Why I Wake Up Early (And 9 Reasons You Should Do So Too)

This is part of the Early Riser Series.


My life as a late riser

In the past, I was consistently a late riser. In 17 Tips to Be On Time, I mentioned one of the reasons that led me to be late last time was oversleeping. The only times I ever woke up early were when I absolutely have to: for school, appointments, work. Even then, I’d wake at the very last minute, scamper around the whole house to get ready, rush out in disarray, have to resort to taking a cab to cut down commuting time and barely make it in time. Mostly I would be 5~10 minutes late, to over 30 minutes or even an hour. On a work day, my sleeping hours would be about 2~9am (my previous workplace had flexible working hours). During the weekend, the waking hours would hover between 12pm to 2pm.

I never once thought of cultivating waking up early as a habit. Why should I wake up early for? I never understood why people would even want to do that. If there was anyone who voluntarily woke up early, I would look at them with a look of bewilderment. I saw waking up early as some act of deprivation. If we could sleep in late, shouldn’t we just let our body rest rather than obligate ourselves to wake up at a certain fixed timing? At worst, it seemed like a borderline masochistic act.

How I got interested in waking up early

Until I started coming across testimonials in favor of waking up early. Overwhelming testimonials, in fact, from all different places. I read self-help sites purporting the habit of waking up early. Then there were self-help books where the authors would proclaim waking up early is the best habit one can ever develop (alongside with meditation). Then I came cross interviews with very successful people who would mention they wake up early (5am types) and how it helped them become a lot more effective.

The first time I read that, I thought it was just specific to the person. The second time, it got my curiosity up, but I ignored it anyway. Third, forth, fifth, sixth time…….. It was clear there was a trend. There was some connection between waking up early and one’s own success. Personally, I’m passionate about achieving excellence in my life. If this was something that would enable me in my journey of betterment/improvement, I had to absolutely try it out.

I could have just brushed it off and say “Nah, waking up early doesn’t work for me. I’m not a morning type of person – I work better at night.” Or I could have said “It’s just all in the mind”. But until I really test this out for an extended period (e.g. on a 21-day trial) and give this its best shot, I couldn’t conclude anything for sure. I had to try it to know. Just because I hadn’t been able to voluntarily wake up early in the past or just because my previous attempts to wake up early failed miserably didn’t mean anything. Those attempts were always either non-voluntary in nature or done without a serious intent anyway, which largely explained their failure.

Trial to wake up early

So earlier in 2009, I did a trial to wake up early at 5am (Read 21 Day Trial Program on how to cultivate life transforming habits in 21 days). I figured if it worked, I’d have cultivated an incredible habit which would aid me tremendously. If it didn’t, I could just easily discard it and revert to waking late.

The trial wasn’t easy. I realized waking up early is so difficult for many because it’s a holistic lifestyle change, beyond just changing your waking time. Many times, my attempts would be thwarted because I slept in late the day before, which happened because I was either doing my work, came home late, was on the phone with a friend, was exercising at night, etc. It was like trying to go up against a rushing current – I kept getting pushed back down every time.

But I never stopped trying. Whenever my plans to wake up early got shredded, it meant I needed to improvise them. I could have easily given up and reverted to my normal sleeping routine, but then I would never have known how things would be different taking early. I had to give this habit a fair chance. So each time, I would look into what led me to wake up late. Then I would make changes to my lifestyle accordingly. Gradually, waking early became easier and easier. It became a natural act.

My Conclusion

So after sufficient experience of how it’s like to wake up early, I’m ready to make a conclusion on this trial.

I found waking up early is a far more superior habit than waking up late for me.

Here are 9 reasons why I say this:

1. Get a head start

If you wake up at 5am, you are starting your day earlier than 99.9% of the world. This is largely a psychological feel-good factor, but it ripples from there to create a whole host of benefits (especially #2, #3). A good start is half the battle won. It will motivate you to run ahead on your tasks so you can maintain or even widen the lead.

