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The MuslimMax Series | How to Wake up at 4 am Daily

The MuslimMax Series | How to Wake up at 4 am Daily

Ever attend the talk on maintaining your Ramaḍān momentum? Seems to be everywhere at the end of Ramaḍān, but in my experience few, if any, are impacted because Ramaḍān time is treated as a time of binge worship rather than an occasion for strategic habit development. I believe our speaking capital is better invested in teaching habits of worship that are practically integrated in the life of the typical Muslim. By doing so, Ramaḍān stops acting as a time of crash-and-burn binge worship and turns into a framework for building habits that should be at the core of every Muslim's daily life. The first habit this series will look to develop is teaching the reader one method that has been successful in developing the ability to wake at 4 am daily (translation: this is how I did it, but it's not the only way to get the job done).

Real Goals vs Guilty Goals

At the heart of every Muslim's life priorities should be an aspiration to place in the highest level of Paradise. You'll know the strength of that conviction by the conscious strategies you create to get there, and the active steps you take to making those strategies successful. You'll likely fail many times, but oftentimes the intent and effort is just as important as attaining the goal itself. This is a Real Goal.

In contrast, when one says, “I should change”, but no real effort takes place, either in planning or doing, it's what I like to call a Guilty Goal. Guilty Goals are not true goals – they're simply lip service placeholders in our minds, that allow us to acknowledge the virtue of some action while simultaneously making us feel guilty because, either we don't really want to do them (lip service), or we don't see a viable path forward to complete them.

For example, when asked, “Do you want to memorize the Qurʾān?” in a lecture, all hands shoot up. Who wouldn't want to? But were we to ask, “Who has a one-, two-, five-, or ten- year plan to get it done,” the number of raised hands would disappear faster than chicken biriyani at an ifṭār.

The Bridge from Guilty to Real Goals: Daily Habits

I'm often asked about my eating and training strategies because of the shape I maintain, especially since I'm not a fitness professional, but a 9 – 5 software engineer with a wife and three kids. The most important strategy for getting into shape is the same as for waking at 4 am – it's hardwiring neural pathways in your brain that converts new, frequent actions into lifelong habits.

Once those habits are firmly established, it becomes difficult to leave aside performing those habits. If you'd like to test it out, see how you feel when you don't brush your teeth in the morning. Beyond avoiding close quarters in conversation and the gross feeling in your mouth, you're subconscious mind will continually bang away at the walls of your mind letting you know something is wrong. There is so much negative reinforcement, you can't help but go back and brush your teeth (at least, I hope so).

What if the pain of leaving a good action was more than the pleasure of leaving it? What if your mind rebelled and compelled you to go back and perform the action? Now you have a good habit established. We'll discuss how to go about doing this, using the 4 am wake-up as our example.

How I Establish Daily Habits

When you begin any new activity, be it waking at 4 am or turning your health around, you're both attempting to establish many new habits while breaking away from other established habits. That's a tall order, and it's why most people fail to change – it's too much too soon. It's the same reason why almost no one maintains their Ramaḍān momentum, and why they crash and burn come ''Īd day. The following strategy outlines how I bring about change in my daily habits with the 4 am wake-up as the example.

Step 1: What's In It For Me? Find Your Motivation

Before changing your habits, you need one or more compelling reasons to change. In the case of waking at 4 am, one habit I wanted to establish was praying at least 2 rakaʿāt of qiyām ul-layl every night. I chose 4 am because when the winter months hit, I would still be within a half-hour time frame before fajr, so no matter what time of year I was in, I could perform it.

But this isn't the only reason I wanted to establish this habit. By waking early, I could also better prepare myself for the day, spend more time on other acts of worship (more dhikr, memorizing Qurʾān), more learning (preparing for certifications related to my job), getting more work done (I could get more done in an hour in the morning than during normal office hours), and if my wife woke with me, spend quality time with her while the kids slept, and we would both be bright and fresh during that time.

Sure, there are some days when I oversleep and wake up at 6:30am, and there are days when I wake up and just want to stand in the shower and veg out for more time since I have more time. It's all fine because I have that time for myself to do just that.

For me, waking at 4 am is the foundation for success in all other areas of life. In particular, during the brief periods of time I consistently performed qiyām ul-layl, I found my du'ā's often answered with overnight delivery. All-in-all, this habit means a lot to me, and I believe very strongly in the benefit of establishing this habit and maintaining it for life.

