Good news: You don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to be successful
As someone whose brain only seems to wake up at about 1 p.m., I’ve always been envious of “early birds.”
It’s a commonly held belief that the most successful people sleep less and wake earlier than the rest of us.
I always thought the ideal sleep routine was the classic “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” But waking up early only seems to leave me feeling sleepy rather than well-rested and productive.
Instead, I do my best work in the afternoons and evenings, mostly after standard working hours.
With this in mind, I had to find out: Is it true that waking up earlier is really better for us?
Although the modern working world is organized around a 9 to 5 schedule, some of us have natural sleeping patterns that don’t sync with the typical grind.
Everyone has a circadian rhythm that controls our sleeping and waking cycles, but different people have different rhythms. Your circadian rhythm can be affected by environmental factors like
There are also different types of circadian rhythms called chronotypes. These dictate when you naturally fall asleep and wake up, as well as when you feel most alert and productive.
There are several different ways to classify chronotypes, but the simplest division is morning types, evening types, and the outliers who don’t fall into either group.
The first two groups are sometimes referred to as “early birds” and “night owls,” but the third group doesn’t have a common nickname.
In terms of productivity, a morning type is most mentally alert before noon, while an evening type is more alert in the late afternoon and evening.
Upon learning this, I was immediately able to classify myself as an evening type. This explains why no matter how early I set my alarm, I never seem to get anything done in the morning. To compensate, I stay up late to get my work done, don’t end up getting enough sleep, or sleep through my alarm.
The result is not having a consistent sleep routine.
Instead of pushing myself away from my natural chronotype and circadian rhythm, meaning I end up exhausted, I now sleep and work at a time that suits me.
Unfortunately, we aren’t all able to switch up our days so that we can sleep and work when we want. Instead, I’ve figured out how to use my chronotype to my advantage.
In the morning when I’m not at my most alert, I do administrative tasks or physical chores. After lunch, when my brain and body reach peak productivity, I do my most mentally taxing work.
I start work later in the morning and work in the evening to make up for it when I can, although this may not be possible for everyone.
This means I’m doing my most difficult tasks when my brain is working at its peak, but I’m still able to work within the usual 9 to 5 work routine.
You don’t have to be a morning person to be productive, but a
There are steps you can take to familiarize yourself with your habits and sleep schedule so you can boost productivity and get your best possible night’s rest.
Try sleeping and waking up at different times to see which combination leaves you feeling the most refreshed.
Do you thrive with the rising of the sun and feel motivated to jump into your projects right away? Or do you love snuggling up in that comforter until late morning and prefer to save your juice for the afternoon?
You can only know for sure if you give each option a try.
Track your energy levels
When you do experiment with different sleep patterns, track how you feel. Try each new pattern for a full week, and keep a journal by your bedside table to keep tabs on your time to sleep, time to wake, and energy levels throughout the day.
If waking early leaves you feeling groggy all day, that might not be your optimum choice.
Or maybe you like waking early, but need a break when the afternoon rolls around. If your energy is plummeting post-lunch, make a note.
If you have trouble sleeping at night, maybe you’re sleeping in too late. If there’s a correlation, jot it down. All this information will come in handy later.
To figure out your chronotype, you need to gather your evidence. Once you’ve tracked your energy and sleep patterns in the step above, you’re ready to use that information to figure out your chronotype.
Do you struggle to get going in the mornings? You might be an evening type, like me. Do you find you get lots done in the morning but want to slack off in the afternoon? You’re probably a morning type.
Tracking your productivity and energy levels will help you to figure out a routine that works best for you. However, your chronotype can change over time, with older adults more likely to be morning types.
Although understanding your chronotype is useful, the key to productivity is ensuring that you have a healthy sleep routine.
When I go to sleep and wake up at the same time consistently, I feel more refreshed and well-rested, even though I’m not actually getting up early. While chronotypes are helpful for improving productivity, I feel much better overall when I’m consistent with my sleep routine.
You can establish a consistent sleep routine by simply setting your alarm clock for the same time every day, even on weekends. If you struggle to wake, try these tips to get yourself going. Avoiding naps can also help your body to settle into the routine.
Avoid sleep disruptors
Caffeine can also disrupt your sleep. If you can, avoid drinking it several hours before bed.
Surprisingly, alcohol and nicotine are even more likely to lead to a restless night’s sleep. Try to avoid consuming either 3 to 4 hours before you’re planning to go to sleep.
Be true to you
Once you get to know your sleep patterns and productivity levels more intimately, stick with what works. There’s no use in trying to force yourself into a mold that doesn’t work for you.
Of course, you may have to make compromises because of your work schedule or family life. That’s OK, too! There are still small ways you can honor your body’s needs, even if you can’t nail the perfect sleep pattern due to your responsibilities.
If you’re lagging in the afternoon at work, can you sneak away to the bathroom for 10 minutes of rest with closed eyes? If work starts early and you’re struggling to get started, can you focus on less complex tasks and leave the important stuff for later?
No matter the situation, you can find small ways to adjust to suit your needs. It may not be perfect, but small gains can equal big energy wins.
The working world may be designed for people with a morning chronotype, but that doesn’t mean we all have to try and adapt to the 9 to 5 schedule.
While it helps to learn our chronotypes and arrange our work around them to maximize productivity, the most important thing is having a consistent and healthy sleep routine.
You don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to be successful and productive, but getting enough sleep on a consistent schedule makes a big difference.
Bethany Fulton is a freelance writer and editor based in Manchester, United Kingdom.