7 Days a Week

This fall, we started a new stage of life, with both our daughters out of the house and on their way to school by 7:30am, and our son is in college. This early start to the day opens up a huge swath of the morning for me and my wife.

Because of our still-very-energetic dog, to make this schedule work, my wife and I have been getting up 6:30am at the latest—to allow for a 1-hour walk + helping the kids get ready for school—meaning we’re up daily between 6:00 and 6:30am.

And to make THAT work we’ve gotten pretty rigorous about getting to sleep each night.

This schedule is strict enough that it has naturally spilled over into the weekend: if I wake up 5 days in a row between 6 and 6:30, on Saturday I seem to wake up at that time as well.

And, while this can feel oppressive at that moment of pre-sunrise wakeup, the shift towards having the same sleep schedule 7 days a week, rather than 5, is making a lot of sense to me.

There’s lots of sleep science in favor of the idea of waking up the same time each and every day, and breaking the college schedule of staying up late / sleeping late on the weekends. The older I get, the more I relish a really great nights’ sleep, and this newfound consistency seems to be helping me in this regard.

To make this all work, here are the pre- and post-wakeup elements of my routine that I do 7 days a week:

  • All family cellphones away in a drawer in the kitchen by ~9:30pm
  • Reading fiction on a Kindle (not iPad) for 15-45 minutes each night in bed
  • Same wakeup time most/all days—currently 6:30am or earlier
  • Drink a full glass of water right when I wake up, by my bedside, which I think helps stave off migraines (I also take Migralief each night but, of course, consult your physician)
  • 45-minute dog walk each morning—not listening to music, or podcasts, just walking

While the rigor of this routine doesn’t bring joy each and every morning, in practice it results in:

  • A prolonged period away from my cellphone—from ~9:30pm to 7:30am daily
  • Ease at falling asleep, thanks to following the same PM routine that ends with reading fiction, which takes me away from everything
  • Thanks to my energetic, harassing dog, an hour between wakeup and engaging with my phone
  • Exposure to sunlight within 30 minutes of waking up

This routine could break down somewhat as post-COVID life picks up again—both more travel and more socializing at night.

But having this structure in place feels like the right foundation, not just on weekdays but 7 days a week.

The Stillness is the Rest

I travel a lot for work. After more that 20 years of these trips, I’ve learned that I have no special abilities at conquering time zones. If anything, because I keep a pretty fixed schedule at home, and try to sleep at least 7 (or more) hours every night, going to new time zones takes a lot out of me.

Things that help me adjust include: exercise, meditation before going to sleep, not looking at my laptop or phone within an hour of sleeping, earplugs, and, if I’m flying East, Benadryl. I wrote a post about these, with a bonus recommendation about the world’s best suitcase.

That collection of approaches notwithstanding, I still often find myself lying awake, either at the start of the night trying to fall asleep, or some time very early in the morning try to stay asleep.

When I find myself sleepless in Seattle (or Nairobi, or Bangalore), I will lie still and do some version of savasana (yoga corpse pose), with the intention of focusing on my breath going in and out. I often count my breaths in a cycle of eight, one breath corresponding to each finger on my hand (thumb, second, third, fourth, fifth, fourth, third, second…and then start again). I mix this with a progressive body scan, paying attention to one part of my body and then the next, focusing my attention on relaxing that part of the body, or feeling it bathed in warm light (Headspace has lots of great guided body scan meditations). Through all of this, I aim to keep my mind clear and not let myself get hijacked by each passing thought.

In truth, all of this helps, but that doesn’t mean it puts me to sleep. I spend a lot of time resetting myself, clearing my thoughts, breathing and counting…and then quietly getting frustrated that I’m both exhausted and awake.

When this happens, one new thought that has helped me a lot is: this stillness, right now, is the rest. My mind is clear, my body is relaxed, and that is what rest entails. It is enough.

It’s a freeing thought that can release me from the goal orientation / failure cycle that trying to fall asleep inevitably entails.

I’m am here.

I am breathing.

I am resting.

And that is good.