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Sunrise, Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra & Owens Valley Workshop

For those not naturally inclined to wake up before daybreak, getting up early can destroy any hope you have for a normal day.

Maybe you have a 6:00 A.M. flight to Myrtle Beach to make an afternoon tee time. Maybe you’re trying to lock down that last square meter of prime viewing real estate along the parade route in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Whatever the reason, there are some days when we have to be up and moving way before dawn. For many people, these are lost days. Folks simply drag themselves through the day until it’s time to sleep again, and they hope they don’t forget their name in the meantime.

There are a million articles out there that purport to explain the secrets behind resetting your body’s circadian rhythm with a minimum of drama. We’re going to focus on a couple of simple yet effective techniques that have worked for us in the past and which have relevance to participants on many of our workshops.

We try to maximize our time on location, working with our participants on how to see the scene, read it, and make the most of the available light. So as soon as the sky softens and the blackness starts emulsify with the rosy hues of dawn, it’s Go Time. Here are a few ways to get a jump on that early start and not feel like you’re playing catch-up all day:

The prime amount of time for fasting is the 12 -16 hour period before you want to be awake. When you wake up, eat a solid, high-protein morning meal to “break” your “fast”. (Get it?) For example, if you want to get up at 4:00 A.M., you should start fasting between 12:00 P.M. or 4:00 P.M. the previous day. Your body clock will reset with 4:00 A.M. as the natural start of your new day. (Harvard University neuroscientist Cliff Saper explains his research on this topic in
this video.)


• Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson (also for Android) – relaxing guided meditation.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock – monitors movement during sleep using the accelerometer in your iPhone, then determines the optimal time (your lightest sleep) to wake you within a 30-minute window that you define.

Puresleep (also for Android) – a combination of ambient electronica and a variety of effective binaural and isochronic programs that tune your brain to sleep deeply.

Lift – commit to new behaviors long-term by setting a goal and a deadline, checking in to record little milestones along the way. Raise the stakes on yourself, too, with ingenious incentives and powerful emotional disincentives you’ll do just about anything to avoid.

In studies, consuming more than two glasses of wine within four hours of sleep onset decreased deep wave sleep by up to 50 percent.

The formula here is not complicated: get 2-3 bags of ice from the freezer section of your favorite store and put them into a half-full bath until the ice is about 80 percent melted. This is a favorite of lifestyle-hacker extraordinaire Tim Ferriss who warns that an ice bath is not for wimps but promises bulletproof results. You’ll sleep the sleep of angels… like you’ve been taken down with a rhino tranquilizer.

Take 1.5 – 3 mg of melatonin thirty minutes before you intend to hit the pillow, and you’ll gently be ushered into Dreamland and wake with no ill effects. A diphenhydramine-based tablet such as Tylenol PM or Unisom can be effective at getting you to sleep, but you might wake up groggy.

The optimal room temperature for sleeping is 67 to 70 degrees. If you can’t control the ambient temperature in your room, wear socks. The cooler the conditions, the thicker the socks. It works!

So it’s 4am, and thirty minutes from now you’ll be meeting your instructor for the ride up to Mono Lake for sunrise. This excursion on our Eastern Sierra and Owens Valley workshop is a perennial highlight, and you’ll want to be rested. Tomorrow there will again be a pre-dawn meet time for an excursion deep in the Alabama Hills beneath Mt. Whitney and the jagged Sierra crest. How do you stay sharp? Hack your sleep.

(Of course, you could come along on our Cinematography/DSLR Video workshop. You get the stunning surroundings of coastal Santa Barbara and a start time never earlier than 9am. No sleep hacks required!)

What methods do you rely on to dominate your sack time? How do you overcome short rest and super-charge your sleep?