Is getting up early overrated? – Analyzing 8 oft quoted benefits

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. -Benjamin Franklin

Wikipedia says this quote is considered a commonsensical proverb. Most of us have heard since childhood, how good it is to get up early. Who can forget those dreary mornings, when our parents would pull our crying, sullen selves out of the bed and march us off to school. I often believed that my parents really hated me. I longed for the day when my studies would be over and I would be the master of my own sleep. But, alas, I got into a job that required me to wake up early too.

It is only now, for the last one year, since I have been writing from home, that I can sleep as much as I want. But now I am in the habit of waking up early and, most of the days, can’t stay in bed for long. So much for all the grumbling and wishful thinking!

Getting up early is something most of us have accepted to be good, without questioning. So many struggle with it day in and day out, living in a feeling of constant guilt. But is it really as good as we believe? Can something be right just because it is so popular?

Everything popular is wrong. -Oscar Wilde

Hmmm. Now there’s a strong statement! I won’t say everything popular is wrong, but I do believe a lot of what is popular, is wrong. I believe in the idea of self inquiry, and I believe in the idea of questioning rules. In that same spirit, I decided to analyse some oft quoted benefits of this, so-called good habit.

1. Extra quiet time. True to some extent.

No loud cars, no television, no people yelling. You are all by yourself. You can connect with yourself and with nature, enjoy the beauty of the morning hour, or get something accomplished quickly, without distractions.

But this is not the only quiet time you can get in a day. You can also get quiet time late into the night, when everyone falls asleep. As a young teen, I had difficulty sleeping early. So I used to study late into the night and did quite well at my studies. The advantage that mornings seem to have here, is that you are properly rested and rejuvenated. I think you can be prepared, rested and rejuvenated for your work in the night too. If you plan properly, and are consistent, there is no reason why you cannot do as well in the night.

2. Some extra time to work before the day even begins officially. False.

It’s an illusion. You get 24 hours in a day, period. If you are used to getting up at 8 and suddenly start getting up at 6, you might feel, for some days, that you are getting 2 extra hours in the morning. But once you get used to this routine, you will start going to sleep early as well. The time gained in the morning just becomes time lost in the evening.

I think the people who believe this, have time management and task management issues, they probably have too much on their plate. Why else would they think of doing office work before work time begins officially? I like to keep my personal and work time separate. Those who don’t respect their own time, can’t be doing very good work in office either. If it is your own time management that is at fault here, work on it. If it is because of the work environment you are in, start working towards a better environment.

3. You can begin early, finish early and have lots of time afterwards. False.

Having lots of free time has nothing to do with getting up early. It’s all about time management again. If you don’t have that right, you will start early but still finish at the same time as before, only now you will feel more wretched.

If getting up late is your style, create a work schedule around that idea. There is no reason why you cannot have the same amount of free time. If you sleep at 1:00 in the night and get up at 9:00 in the morning, let your own personal day begin at 9:00. Finish your work early(by your own daytime) and then enjoy the rest of the day(your own day till 1:00 am). The key here, I think, is to decide on a particular time when your day begins and ends, not to necessarily begin it at 5:00. There is a problem only if you don’t have any fixed schedule for your sleep at all.

Also, if you are working with a sole focus on finishing early, so that you can be free to do what you enjoy, you probably don’t enjoy your work at all. I’ll suggest you seriously consider a career change. Try to get into doing something you enjoy. It may be difficult, it may take time, it may be scary, but it is not impossible. This adventure is what makes life worth living. As I have said before, safe and secure is boring.

4. Have time for breakfast. True to some extent.

This is not so much about getting up early, until you get up so late, you don’t have time enough to get ready. In such a case, you have few choices – adjust your sleep cycle to the job, change jobs and find an employer who can adjust to your sleep habits, or, work independently, on your own – create your own business or start free lancing.

5. Morning exercise is never cancelled, evenings can get cancelled due to work. False.

If you think this can be a valid reason, let me make a few guesses about your work environment – The work is erratic. Everyone and everything is in a state of constant urgency and emergency. The amount of work that needs to be done in a day is never fixed, there is lack of clarity about what needs to be done and how much time is required, bosses are demanding, colleagues are distrustful.

If you like such a working environment good for you, but if you don’t, don’t sit there blaming your boss or project or company for your woes. Why do you allow them to do this to you? Who is holding a gun to your head? Most important of all, don’t accept this as the way things should be and start looking for alternatives to ease your pain, like shifting exercise to mornings. Seek out and understand the real problem(in this case, lack of a respectful, friendly and easy work atmosphere) and fix that. Don’t fool yourself with easy explanations and alternatives.

6. Most productive time of the day. False.

It is true that in the morning, your mind and body are properly rested and can do better than later in the day. But this will hold true even if you get up late. It depends whenever your personal daytime starts.

