Is Waking Up Early Critical to Success?

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“The sun has not caught me in bed in fifty years.” – Thomas Jefferson

We’ve all heard the sayings, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” and “the early bird gets the worm”. If you’re like me, you’re inspired by CEOs, entrepreneurs, and success coaches who consistently seem to advocate waking up early. I’ve read about Apple’s CEO Tim Cook waking up at 3:45 AM every day to get a jump on things, while everyone else sleeps for 3-4 more hours. There is a list a mile long of these successful individuals who attribute at least some of their success to being an early riser.

I even wrote a blog post about why you should wake up early to control your first few hours of the day that you can check out in the following link, Your First 3 Hours: Why They’re Critical.

But is there research to back up the anecdotal information we have about waking up early in the morning? Could it be that there are other factors creating success in these individuals and that rising early is simply correlated to success and not the driving factor? In this blog post, I set out to figure this out once and for all. Is waking up early critical to success?

Having a Consistent Sleep Schedule

The first article that I read when I was searching for the answer is an article titled Waking up at 5 a.m. probably won’t make you more productive — here’s what will. Now I figured that this article would put to bed, ahem, pun intended, the rumor that waking up early creates success. The article states that whether or not you wake up early, it is more important to stay consistent in your sleep routine every single day than to worry about waking up at 5 AM. The article sites a study at Harvard that tracked the sleep patterns of 61 full-time students at Harvard and used their academic performance as an indicator. The obvious answer in this study is that the consistent individuals had better academic performance.

The article cites another study that Baylor University conducted that backs up the fact that those with inconsistent sleep patterns performed worse than those who had a consistent sleep routine.

While I believe the study is accurate in it’s outcome, I have a slight issue with the study. If you take a group of people who go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every single day, and a group of people who are inconsistent in when they go to bed and wake up, what is the first group possessing that the other is not, outside of just a consistent sleep schedule? Well, they’re likely to be more disciplined and have a more stable structure in their lives. When I was in college the students who had inconsistent sleep schedules also binge drank and binged on video games all night. This study proves correlation but not necessarily causation, since it did not force individuals who usually are inconsistent to sleep on a regular schedule and measure the delta in their academic performance.

Biologist Christoph Randler also states that duration of sleep is less important than being consistent in your sleep routine, so he seemingly backs up the research done in the two previous studies.

In spite of the small issues I had with the studies conducted, I’m filing “consistent sleep schedule” in the very critical to success folder, as I have seen the benefits in keeping a consistent sleep schedule in my own life and I know countless people who say they feel much better since keeping a consistent routine. I think the benefits of a consistent routine actually provides a biological boost rather than simply helping individuals stay organized.

While I found the studies in this article useful, the article also does not debunk the old sayings about early bird’s getting the worm as it claims in the title… so on to the next article.

Advantages to Waking Up Early

The first advantage of rising early in this article is that students receive better grades according to a Texas University study. Awesome, this is good news for early risers, right?

Now, I questioned this, since I wasn’t able to find the original study, however I did find more details about the study and I also found other researchers who did studies on this topic as well.

To summarize the Texas University Study, researcher Daniel J. Taylor (PhD) asked 824 students if they identified as morning people. These students who identified themselves as morning people averages a 3.5 GPA while the students who did not averaged a 2.5 GPA.

Biologist Christoph Randler did a similar study of 367 university students and came to a similar conclusion that early birds do get the worm when it comes to academics and business.

Taylor hypothesized that students who wake up early have a much easier time getting to class and preparing for classes, and Randler comes to a similar conclusion. The world is set up specifically for morning people to succeed since most corporations and schools demand that students get to work or class early in the day, so it only makes sense that those who wake up earlier will have had more time to prepare for their work.

Interestingly enough, Randler does not associate biological advantages to being a morning person, yet he recognizes the advantages that waking early has in both an academic and business setting mostly due to environmental factors. Randler also notes that evening people are more likely to be intelligent, creative, and outgoing. This makes sense, since someone who stays out later is likely prioritizing being social over their academic or business success.

