We were often told that waking up early will make us successful and productive people. It has always been a challenge for many, but during COVID-19, the time of home offices and online lectures, it has become even more challenging. But do you really need to wake up at 6am to be healthy and productive?
Early birds vs. night owls
You’ve probably seen or heard of magical self-help books about the importance of waking up early. Famous CEOs and celebrities compete for who gets up the earliest. Even now, considering what the whole world is going through, early birds still manage to have their third green smoothie by the time night owls wake up.
Apart from anything else, COVID-19 has ruined our schedules. Despite what it might seem, it is not that easy to reach out for your laptop from the bed and join your 9am online lecture. We lack daylight, fresh air and movement, and it makes us tired and bored. No wonder we stay up all night, watching Netflix or playing video games. I know you do. But in the morning, you go on Instagram and see your friends running 10km and preparing breakfast, and you ask yourself: “Why can’t I be like them?”
For centuries, morning people were perceived as more hardworking. Not a morning person? Probably you’re just lazy. Those who worked on farms or in factories didn’t have any choice: they got up early and went to work. Even nowadays, most of the world is designed by and for early birds. Surely it’s them who invented the nine-to-five working day. But does being a night owl deserve to be socially criticised?
It is especially difficult for people with delayed sleep phase syndrome, which means that their circadian rhythm is totally different from what most people have. But this is the extreme case. What about others, who wake up at 10am? Do they have to fear bad consequences for their health and productivity? And for those who get up at 7am, are they less productive than celebrities with a 4am wakeup routine?
Is waking up late unhealthy?
There is no evidence that waking up early can improve your health. On the other hand, if you plan to become an early bird while going to bed at 1am, it can damage your health. According to the research done by Harvard Medical School, sleeping for six hours or fewer may lead to dehydration. Too little sleep, as well as too much sleep, may increase the risks of heart disease and dementia. Reducing sleep easily ends with poor concentration, moodiness and even weight gain. Just imagine yourself waking up at 6am after four hours of sleep; not a very positive start of the day!
If you decide to get up early during the weekdays and wait until the weekend to compensate for the lack of sleep, there is bad news for you. Five-day sleep deprivation deteriorates your metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday will not change these markers. However, they may become even worse when you get back to a shorter sleep.
The key to healthy sleep is consistency. Irregular sleep schedules can significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, so you need to be consistent with how much you sleep and when you go to sleep and wake up.
Are morning people really productive?
Though waking up early does not necessarily make you healthier, it can make you more productive. Morning people, in fact, think more about the future and develop strategies. On the other hand, evening people tend to be more impulsive and often want instant gratification, which means they want their reward right now.
According to Christoph Randler’s survey, morning people are more proactive and build more successful business careers simply because they are better aligned with the typical corporate schedule. Randler also suggests that morning people get better grades in school, go to better colleges and become successful.
Of course, it doesn’t mean all morning people are proactive and evening people are not, but waking up earlier can help you fit into the corporate schedule. However, you don’t need to wake up at 3.45am like Tim Cook. Forcing yourself to get up so early is more likely to make you sleep-deprived and unhappy rather than motivated.
Experiment with your schedule
If you’re still inspired by Tim Cook’s example, just try it. We are all different, and who knows, maybe deep down you’re a true morning person. Perhaps 3.45am is way too early, but you can definitely try waking up at 7am for a few days to see how it goes.
And if you’re one of those who keep snoozing the alarm after it went off five times, think why. Maybe you’re not getting enough sleep. Maybe you hate your alarm sound. Or maybe you should ask your family member or roommate to wake you up. Or maybe you need to wake up your body by going out for fifteen minutes. You need to experiment and not be upset if an approach that went well for someone else didn’t help you.
I also experimented about six years ago. During my first year at university, I woke up around eight o’clock when I had classes and around twelve o’clock at the weekend. Later, when I started running every morning, my morning hour shifted to 6.30am. I struggled only at the beginning, but then I realized how natural it was for me to wake up early. Now I don’t even need to set the alarm clock to wake up at 7.30am.
Get back on track
It could also happen that you were thrown off your schedule, during the quarantine or long before, and now you want to get back to normal. In that case, try to return to your circadian rhythm by waking up at the same time every day and going to bed seven or eight hours before that time. It is important that you go to bed feeling sleepy, as trying to wind down in bed may lead to insomnia.
To avoid that, keep your lights low, don’t use your electronic devices an hour before going to bed and do something else, for example, read a book. Your schedule during the day is also important; try to perform your daily tasks around the same time to get your circadian rhythm back on track.
Waking up early does not really improve your health, but the consistency of your sleep does. As long as you’re getting enough sleep, choose the time that is most comfortable for you.
What about you? Are you an early bird or a night owl? Have you ever experimented with your schedule?