Wakey Wakey! The Business End of 4 AM

Sunrise, originally uploaded to Flickr by killthebird.There was an interesting article in Forbes the other week about how power women wake up early, and commenters seemed interested in talking about it more, so I thought we should explore in an open thread. How early do you get up? What do you do with the time? Any tips that make it easier to get up then? For those of you who don’t rise that early, do you have another special time of the day? (Sunrise, originally uploaded to Flickr by killthebird.)

For my $.02: I was always a night owl when I was younger. Term papers and graduation speeches alike got written in the hours between 12 and 3. I realized this was a problem sometime around high school when, reading a college admissions essay I had thought brilliant the night before, I realized a good two sentences were devoted to “finding a piece of licorice on the floor.” And not even in a metaphor way, just a “Kat had a dream while typing” way. Still, the habit perpetuated until after law school, I think. By then — working crazy long hours — I realized that my best time truly was first thing upon waking. So I started getting up earlier.

I also realized a funny thing: that the time was truly mine when I got up earlier. I wasn’t rushing out the door to get to work. I had time (and energy) for a workout. Then I truly got greedy and realized I could get the ME stuff done then — the stuff I’d always wanted to do but never had the chance to. I attempted to finish NaNoWriMo in the hours between 4:30-6:30 one November. I read books I had meant to read in college but never gotten around to — thinky books that won National Book Awards, and not just the latest brain candy. I started this blog. (In fact, most of the longer posts for the first six months of this blog were written primarily in those morning hours.) Occasionally, I would even use this “super Kat” time for good and do work work (usually when I was up against a deadline and needed super focus to get it done.) I love these hours — time to myself, and time to be proactive rather than react to the day.

All that said — I’ll admit it’s really hard to get up, especially when it’s dark outside. I’ve found that it’s helpful to set the coffee the night before, and also to put my workout clothes in the bathroom so it doesn’t take too much effort to change into them.  I also tell myself, “If something is important to you there will be time in your schedule for it somewhere, and now is that time.”

Readers, how about you? Do you rise and shine early — and do you use it for “me” time or productive work time?

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  1. When I was single, and living in the city (read: short walk to work), I loved getting up “early” — my favorite was signing up for a 6 a.m. bootcamp class 4 days/week that still had me home in time for a shower and leisurely breakfast before walking to the office.

    Now that I’m married, and living in the suburbs, that same “early” time is when I have to get up if I want to eat a quick breakfast at home instead of in the car, never mind working out. And it means I generally need to go to bed a bit earlier than my night-owl husband (who has a nice, short commute). I theoretically could go to bed earlier in order to get up earlier and squeeze in a workout or me time, but that would mean seeing even less of my husband, especially during busy seasons when he’s not getting home until after 9 p.m. most nights. Not gonna happen.

  2. Anonymous :

    Has anyone tried the Zeo sleep monitor? You wear it like a headband and it monitors your sleep cycle. It wakes you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. It may be that you can sleep for 4/5 hours and wake up rested if you wake up at the right moment in your cycle. Similarly, it may be you sleep 7/8 hours and wake up tired if you wake up at the wrong moment. I haven’t made the investment, but curious if anyone has else tried it.

    • There’s an iphone app called sleep cycle that does the same (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sleep-cycle-alarm-clock/id320606217?mt=8). Don’t know if there is an android version.

      It works Ok for me, but probably because I use it as a part of my “routine” 7/8 hour sleep. I’ve never tried it for a short (4/5 hour) sleep and would be wary of using it under such conditions b/c my iphone is not as loud as my alarm clock (and I would probably sleep right through).

    • My husband was just talking about an Android app (I think it’s free) that you can download. You have to sleep with your phone on your bed so it can evaluate body movement, but it generally tries to do the same thing. My husband said that the two times he’s tested it that it seems generally accurate.

      • Any chance you have the name of the app? I would love to try something like this!

        • It’s called “sleep as an droid”. It’s free for two weeks and then I think it’s somewhere around $1.75. But it’s great!

    • I have a Zeo, but find that sometimes its accuracy is a bit off in terms of identifying which part of my sleep cycle I’m in, so its identification of transition points can be a bit off, so I limit the function to “up to 15 minutes before set alarm time”.