Step 2: Anticipate the Unintended Consequences of the Habit

Changing oneself isn't simply a matter of deciding you'll act differently and then doing so. A number of areas of life should be addressed:

  1. Relationships: If I wake and sleep earlier, what effects will that have on my family's routine? If this causes me to go to the office earlier, how will that affect my team's established routine? If you see the potential for conflict, you should speak with the affected parties and ensure they understand what you're doing and why you're doing it. If they anticipate problems, work out those problems to the satisfaction of both yourself and the other person.
  2. Energy Levels: Your own energy levels will be impacted by this change. On a daily basis, you'll wake and want to go right back to sleep. If you stay awake, you may find performance deteriorates due to mind fog. I dealt with this by taking an energy drink first thing in the morning upon waking. I'm now at a point where I wake early without an alarm clock and don't need the energy drink immediately.
  3. Daily Schedule: When my day started and ended later, I spent more time relaxing in the evenings because rest was all I wanted after a long day at work. By flipping my hours around, I was working on all those “important” priorities first thing daily, but I was no longer taking the time to relax and have fun. It was leading to a different type of mental burnout, and I didn't anticipate that. If there are important activities in your life coming later in the day, make sure to find other times in your schedule to handle them.

Step 3: Persevere Through Initial Launch and Occasional Failure

The beginning of a dramatically new habit comes with the burden of overcoming existing mental and physical programming. If the change is too dramatic, then you'll likely last anywhere between one day and one week before crashing.

To preserve through the initial launch, the change should be a challenge without being overpowering. If you're already waking at 8am, then you would start at 7am in your first week, not 4 am. Your focus during this time is not qiyām ul-layl, studying, working out, or anything else. The goal is simple – wake up and stay up. If you want to take a long shower, walk around the neighborhood, or veg out on Facebook, go for it. If you woke at 7am and stayed up all day, congratulations, you succeeded.

The last point cannot be overstated enough. The goal is simply waking and staying up, no more. Even if you sleep late, it doesn't matter – your goal is consistently waking up at the same time and staying up. The next week, you'll move to 6am, the week after 5am, and the week after that, you can push to 4 am. If one hour increments are too much for you, wake earlier in half-hour increments. If even that becomes too much, aim for 15 minute increments.

Once you've established the habit, you'll find that your wake up time may fluctuate. Sometimes I wake at 3am and can't fall back asleep, and other times I wake at 4:30am to 5am. This range is acceptable for me, based on my own goals. If I were to wake up at 6am and beyond, I would consider that “oversleeping”. In this case, I consciously attempt to discern what may have caused the problem (in one instance, I worked out late in the evening and then slept late), and make sure to focus myself on not repeating the mistake, or if I repeat the mistake, setting up other means of waking (like my alarm). The key is that occasional failure is ok (and expected), just determine that a failure doesn't mean the end of the habit, it's just a part of our human imperfection, and strive again to maintain better consistency.

Another point to keep in mind – sometimes I intentionally “fail”, meaning, I realize I've awakened too many early mornings in a row while sleeping an average of 5 hours. When this occurs, I allow myself a recovery day (usually on a Saturday or Sunday) to knock out until 9am (that's just my time, others may have their own).

Exceptions

I know many of you are excited to get started and running on this, but there are some exceptions such as if you're:

  1. Pregnant or within 2 years of delivering a baby: Your schedule and hormones are far too upside down. Focus on a healthy delivery, and don't try to force a sleep schedule with a new baby. In fact, set your expectations and don't guilt yourself over not being able to achieve more during this time unless you have an awesome spouse who will help out and give you your own time.
  2. You Work the Graveyard Shift: You probably hit qiyām every night ;) But really, the point is that you don't wake up simply to get up and get ready for work. Use the techniques outlined above to wake up 2 hours earlier to get other types of work done.
  3. People with medical sleep disorders: Seek the help of a competent professional. Let them know what you want to do and see how they can help you get it done.

Wrap Up

Becoming a consistent early-morning person isn't about being a super duper tajwīd master shaykh floating on a magic carpet. It's all about focusing on the goal, keeping it simple, making conscious, gradual improvements, and moving forward until you hit the target. Don't worry about the days you fail, just keep trying until you get to enjoy the sweetness of front loading your day with all the most important things in your life. The gradual success that comes from it will snowball into this amazing feeling of accomplishment and happiness that honestly can't be put into words.

