longer you know it and that you don’t get used to. It’s not about hygiene, it’s about how long and how well we sleep. I tell you, the title is giving me pause. But it’s a free app and it promises to analyse your sleep patterns. So I want to at least point it out to you even if, like a typical writer, the title is holding me back from exploring it here.

Time Your Power Nap Naturally with Einstein and Dali’s Key Method

Not one article about power napping but several – take a look through this from Lifehacker:

That article includes the Einstein and Dali methods of the title but it also begins with links out to other rather good Lifehacker pieces about the best time for a nap – and the best duration too.