      I’ve had terrible insomnia my entire life (at least since 1st grade, and my parents say longer), and I’ve found that the tracking tools have been really helpful in narrowing down what’s actually happening during my sleep, and what affects my sleep quality and restedness. Once I’m at a point where I can do something about my sleep I’ll be bringing some charts in to my doctor to discuss treatment options (I’m currently pregnant; no sense in bringing it up until the kid is sleeping through the night). I’ve been treated for insomnia before with limited success, but that was based on annual visits to a sleep clinic, so the data (while more elaborate) was pretty limited and couldn’t show any trends – I’m hoping that knowing the trends can help narrow down a more effective treatment method.

  3. I feel like such an odd-ball. I’m definitely not a night owl since I’m ready for bed by 10 every night. But I don’t think I’m a morning person either. I’m at my best between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. I don’t get up earlier than 7 , though I wish I could to carve out that extra me time. Still even on the days I do get up before mr gov anon, I find I don’t get much done. He’s so sensitive to noise that it bothers him if I walk from living room to kitchen to pour coffee. I can’t imagine trying to get housework done or typing done. And as he’s a true stay up until 4 a.m. and sleep until noon night owl, I usually feel that the best part of the day/weekend has slipped away before I can even think of starting on my projects.

    • If you are an oddball, gov anon, so am I! I always feel so left out when I read articles geared towards the night owls and the larks (I think that is what morning people are typically called), full of helpful tips about how each type can maximize productivity. What about someone who needs 8-9 hours of sleep each night, who has never and could never pull an all-nighter, and for whom waking up early (let’s say before 7:00) is virtually guaranteed to induce a migraine headache – even if she tries to go to bed early the night before to compensate?

  4. My commute to work is about an hour, and I have to be to the office by 7:30. It takes me about an hour to get ready, have breakfast, pack lunch, etc. so I have to get up at 5:30 in order to be on time. I’m not normally a morning person, but after being at my job for a little over a year I’ve started transitioning to a morning person. For me, I did a couple of things to get my ‘me’ time in.

    First, I turned my commute (both ways) into ‘me’ time. In the morning I listen to my favorite radio show and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. I live in a very rural area so I usually get to watch the sun rise over the mountains, depending on what time of year it is, which makes for a wonderful morning. For my afternoon commute, which is 4:30 to 5:30, I usually make my ‘family catch-up’ phone calls. (I know, I know!! I could be practicing safter driving – my husband tells me regularly!) I like to call my sister, parents, brother…whoever, and spend some time catching up.

    Second, I pack my gym bag in my car at all times and have a membership at a gym that’s on my way home. That way, I can stop without having to go out of my way, and my gym clothes are always with me. I can usually manage to get a 45 minute workout in and still make it home by about 6:30.

    The catch to all this is that I MUST have at least 8 – 8 1/2 hours of sleep to function, so I need to be in bed by 9:00. I just got really good at time management. I run ALL errands on weekends so I never have to do ‘just this one quick thing that turns into hours of things’ on my way home. I make a meal plan on Sundays so I know exactly what I’m doing when I get home and I’m not staring at my pantry for half an hour. I’m pretty type A, but my effeciency allows me to get everything done during the day and still have time with my husband or for myself.

  5. I get up at 4 a.m. The trick that works for me is to put an alarm clock in the living room (my blackberry in my purse performs this function nicely) and put my workout clothes in the bathroom.

  6. Getting up early is critical if I want to be sure to have time to work 0ut – can’t count on time or energy at the end of the day.

    Critical to getting up early – an alarm clock that lights up. You can buy ones with actual lights built into them, or get ones into which your bedside lamp plugs in. They slowly “dim up” the light over a set period of time; I set mine to 15 minutes. Couldn’t get up at 5:00 am in the dark, but can with this light/alarm.

    • This works for me, too. I’m a snooze-button addict, and especially at this time of year, I’ll be hitting it for like an hour or more.

      But what has worked for me is the lamp on my bedside table. It has a high-wattage bulb. I turn it on the first time I hit the snooze button. Then I only hit it once or twice more, which works, because I have set the alarm 2-snoozes before I have to get up anyway.

  7. Liz (Europe) :

    Night owl with a need for 9 hours each day here, getting up at 6 in the morning to avoid traffic jams. To be honest, not a lot of time is left for anything. Luckily, I’m not raising offspring. I tend to go sporting after work.

    I’ll recommend the phillips wake-up light and good BRIGHT halogen desklights.

    • Liz (Europe) :

      9 hours of sleep, that is.

