One key to true success is waking up early, or so it seems we are often being told. Waking up earlier makes you more productive. Famous CEOs and celebrities swear by it. You'll be healthier and happier (they say) and feel more in control of your life.
However, despite this barrage of such stories, waking up at an ungodly hour isn’t a magic productivity hack that will solve your time-management problems. In fact, for some people it can be very counterproductive.
The real 'trick' is finding a morning routine that fits both your personality and your situation. Here are some tips that can help you cut through the noise and figure out a wake-up strategy that’s right for you.
What Are the Benefits of Getting Up Earlier?
According to those who prefer to rise before the roosters do there are all kinds of benefits to doing so. Some people cite the fact that they are subject to fewer distractions during the early hours: kids or anyone else in your home are probably still asleep, for example, and you’ll probably be getting fewer texts or emails at that time.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he rises at 03:45 to start checking email in California before his East Coast colleagues can (which, at 06:45, is still early in its own right). Oprah Winfrey says she gets up at 06:02 (why that time she has not said) for reflection, meditation and exercise before starting work at 09:00. Actor Mark Wahlberg wakes up at 02:30 to exercise, play golf, pray and recover in a -100C cryochamber.
All these people – and many more – swear that getting up earlier is beneficial to them. But the early alarm clock may not work for everyone and it turns out there are plenty of caveats around trying to become an early morning person if it’s not an easy fit.
Is Getting Up Early the Right Thing For Everyone?
The answer, and it's backed by research, is no. And the answer to whether or not it is right for you may be predetermined by your genes. There has been a large body of research conducted that seems to demonstrate some folks are naturally more alert in the morning while others perform better later in the day.
One of the largest of these studies, published in the journal Nature Communications provided further evidence that this is the case. Taking data from over 700,000 people, researchers found over 350 genetic factors that could influence whether people feel more naturally energized either in the morning or in the evening.
So, if you don’t naturally feel alert in the morning but try to wake up early anyway, you might be sabotaging your actual peak performance times and decreasing, rather than increasing your productivity.
Can Getting Up Early Ever Be Counterproductive?
Yes. If you are not good at rising very early and are only doing so to try to hop onto some kind of productivity bandwagon. Getting a full night’s sleep and getting the same amount of sleep at the same time each night are both important. An even worse scenario? If you’re actually reducing sleep to become an early riser.
Sacrificing sleep means you will probably end up being impacted by the negative effects of sleep deprivation, including moodiness, poor concentration, potential weight gain, anxiety, increased risk of heart disease and higher blood pressure. None of which is good for you and will impact your life – including your work life – in a very negative way.
A recent New York Times piece coined the term '‘performative workaholism’, referring to workaholics flaunting early wake-ups and long hours as a badge of honor, which can end up setting a bad example. The real key is to discover what works best for you, and not to blindly follow the lead of a former talk show host, a Hollywood superstar who can afford his own ice chamber or even the CEO of one of the world's biggest companies.
How To Figure Out Your Optimum Sleep Times
Experts say the best way to determine the best wake up time for you is to experiment. Don’t listen to vocal thought-leaders or LinkedIn influencers – figure out what works best for you. And maybe that does mean waking up super early after all.
Pay attention to when you feel most tired and most awake. When on vacation, make a note of the times you fall asleep and wake up naturally. Try to sync your schedule to those times, as that’s how you’ll tap into most of your natural energy for the day ahead.