For example, my natural modus operandi when I wake up early is “Let’s get working now!” Compared to when I wake up late, the dominant voice in my head says: “There’s plenty of time later to do this, so let’s leave this first.” This is especially apparent when it comes to the high impact tasks in my 20/80 to-do list (Read Day 8 of Live a Better Life in 30 Days Program on 20/80 To-Do Lists). While I have no problem moving straight into work whether I wake up early or late, in the latter scenario I’m doing things slower, doing easier things first and leaving the hard yet important tasks to the end of the day. This subsequently causes me to stay up late, which eats into my sleeping time and affects next day’s schedule. Then the cycle would continue the next day. This goes on to create a negative habit pattern in the long-run where I would always be rushing through tasks at night, extending beyond my bedtime, and wake up feeling tired even though I had slept more than a fair share of hours.

Honestly, in the past I never thought any tangible difference could arise from waking early and waking late. As long as you get the things done in the day, that should be all that matters, shouldn’t it? However, having tried both waking early and not, I realized the mindset difference that arises from the habit change plays a huge role in the actions you adopt. When you wake up early, you are ahead of the world and preparing for the day ahead as it unfolds. This creates an attitude of anticipation/forward thinking/proactiveness/foresightedness. When you wake up late and sleep late, more often than not, you are trying to finish your tasks for the day and getting on track in your deadlines. This leads to inclinations toward procrastination (because “I can always do this later at night”)/living in the past/reactiveness/myopia. This fundamental mindset difference makes the world of the difference in the long-run.

Of course, it’s about relativity. It doesn’t mean that everyone who wakes up late is reactive toward life. What this means is the same person will likely be more proactive and forward thinking when he/she starts waking up early, compared to if he/she wakes up late. Largely psychological but true nonetheless.

2. Increased productivity

My productivity soars on days where I wake up early. It’s a benefit that comes from getting a head start (see Reason #1). The head start creates a motivation to continue your lead ahead, resulting in (a) more things getting completed (b) things getting completed faster. This applies even if I’m awake for the same number of hours during days I wake up early and days I don’t. If I were to wake up late, I typically spend more time getting the same stuff done. This becomes a lot more apparent when you have your to-do lists laid out for the day. It’s something you have to try to experience for yourself to know what I’m talking about.

In addition, the morning creates the perfect environment to work due to the peace and quiet (see reason #5).

3. Timeliness

Ever woken up late before and have to make a mad rush out of the house for your appointments? Being on time is important to create a good impression and as a form of respect to the other party. In cases like work, being timely is essential. Rather than rush around every morning which can be a tiring activity, waking up early gives you more time to prepare and lets you be timely.

Putting a cap on your sleeping and waking time also gives structure to your days and makes you more sensitive of the how you spend your time. This goes a long way in improving your timeliness.

4. Self mastery

Waking up early is about self-mastery. As I mentioned above, there were many reasons which would thwart my waking early plans in the past. Reasons such as working late, being out late, delaying my exercise routine till late at night, being on the phone… these reasons were a function of the lack of mastery I was having over myself. If I wanted to wake up early, I had to learn to take a hold over those activities, which would mean being more organized and disciplined.

Let’s take working late as an example. If you often work late, have you ever wondered why that keeps happening? On first sight you might think it’s because you had too much work in the day or there were a lot of firefighting activities which prevented you from getting your work done. If you look into it, it’s because you are unable to manage your activities. Rather than being a master of your activities, you are letting your activities run over you. Looking into it one level deeper, the reason why you let your activities run over you is because you lack self-mastery. Being disciplined, organized, on top of your tasks, having clear stewardship – these are all elements of strong self-mastery.

5. Peace and quiet

The morning tranquility is indescribable. This tranquility comes about on two levels. First, there’s the physical quietness. You are alone with no disturbances. No one’s out on the streets, no traffic on the roads and the birds have not even broken into song yet! No smses or phone calls either to take away your attention.

Then there’s quietness on the mental level. Ever walked into an exam hall or an interview waiting room, where you can immediately feel the tension? Even though no one is speaking, you can feel the tension from the energy vibes around you. The same principle applies here. In the early hours of the morning when everyone is still at rest, you are free from the chatter in their minds. Not only that, because sleeping processes mental clutter, the chatter in your own mind is also lesser when you wake up. While physical peace is something you get by sleeping late, the mental peace only comes from waking up early.

The tranquility on both levels gives you the free space to get a fast start on whatever you want to do.

6. Faster commute

If you have to travel to work/school, you can now travel during non-peak hours and skip the traffic jams. This cuts down on the time spent in commuting.