      • L from Oz :

        Is the wake-up light that good? I splurged on the Phillips light box recently (the big one, not the Go-Lite), and have been wondering whether the wake-up light would be a good addition. It’s a rather expensive collection of lighting, though!

  8. I wake up at 5:30 and spend about an hour getting ready and then get to work around 7am. I then leave early so that I can be home by the time my daughter gets off the school bus. My husband takes care of the mornings at home and works later. It is hard for me to get up early and I have been trying to get up at 5 and go for a short run…but that doesn’t always work out. I usually go to bed around 10 or 11. I like sleeping in but with three kids, including an infant those days are long gone, for now!

  9. I’ve used the “sunrise” alarm clock below since 1L year (just graduated this May) and am a huge fan.


    I always had a southeast facing room growing up and always just rose with the sun. My law school apartment faced east but straight into my neighbor’s window 10 feet away from mine and I never got any sunlight – I had a hard time waking up for 8am CrimLaw and bought this light. In the 4 years I’ve had it I’ve never had to change the lightbulb and their customer service is GREAT (moved and had no idea how to re-set the clock after plugging it in).

    You can set it to gradually get brighter culminating in your wakeup time – I usually wake up (naturally) a minute or two before the alarm is scheduled to go off and feel alert and awake rather than I’m fighting sleep. It’s a bit pricey but if you’re normally able to wake up with the sun but the winter is making it harder, I totally recommend it!

  10. I am completely and totally not a morning person. Even if I am up, no one dares speak to me. It takes me a good hour to become a normal person. Next to mornings, 3:30 in the afternoon is low energy crash time. I could fall asleep during an earthquake if I was sitting down. I have tried to be an early riser because I read about the benefits, but my mind is even less willing than my body which is saying something. Maybe I will put it in my new years resolution list again this year. Wish me luck!

  11. I get up between 4-5 most work days to run. Saturdays it may be 6. Its not easy, but I feel better after a good run.

    • Skirt Envy :

      Same here. Even though I don’t classify myself as a morning or night person (as long as I get 6.5ish hours sleep, I’m a generally amiable riser), runs certainly make everything better. My thoughts are more clear and I find myself solving work problems that were foggy the day before.

  12. Self-employed :

    I’ve always been more productive in the morning, and couldn’t study later than about 9:30 pm in law school or college.

    I usually fall asleep between 10:15-10:45 (I almost always turn on Daily Show before the interview, and am asleep before Colbert is over).

    I set my alarm for about 5:30 or 6:30, depending on when I need to be at work. I hit snooze a fair amount, and then am usually out of bed by 7. The best days are when I don’t have any morning meetings or court, and I can walk in at 10. That’s awesome, because I can spend the hours between 7 and 10 drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, checking emails, doing dishes, folding laundry, etc. Self-employment is nice.

  13. Sigh- I’ve been waiting for this thread forever and of course this is the day I had no computer access at work. Go figure.

    I get up at around 6 and make it to work at around 7-7:15. I am most productive before others get in and really like to have that quiet time to read my email and catch up on a few other things before it starts to get busy. I don’t think I need as much sleep as others. I can go to bed at 11 and still be fine the next day. I usually wake up right when I need to without an alarm. In the winter I do find it hard to stay up until 10, but if I go to bed before that I will end up waking up at 4:30 and having issues falling back to sleep.

  14. I’m at my sharpest first thing in the morning… which is why I prefer to work out in the afternoons. While lots of people swear by morning workouts, all they have ever done is make me feel like ish by 2 PM… and I’m so hyperactive that, regardless of what time I wake up, I am restless and antsy after sitting still for so many hours and feel like I HAVE to move around by 6 PM or so.

    In a perfect world, I would get in to the office at 7, work till 4, go to the gym, take a shower and a break and then work from home for a couple of hours. Am I the only person like this?

    • No, that’s me too, except reverse: I like to work (from home) from when I get up at 7:00 until 9 or so, then shower, make food, run errands, etc. until I make it to the office about 1:00. Then I’ll work until 7:30 or 8, go home and make dinner.

      Unfortunately I can only get away with this about once a week…

    • This is brilliant. I’ve never thought of going to the gym about 2pm, but it would totally work for me.