 

eid

About Siraaj

Siraaj is a software engineer whose interests lay in the intersection of personal development and practical Islamic living, particularly with respect to time management and physical fitness. He remains an incorrigible news junkie and lives in the bay area with his family

35 comments

  1. Prophet ate 7 dates in morning.

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  2. Assalaamu Alaikum.
    JazakAllahu Khayran for this much needed piece of advice! May Allah SWT. make it easy for all those who give it a try, Ameen.

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  3. A fine post. I actually have been feeling that just waking up for Fajr and staying up doesn’t leave enough time for me to do other things (blogging, reading, Quran reciting, working out), so this is definitely a good idea when it comes to handling priorities and being more productive.

    I dont think I could do 4:00am though but will attempt a 5:00am routine. Inshallah, I’ll be able to apply it.

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  4. Assalamualikum,
    I found this article relevant becasue for the lat one week I have been trying to achieve this goal..with lil success, I have a 6 month old and a body clock that is more in tune to being a night owl ..but i definitely still want to try because prophet Muhammed S.A.W.S used to wake up at 4 am and led a very productive life… InshaAllah!

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  5. It’s always a delight reading your articles Siraaj. Very good tips and advice. Waking up early really is beneficial, for all the reasons you have outlined.

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  6. @umbudi: Thanks for sharing :)

    @Muslimah: wa iyyak and ameen.

    @Asif: I found waking after fajr leaves me only time to get ready for work, and there is so much more one can benefit right before.

    @Reshma Rahiman: May Allah make you successful, and if it’s too much, be patient and wait a bit and try again.

    @AM: Jzk for the positive feedback on the article (and others), if you have your own tips for waking up early, would appreciate reading them =)

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  7. Ahh, I see you highlighted the increment method. :)
    Barakallahu feek.

    di.

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  8. What an amazing coincidence that you publish this post at a time that I have launched myself on my ‘Early Riser’ quest. I overslept my goal for 3 days in a row and have been feeling quite guilty about it. Reading this post helped pull me out of my guilty despair.

    And I am off to buy some energy drinks.

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  9. Really motivating article. I’m interested to read further about real goals vs guilty goals, where can I find more about this?

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  10. AssalamuAlaikum,
    Make Dua’a before going to bed asking ALLAH(swt) to wake you up at 4am..
    Drink 1 or 2 glasses of water before going to bed.. that will force your body to wake up early even if you dont want to..

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  11. Assalam i wil give it try

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  12. Baraka Allahu fik Brother Siraaj very sound advice.

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  13. Great tips masha’Allah. Small goals are definitely key and I’m glad that was highlighted in the article. In addition, a rare and forgotten sunnah that can help people in this early waking schedule is “Qayloolah” or the afternoon power nap. It can seriously do wonders.

    Check out this talk on Sleep Management for more info: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jwPKn_9rJU

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    • Salaam alaykum Zahra,

      Great additional point, and it was something some of the reviewers of this article on the MM team pointed out as well (and I didn’t add because I mistakenly thought the article was coming out tomorrow :)).

      Having said that, I didn’t originally add it because at the time of the article, I was not napping much (or at all) throughout the day. Like myself, I think many working professionals will find it difficult to pull off, and stay-at-home parents with non-school age kids may find it the same, so I wrote it with a “worst-case scenario” in mind.

      But definitely recommend the qayloolah, I now ride a train and bus to work, and napping on the bus for 20 minutes is great at the end of the day!

      Siraaj

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  14. I have something to add to your very useful article brother Siraaj. 
    Now this is for everyone:
    If you are the type of person who just cannot wake up in the morning, who overhears the 4 alarms and keep sleeping, then you must try this new method that I just found: 

    When you have a day off from work or college, or just some time for yourself in weekends, do this: 
    In the mid of the day, set your alarm to ring after 10 minutes, lay down in your bed and close your eyes (you have to pretend to sleep). When you hear the alarm ring, get up immediately! – You just did, what you need to do in the morning. Try this a few times in a day, and you’ll actually be able to hear the same alarm and get up the same way every morning, Insha’Allah. :) 

    Hope this was useful. Insha’Allah. 