Do your most important task soon after you get up, whenever that may be. You will have the satisfaction of giving it your best.

7. Commute early, when the traffic is lighter. Save time Ummm.. True, sort of.

If you leave early, you will save commute time and hassle. But will you be allowed to leave early as well? If not, time saved earlier in the day may become time lost later in the office, when you will be just sitting there, having finished your day’s work.

It is always better to get in control of when you have to work and when you can leave it. This may happen as you gain experience and have more leeway with the bosses. There are some other, relatively radical solutions, that can give faster results, like looking for a job where you can do work remotely, taking up freelancing, or  to go the entreprenuer’s way and create your own work.

8. It is healthy. Not sure.

I am no Doctor and have not done any serious studies into the matter. From my limited internet research, I found two schools of thought, one that believes our bodies are naturally hardwired to rest and recuperate during night time. According to them, our hormone level adjusts to the level of light around us. Waking up by fooling our body with artificial light, creates hormonal imbalances. It causes stress and lowers our ability to feel rested, have repair of bodily tissue, deal with stress etc. According to them, one must sleep in the dark for proper rest.

The other school of thought maintains that humans have different ‘Chronotypes'(no, it doesn’t mean whehter you like chronograph watches or not!)

According to Wikipedia,

Chronotype is an attribute of animals, including human beings, reflecting at what time of the day their physical functions are active, change or reach a certain level. This phenomenon is commonly reduced to sleeping habits only, referring to people as “larks” and “owls” which refer to, respectively, morning people (those who wake up early and are most alert in the first part of the day) and evening people (those who are most alert in the late evening hours and prefer to go to bed late).

Most people are neither evening nor morning types but lie somewhere in between. Estimates vary, but up to half are either morning or evening people.

I am leaving this one upto you. Do some self inquiry of your own and decide for yourself. Here are some places you can start with

http://www.clay-collins.com/blog/healthy-wealthy-and-dead-5-reasons-why-getting-up-early-might-be-harmful/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronotype

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm

http://wellnesstips.ca/sleep%20and%20cortisol.htm

*****

As far as I am concerned, morning is when you wake up, and that’s that.

I see no reason why one should live with a feeling of guilt over his/her natural way of being. You don’t need to follow the herd blindly. If you can do the things you want to do, stay as happy as you want, and be content with a life where you wake up late, by all means, let it be so. Accept your natural self. If you believe God created you and that God has no imperfections, then how can you, his creation, be imperfect? You are just as he wanted you to be. Love yourself and focus on realizing your potential. You are a unique being with unique qualities and a unique task to do on this Earth. Stop copying others, do your part your own way.

I was not delivered unto this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins. I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd. I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep. I will hear not those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious. Let them join the sheep. The slaughterhouse of failure is not my destiny. -Og Mandino

Image credits: Stuart Miles

4 Comments

  • Kyle
    October 18, 2011 - 6:00 pm | Permalink

    This is an interesting topic. We’ve been told since childhood, that sleeping early at night and getting up early in the morning is a good habit. To some extent, this is true. If you get up early you get to breathe the fresh air which is becoming much precious nowadays in the city we live.

    There’s a Chinese saying: An hour in the early morning is worth 2 in the evening. Chinese people believe morning is the most productive period in a day thus we should make good use of it.

    I used to stay up late at night and had an issue in getting up for commute. Now I’ve been trying to get up at 6 every morning and the outcome seems pretty positive. :)

    • Rahul
      October 18, 2011 - 10:54 pm | Permalink

      I agree Kyle, mornings are times when you can get relatively fresh air. That is definitely a plus with them. Here in Bangalore, where I live, we have the same problems with pollution other big cities around the world have. It is always a pleasure exercising and commuting in the morning.
      About people saying it is good, I’ll still say don’t make it a reason to believe in something. Remember that a few hundred years ago, most people believed(at least in Western countries) that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. When Galileo talked about his helio centric(sun-centric) model of Universe, he was put under house arrest. But now we all read that his model is closer to the way things actually are.
      Glad to hear you are getting more in control of your work life. Keep going.
      Best wishes. :)

  • October 26, 2011 - 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rahul,

    I completely agree with your view. I am working out of my home office so I can set my own schedule. I find myself much more productive and creative in the late evening hours. The morning hours are usually busy with mundane activities and a lot of distractions. The time I become really effective is after everyone else goes to sleep and I am then all by myself. This is the best time I can focus and really make some work done. I really like what I do so I often find myself going to sleep at 2 AM (or even later), so obviously I don’t get up really early in the morning. But even when I do get up early I find my mornings to be slow and not as productive.

    • Rahul
      October 27, 2011 - 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Hi Yuval,
      Thanks for adding to this post. You experiences are interesting and will provide food for thought, for a lot of readers. Keep visiting. :)

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