  15. hate the morning, no matter the time zone! need 8 hrs plus time to get shifted into the day. kind of sluggish mid-morning and afternoon too.. usually pretty awake evenings but not while pregnant now! so i guess i don’t have a perfectly productive time of day yet i get things done- more about the conditions in the moment. and i accept i’m not one of those lucky people who can do more on less sleep- a limitation to live with, is what it is. love to sleep, need it. in a work personality/icebreaker game once they asked “what’s your favorite place on earth, if you could be anywhere right now where?” i said my bed! Someone said you shouldn’t say that, people will think you are depressed. I’m not, I just like my safe, cozy restful bed:)

  16. I usually wake up at 5:30 AM. But It wasn’t so easy at the beginning I had very hard time to it.
    What I did was simply set 2 alarm clocks and put them far from my bed, this way I had no choise but to get up from bed and shut them.
    I think if you need to wake up early, you should try this. If it worked for me it must work for you. Cheers!

  17. I have no problem getting up for a morning workout, but then I find that I’m exhausted around 11:00am in the morning. Getting up early affects my productivity later in the day and that’s not really acceptable. I’ve started going to the gym directly from work on my way home and that seems to work a lot better.

  18. Kristen Reese :

    I too have found that waking up early is the “magic” time for me. With three young children who rise at 7AM, the hours between 4:30-6:30 are often the only moments I get to myself. Getting up that early is the only opportunity I have to commit to working out and doing something for me and only me. I continually say that nothing is getting in my way that early, except for myself. Glad to see others feel this way too.

    BTW – sometimes I sleep in my workout clothes so I just have to put on my shoes and leave :)

  19. 3 words: Sunrise Alarm Clock. My favorite is this one:
    It helps me wake up more naturally in the morning, and normally the gradual brightening of the room wakes me up before the annoying buzzer noise – much more pleasant! And it allows me to keep getting up at 5:30am even in the dark days of winter. I do this so that I can work out before I go to work…. though I’ve been fighting a sinus infection, so lately I’ve been skipping a lot of the workouts. Nonetheless, it helps me be more productive with my mornings. And I was NEVER a morning person before I got this alarm clock. I recommend it to everyone!!!

  20. This is very timely for me! I’ve recently figured out that I could put my 4:30 am insomnia to good use. If I got some good work in then, I’d be able to work out later in the day (even if I do crawl back under the covers for one more snuggle just before the alarm goes off)

  21. The only thing i was thinking about while reading this article is: how many hour does she sleep!? We read a lot of articles on sleep deprivision and the long terms effect of that. I personaly need my minimum 8 hours of sleep, if not i do not have as much energy and will eventually have a migraine if i continue. My body talks to me that way. Some of my friends get up really early to be super productive but they do not listen to their bodys. We live in a world were we have pressure of beeing super womans and sometimes it’s really hard to keep our balance in that. I feel guilty sometimes because i need to sleep so much and i compare myself to other super womans like some of you are but at the same time i say to myself: maybe i will live a longer and healthier life after all. My point is we need to remember to be carefull and take care of ourselves. We are not invincible. If it is SO hard to get up at 5h am maybe it’s because your body is talking to you and you NEED the sleep to recuperate. :) (sorry for my mistakes, i’m french)

    • Absolutely. I just read through the whole thread and am struck by the emphasis on alarm clocks. What seems particularly jarring to me is the clash between exercising (good for mind & body) and not getting enough sleep (not good for concentration or physical health). Short term a couple hours of being short on sleep can be ok, but over the long run it’s def not a good thing.

  22. Thank you for writing this. I also have a problem with waking up in the morning although I’ve experienced how good it is to wake up and finish all the task and the to-do lists on time especially when i am not juggling 100 things a minute.

    But still I have a problem waking up on my own ON TIME. I always need three different alarms, three different snoozes and occasionally the help of my mom or friend to get me out of bed… Recently I joined the work force in my country and right now i am trying to be as professional and efficient a i can… So what do i do to fix this?

    • Quds –
      If you can’t get to sleep earlier on your own (Google can help you find some common behavioural recommendations), it’s probably worth getting some outside help. See a doctor – your family doc may be able to help, but you may need to see a sleep specialist to rule out sleep apnea.

      If you have a smartphone, there are apps that will help you track your sleep cycle (better ones typically require external hardware – an armband or headband). That can help you understand if you’re waking up a lot at night, or if you’re not getting into deep sleep.

      Once you know what the problem is, you can make changes – either behavioural (for example, I can’t drink caffeine past noon or alcohol past 5 without affecting my sleep quality and quantity), or medicinal (with the guidance of a doc!).

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