7. Breakfast

It’s common for people to skip breakfast because they woke up late and didn’t have time. However as they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Having spent some 5-8 hours without eating, it’s important to have your breakfast. One of my friends used this interesting analogy to describe the importance of breakfast – “Eating breakfast is like starting your engine. If you don’t have breakfast, your engine has not started.”. When I wake up early, I get time to prepare my breakfast (fruit salads, fruit and veggie smoothies, bread with peanut butter and the like) and enjoy it too.

8. Exercise

Do you defer your exercise to the end of the day? Does your exercise plan get carried through or does it get rescheduled at times due to last minute changes? Waking up early gives you time to exercise in the morning, giving lesser chance for it to be shifted out. There’s nothing like a great workout to boost your day, too.

9. Seeing the world wake up

I totally enjoy my morning jogs where I literally see the whole city wake up before me. I start off with at 6ish in the morning, where the sky is dark, there’s minimal people on the streets and few cars on the road. As I jog through the morning (I usually jog anywhere between 6 to 11km which lasts about 1-2 hours), I witness the whole place coming alive. The human traffic increases and the traffic becomes heavier, steadily. The sky starts to lit up in different shades – first dark blue, then in gradients of purple, red, orange, yellow, and finally sunshine starts enveloping the whole place. It’s a very beautiful experience. It’s an amazing experience being an observer to the whole scene.

Start Waking Early

If you are not yet an early riser (5~6am), try it for yourself (give it a fair trial of at least 21 days) and see how it works out. Check out 21 tips to wake up early and the 21-day trial program to help you out on how to do that. Make sure you tie waking up early with a clear objective (tip #1 of the 21 tips) as that will be the centerpiece of your plan.

This is part of the Early Riser Series.

Image: Diganta Talukdar

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  • http://mauriciorivera.cl MRivera

    This post motivated me to be an early riser… starting from TODAY!.

  • http://www.weigela.wordpress.com Weigela

    This post motivated me also to wake up earlier. I started on Wednesday. But the most critical moments are in week-end. Saturday was fine, but Sunday morning was difficult to respect the hour to wake up……

  • http://www.apexgiftboxes.co.nz Diane

    I love the early morning, especially as we are coming into spring and summer. The roads are quiet, and life is so peaceful. Your view on this reminded me why I love it and how much better I feel rather than sitting at my computer till 2-3am in the morning, then waking up half dead for the rest of that day. When it is most quiet, I can be really creative for my gift box business and think up some fantastic ideas but during the daytime with interruptions this planning becomes much more frustrating. This habit is well worthwhile cultivating. Thanks Celes.

  • Pingback: Why You Should Wake Up Early | LOHAD - random rumblings on marketing and more

  • Mike

    Good post – for the argument. It’s obviously right for YOU and probably many others, but it’s not a “should.” I could very easily write a post why the still of night is the time to be creative and let the busy world go by early in the morning with their “morning routines” while I – sleep! Every single person is different. The “early risers” have tried to make this into a “It works for me, so it must work for everyone,” kind of thing and that’s just not true.

    I like your blog, though. I just disgree about how this is a “Why you SHOULD.”

  • Jeff

    I want this.. all of it.

    It’s like +10% extra life per day, most of it is psychological but still.

    The thing that annoys me when I start 1 or 2 hours earlier then most of the others is the 30 minute rush around the maximum start time, when all of a sudden the whole office just fills up with people and evolves from a serene work environment to something hyperactive.

    I will try it more. If not now then in the summer (there we go..) and I have to admit my father was right all along.. again.

  • http://teambee.tk rairaiken

    I used to be an early riser when I was still studying since my class starts at 7am but now that I’m working, my shift won’t allow me since I worked in a call center but since it was made flexible now, and thanks to the festive season of attending the 9 mornings which usually starts at 4:30am, I had a chance to be back to be an early riser again… c”,)

  • http://www.cashcampfire.com Christina Crowe

    Wow – what a wonderful series, Celes.

    I couldn’t agree more. Waking up early has since changed my life drastically. I’m now more energized in the morning, I can do more throughout the day, and I’m not constantly rushing to get things done. Also, I absolutely love watching the sun set – truly amazing.

    Thanks for the great read!