Health + wellbeing

This is what it really feels like to wake up at 4am everyday

- June 26, 2019 3 MIN READ

The early bird certainly catches the worm. But what is it doing after lunch rolls around? Dreaming of an afternoon nap or a quiet coffee in the corner, writes Lucy Kippist.

For the past 18 months I have woken up practically every single morning at 4:06am.

I do not set an alarm.

My kids no longer wake me up.

I wish I understood why – I’ve certainly googled it enough times.

And yet for some largely unexplained reason, as soon as the big hand hits the 4, my eyes blink open and my brain says it’s time to start the day. I am not doing it on purpose. Yet there are plenty of people that do.

Waking between 4am and 5am is routinely pushed as the secret to success by some big entrepreneurial names, like Apple CEO Tim Cook (3:45am),  Michelle Obama (4:30am), Robin Sharma (5am), Oprah Winfrey (5am) for the boost they claim it gives to productivity.

I recently watched with great interest as two journalists from Fast Company experimented with a 4am start to their day – I’m not sure they convinced themselves of the benefits, either.

But what about when you run your own business? Is starting your work day super early all it’s cracked up to be?

Flying Solo columnist Heather Smith is a stalwart early riser – regularly waking at dawn to walk her dog before starting her day.

Here’s how she weighs it up:

“Pro: The clarity and stillness of the world, helps me focus and prepare for work that requires deep thought.”

“Con: Evening business functions can be a challenge, and I need to adopt strategies, such as a nana nap, or caffeine to keep alert into the evening.”

I nodded vigorously when I read Heather’s comments. And in the interests of scientific inquiry and a tiny bit of oversharing – here are my own observations of the early-bird habit.

1. You are more effective, but that’s only because you’re awake longer

I upped my meditation to half hour because I am awake and I don’t want to move yet. So I figured this was a great use of my time! And on some lucky days I have been known to fall into a sort of half sleep till 5:30 when I wake again and feel pretty awesome, actually. That tells me that my body probably performs better with MORE sleep, but as the habit is now ingrained, I make use of those early and blissfully quiet hours and as a result get a lot out of my day.

2. Flipside:  I am dead by 8pm

I recently celebrated a big birthday. I was excited about my celebrations and hoped I would be able to stay awake longer than I do on normal days!  Actually I especially planned a lunchtime celebration because I thought i’d get more time/value out of myself if I started early. And  I was right. Because as it turns out, even on big occasions with a little help from alcohol (hiccup), I was a complete wreck by 8pm.


3. You eat most of your food by 12pm

Breakfast is at 6am and barely a second later.  Lunch is at 11:30 am and barely a second later and dinner is always by 6pm. Apparently these early meals are good for digestion, but in terms of having a social life. Yeah, not so much.

4. My productivity time before 2pm is pretty great (so, morning meetings for the win!)

I put this down to the fact that I have had a long morning before any real emails come in, to set my intention for the day, tackle to-do lists and sometimes any  housework that got leftover before I fell asleep.  Having always been an early morning person, this lifestyle tends to suit me during the working week. And on weekends, I feel like I’ve had a generous sleep-in by 7:30am. Ha!

Overall, this is not a bad way to live given my current lifestyle with two young kids. And the fact they now don’t wake before 7am means I have some great hours in the morning to tick some stuff off the to-do list – probably stuff other people who wake later, do at night.

The only real problem with this wake-up time is that it’s now so ingrained that it happens regardless of my bedtime and quality of  sleep. Factors that are easily influenced by the temptation of a second coffee in the early afternoon, or someone waking me in the middle of the night to go the bathroom or wrestle a nightmare demon.

And on those days, the early wake up is kind of annoying and I often lie awake wishing there was a button I could switch to send myself back to sleep, at least until  sunrise.

But if your end goal is simply greater efficiency? Or to literally get more done, then a 4am wake up could be just what you’re looking for.