When you wake up what is the first thing in the morning that your mind focuses on?
In normal times it was usually checking our phones first thing, getting up to get ready for school/college/uni or work, preparing to go through the commute and getting in on time. In most cases we are in a state of a rush and nobody actually finds real peace or joy in this! I’m sure one of the perks of lockdown for many has been avoiding the commute and having a more peaceful start to the day.
We all also hear how being consistent is a key to achieving any of our goals and success whether that’s aiming to ace an exam or to reach a certain level of fitness. How do we though make being consistent easy though? And how does this tie in with barakah?
I’m not going to go into the whole detail of setting up a routine but I’m going to go into something that’s fundamentally turned around my lifestyle and increased my productivity significantly whilst also increasing the feeling of barakah. And it starts with something simple and something we all do, and that is… sleep.
I was a professional sleeper
If you knew me a few years back, I was somebody that would wake up on the weekends in the afternoon and basically lose half of my day to sleep. This was probably because of being up on my phone until late and not having any understanding on the concept of sleep cycles and how to make use of naps. Even when I woke up I still felt groggy and tired, I imagine this is still the case for some of you! Waking up super late and missing half of your day just takes a big hit on your productivity and it’s during the day where you become easily occupied with day to day life and don’t get as much time to focus on your goals.
The main change behind my turnaround was sleep and discovering the concept of sleep cycles. I came across this in the Productive Muslim book by Mohammed Faris (CEO of the Productive Muslim Company) which was gifted to me by a good friend and it’s a book I’d recommend for every Muslim to have. The concept of sleep cycles was mentioned there and in summary it mentioned how 90 minutes of sleep is the average sleep cycle and if you wake up in between one then it’s likely you will wake up still feeling tired. I could relate to that as even after sleeping for hours I still felt tired!
Sleep cycle calculation
I put this concept into practice around winter time, (forcing myself to wake up early helped reset my sleep pattern). I’d go to sleep at around 11:00-11:30pm and aim to wake up 5 sleep cycles later (90 minutes x 5 cycles = 7.5 hours) which would be 6:30 – 7:00am. In some periods I would do just the 4 sleep cycles so 12:00am to 6:00am and… It actually worked!
I was waking up in winter feeling energised for a change, I’d either get to work around 8:00am then finish early and have time for gym or in other times go to gym early in the morning then get to office for 10:00am. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t perfect. There was a lot of trial and error involved and some days I completely missed the mark. Weekends I’d at least use one day or both to lie in and recoup some extra sleep if it was needed too.
I thought I had it all figured out but…
So I had it figured out, the early bird in me was rising up and I was comfortably able to embed gym in my routine, get things done on time and read/listen to a book on my commute so the days certainly felt productive.
There is however one caveat here. This was all during winter time where the days were short and fajr was late so I only ever needed to sleep once and that was it. Whereas in the summer where fajr is much earlier, I’d be able to wake up but then as it was so early I’d go back to sleep and next thing I know I couldn’t wake up before 8:00am in the summer and had the same issue again! In short I become a seasonal early bird. I’d be productive in the winter but was hopeless in the summer.
Fast forward to recent times where COVID-19 has struck and forced many of us (who have the privilege) into a remote working arrangement, basically working from home. Ramadan for many of us was much easier because we could get in the extra hours of sleep, wake up, go straight to our laptops and log into work without the worry and draining of commuting to work. However even before and after Ramadan I was waking up just before 9, going straight down to my laptop and starting work. It didn’t feel great for the mind just waking up and a few minutes later processing emails and work.
The power of naps
Around this time I had my podcast recording with Mohammed Faris who I mentioned earlier (Author of the Productive Muslim book) and I got to ask him the question I always wanted to ask. How do you build in a productive routine when I struggle with my sleep in the summer? I kind of figured out the answer whilst asking the question which was basically what I was doing in the winter, stay awake after fajr (why didn’t I think of this before!?). The trick here that I missed however was the power of naps.
Again COVID-19 putting me in a situation where I have to work from home. I thought there’s actually no obstacle to stop me from trying this. He recommended napping in the afternoon to re-energise. I thought ok seeing as I’m no longer in office I can nap at home. So I did. I woke up at around 4:15am and I stayed awake. Then in the afternoon I aimed to take a 20 minute nap and I did and I felt very refreshed. Again it worked! But not for long… As I wasn’t consistently putting in my afternoon naps but I readjusted the nap time to around something I think may fit in more easily with our lifestyles but you can experiment and see what works for you.
The napping life hack – we’re all sleeping on it!
I started to find that around 7:00am I was feeling sleepy so this is where I inserted the nap hack I spoke about earlier where I either do the 20 minute nap or 45 minute one on the sofa and wake up feeling energised again and ready to take on the day. I’d set the timer to 20 minutes plus the amount of time I think it’ll take me to sleep (you will need to experiment with that). This was the life hack for me that I’ve been sleeping on for a long time. Rather than sleeping in bed after fajr and struggling to wake up early I did this instead and felt more energised. The 20 or 45 minute nap in this case equals the 3-4 hours post fajr sleep slump.
What do you do up so early? Enter #BarakahTime
You may be wondering what on earth does one do at that time after they pray? Just like in winter and now in summer I always felt a sense of barakah at that time after fajr. Everything is quiet, the sun is rising, there’s nobody texting/calling/emailing or bothering you. This is the time to reflect and start the day thinking about what really matters, your purpose. Start each day with a spiritual boost, can you imagine that in place of starting the day and first thing reading emails/looking at your phones and literally putting your brain into a reactive state rather than a proactive one?
Here are some things you can do
- pray fajr!
- read a few pages of Qur’an and go over some Surahs (it’s amazing how much easier it is to memorise in the morning at that time)
- reflection time
- take your time making a good breakfast
- read a book
- listen to an audio book or podcast
- work (I find the best ideas and answers come to me at this time)
- keep the phone away and/or in airplane mode plane to avoid notifications!
Trial and error and being fluid with the sleep routine
I have to mention there’s been days where’s it’s messed up a bit. There’s lots of trial and error to go through to figure out what works, so don’t always expect a perfect result as it’s not always the case that things go to plan and that’s fine. The routine can be fluid and you can set it to what suits you and adjust it whenever you need to. I would recommend trialling this for up to two weeks to build in the capability, once you have that capability you have the freedom to choose how you want to schedule your day. I use the weekends sometimes to catch up on sleep so I’m refreshed for the weekdays. It can take a few attempts but it is certainly worthwhile when you manage to get it right.
How does this tie in with routine, consistency and achieving success?
Starting your day with your mind in a spiritual place sets the tone for the rest of the day. It also enables you to start the day in a peaceful state and start thinking proactively and freely rather than being in a reactive state, this is super important in taking back control and living the better life you want to live. The time you find in the morning and the blessing in it really does drive up productivity. It gives you the opportunity to embed in good habits and activities that can help you to work towards your goals and achieve success. You can get a lot done during that time and have the rest of the day back to yourself.
They say these rich successful people wake up early in the morning and that is one of their ingredients to success. Maybe there is something behind that, Islam teaches us that there is barakah in the early hours of the day so why do we sleep on it and miss out? There’s a blessed opportunity right there and I say lets take it and make it a part of our daily routine.
Further resources to check out
I’d recommend checking out and subscribing to Mohammed Faris’s Productive Muslim Company as there are many gems there to learn from. The Productive Muslim book is a great guide and there is also this thought-provoking webinar on the prophetic life balance which speaks about the myth of work life balance and the amazing concept of Barakah culture.