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  15. Indeed it is.. I found it on the net and I’m gonna try it soon insha’Allah. The woman who wrote it also commented that after using this method, she never failed to wake up early in the morning. Subhan’Allah!

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  16. I always admire people who can wake up early to perform tahajjud and other prayers. May i will become like those people. InsyaAllah.

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  17. Great piece.
    But I have read this kind of article many times in past. In fact I am aware about most of the method. But somehow that doesn’t help. Passing judgement is one thing and implementing is totally something different.
    Can you help me on this front …
    Asim

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  18. jazakallahu khair

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  19. The post was amazing. I’m looking forward to give it a try.
    Thx…

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  20. There’s this hadeeth which states that Allah subhanahu wata’ala descends to the lowest heavens during late night hours…just to answer the prayers of his servents who would supplicate at that time..This one really worked for me

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    • Salaam alaykum,

      Great motivator, this would fall under step #1 for me – what are the reasons that drive you towards waking up (and it would be one of many).

      Siraaj

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  21. I like your style of writing. I have been searching for a faith for myself and my family, and I am also a professional(dentist). Have you written any primers/introductions to the faith? I would be really interested to see a practical approach to conversion to islam.

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    • I haven’t written any primers on conversion, but being married to a convert myself and paying attention to the issues repeatedly brought forward by them, I realize this is an issue that needs addressing.

      Are you interested in converting to Islam?

      Siraaj

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      • I am not certain. I am trying to figure out my religion since we had our child. The appeal of Islam to me is that at its core its simple and logical (there is no God but God). Parts of the quran are beautiful to me, and parts appear redundant, but never overtly violent. What concerns me is the actions of many of the muslims I know, and how the muslim world appears to backwards. It is a very hard question, but I need a religious identity, especially for my little girl. The catholic church I was raised in is dying, islam seems on the up swing.

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        • I hear you on the complexity part of things. I grew up in a household with a Christian father and a Muslim mother. I was blocked from more traditional Muslim learning during that time, and by the blessings of God, my mother who wasn’t versed in the academic particulars gave me the most important lesson of all, and that was establishing a strong, personal bond with God, first and foremost.

          When that was established, it served as a foundation for everything else of practice and ritual that followed. I can’t be intellectually honest and say every Muslim is that way. Irrespective of the simplicity of the revelation, humans are complicated and have human issues (myself included), and with our weaknesses, our jealousies, arrogance, ignorance, and other basic human failings, we can complicate something which at it’s core is really very simple – our Creator is One All-Powerful being, and He made us with the sole purpose of worshiping Him alone.

          As I understand it, where we differ fundamentally with the catholic faith is in the placement of Jesus – is he the Son of God, or something else? We affirm him as a Messenger of God, one who came with Revelation from God in the same manner that Moses, Noah, and Abraham did. His miracles are like those of the previous 3 mentioned – they are signs from God, and a result of God’s power, and not something inherent in and of themselves. We believe and affirm his miraculous birth from the virgin mary (there is a chapter entitled maryam, check that out in your Qur’an if you haven’t), but we also believe that just as God created Adam with neither father nor mother, and Eve from Adam’s rib, Jesus was also created likewise from one parent without need for another as a miraculous sign to accept his message.

          I know that the modern Muslim world is backward in many ways. However, I think a better approach is not to base one’s belief of a religion on the way people implement it, but to evaluate people based on the ideas they ascribe themselves to instead.

          If you’d like to talk further, feel free to contact me at siraaj AT muslimmatters DOT org, would happy to continue talking either here in the comments or through email, whichever you prefer.

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      • I question to u
        what will benifit u if someone convert to muslim

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  22. email sent

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  23. Good advice for making any lifestyle change really!

    My real question is what time do you actually go to sleep? Do you believe we generally need 8 hours of downtime to recover from an average days work?

    InshAllah will try to implement some of your advice…

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    • I usually hit the sack between 9 – 10:30pm now, before changing i was doing 2 – 3am. Six to seven hours is typical for me, but if i have a five hour night or two, i make it up on the weekend.

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  24. Great article bro. It actually means more(and is more motivating) when advice is given by something who actually does it. JazakAllah Khayr!

    And your humor is great – LOL @ the number of raised hands would disappear faster than chicken biriyani at an ifṭār.

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