So it seems waking up early is a bit of mixed bag in terms of whether or not it will make you successful. If you’re goal is to have success in business and academics, you certainly should consider becoming a morning person, but if you value creativity and being more social, perhaps you’re better off not making the switch.

Advantages that I have seen in my own life

If you’re like me, the only quiet time you will receive throughout the day may be early mornings. Me being an introvert, this is super important to me. If you’re ok without having much quiet time, like the more outgoing even types, than perhaps waking up early is not as important for you, and that’s a choice that you’ll have to make for yourself. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you need to know yourself and choose your schedule based on the type of person that you are.

Another reason why I personally get up early is so that I can work out and not miss even more time with my children. I suppose I could work out at night after my kids go to bed, but then I wouldn’t be working out until around 8:30 PM, and typically I have a hard time sleeping after pumping out an intense workout. I’m too energetic and warm to sleep directly after so working out in the morning is what works for me. Interestingly, while the studies show that people who are more social tend to be evening types, I chose to wake up early to be more social with my children.

The last advantage that I have seen from waking up early is that I am much more prepared. I touched on this earlier when I mentioned Taylor and Randler stating that morning people plan better, are more proactive, and efficiently handle issues throughout the day, but essentially I am backing up what they have already stated. My morning routine consists of writing goals and tasks that are important for the day and looking over my schedule so I can mentally prepare for the day. When I didn’t wake up early, I did not do any of these activities, so I’m a living testament to the fact that morning people are often more prepared for their days than those who are not morning people.

How to Change Your Sleep Habits

Ok, so if you’re more interested in academic success, business success, and overall preparedness than being social and creative, than I have a few tips for adapting your lifestyle to become a morning person. Not only have a looked up studies on how to do this, but I’ve done it in my own life in the last 2 years, so I’m speaking from experience.

  1. Create a regular routine – I already touched on why this is important, but this appears to be the number one factor for both types of individuals (morning and evening), meaning this has biological advantages linked to it, and not just cultural constructs like many of the other advantages. You’re going to feel better and be more productive if you can develop a consistent sleep routine.
  2. Get outside early in the morning – Taylor also recommends getting outside early in the morning. Christopher Randler seconds this, and states that if you are more likely to go outside in the morning, you are more likely to become a morning person. If you spend time outside at night, you are more likely to become a night person. So choosing when to spend your time outside is important in defining to your body what type of person you are. I personally have not used this technique much, but it seems to make sense and it’s one that I’m going to try to do more regularly. Getting outside also helps us feel better so it is another biological advantage and not just a cultural construct.
  3. Get older – Randler states that as people get older they are more likely to become morning people. Interestingly enough my switch came at around 30 years old, and that is the exact time frame that Randler states a time period that individuals start to change from evening types to morning types. I know you really can’t control your age, but if you tried to become a morning person before, and it didn’t work, perhaps it’s time for you to try again. Your body may be ready for the change now.
  4. Do it at daylight savings time – This is probably the best trick that I have. Of course when the clock shifts back again, you’ll have to go through a few rough days of adjusting by an hour, but it’ll be a pain-free way of becoming a morning person. You don’t have to do anything to take advantage of this, just simply set your alarm an hour earlier, and it will feel the same as what you’ve always been doing.
  5. Don’t hit snoozeThe 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins discusses this extensively, but essentially her books discusses why hitting the snooze may feel good in the moment, but ultimately makes you feel groggy and wastes time. Don’t hit snooze and hop out of bed. It’s difficult but necessary to becoming productive. Think of the hours you’ll save throughout the week, and all you’ll have to give up is the horrible sleep you get in the 30 minutes a day just laying in your bed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not you should be a morning person. Each type has unique advantages and the one you choose should correlate with the goals that you hopefully are writing everyday. I hope, at the very least, this post will cause you to be more intentional about your sleeping habits and routines and leads you to a more fulfilling life.

Thanks for reading and remember to be great today!

Robert Krickeberg

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