What’s So Great About Getting Up Early, Anyway?

Morning routine man repeller

I wouldn’t say I’m jealous by nature, but I am openly and unabashedly jealous of morning people. I consider them better, more evolved human beings — more amenable to the schedules and requirements of modern life as it currently exists. I hope my hypothetical children are morning people (though I’m sure I’ll like them regardless). I know “having it all” is a farce, but I have a theory that morning people probably come closest to attaining it.

As you might have guessed, I am not, and never have been, a morning person, which is why I wrinkled my nose as if smelling a chunk of warm blue cheese when Nora and Haley conscripted me into doing a story about forcibly becoming one. It will be fun, they said. And full of joy, they said. I was skeptical, especially considering I had just read a story on The Cut championing the notion of waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. (“Just for a little while, at least, like maybe three or four years.”) Needless to say, I was physically relieved when Haley suggested targeting 6:00 a.m. instead. (We start work at 10 a.m. and wrap around 7. All three of us tend to stay up until midnight.) Keep scrolling to read about our individual experiences waking up at the nut crack of dawn and whether or not it actually made us better, more evolved human beings.

Harling (Me), Fashion Editor at MR

As I said, I’m not a morning person, but my body will occasionally force me into becoming one during particularly busy seasons of my life. (Whenever I fall asleep thinking of something I left unfinished, or something I really need to do, I’ll wake up the next morning before my alarm like my body can’t rest another second before that agenda item is ticked off and expelled from my mental purview.) It just so happened last week was one of those weeks, which meant when my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. on the first day of our challenge I was actually already semi-awake. At that point I had a whopping four hours before I needed to be in the office — basically a millennium. I scrolled Instagram for 25 minutes or so before getting up to grab an apple from my fridge (waking up earlier than usual always makes me really hungry). I spent the next few hours powering through my most urgent to-dos whilst savoring a bowl of oatmeal and, by the time I arrived at work, I was inhabiting a significantly more peaceful mental state than I would have if not for that extra pocket of early morning efficiency. And waking up early wasn’t even that terrible!

It was slightly more terrible the next morning, which is when I had the revelation that the reason why I associate waking up early with terribleness is because I usually wake up early to work out, and I dislike working out more than most mildly unpleasant but necessary things. The night before, given that I knew I would be waking up at 6 a.m., I cancelled my usual 8 a.m. workout class and signed up for the 7 a.m. one. That meant instead of my leisurely early wakeup-plus-apple-plus-Instagram-scroll per the morning prior, I had to actually get out of bed, get dressed in gym clothes and bundle up for the cold. I grabbed a spoonful of peanut butter for the road to temporarily sate my grumbling stomach until I could eat a full breakfast post-workout. When I got home about an hour later, I made some eggs and did WHO KNOWS WHAT on my computer/phone for the next hour and a half, before I had to get ready for work. I saw WHO KNOWS WHAT because, unlike the day before, I genuinely accomplished nothing during this valuable time window. I can’t remember what I did besides dink around the internet reading tweets, stalk some stuff on The RealReal and maybe (MAYBE) answer a few emails.

When I got ready for bed that night I was feeling kind of cynical about the whole waking up early thing and decided to set my alarm for a juicy 15 minutes later than I was supposed to, i.e. 6:15 a.m. Wilddddddddd, I know. But karma struck my body clock and I actually woke up naturally at 6:00 a.m., so I surrendered to the magnetism of journalistic ethics and shook off my sleepiness. I ate another apple while allowing myself to wallow in the indulgence of not having a workout class booked. After that, I decided I was awake enough and wanted to go on a quick run, which I did. When I got home, I showered and washed my hair and made some eggs. As I ate them, I decided my favorite thing about waking up early = the opportunity to eat both a breakfast snack and a breakfast.

When I wrapped up the work day around 7 p.m., I cheerily concluded that I had completed the early morning wakeup challenge relatively unscathed. Four hours later, this proclamation came back to bite me when I was finishing up dinner with friends and suddenly felt drunk — not from alcohol, because I’d only had one glass of wine — but from utter, all-consuming, bone-deadening fatigue. I was so tired that when my boyfriend told me he was meeting up with some people at a bar that is literally across the street from my apartment and asked if I wanted to join, I told him it was “too far.” Not long after, I fell into what I would unequivocally deem the deepest sleep of my life.

Despite not having much to show for it, I stand by my theory that morning people probably come closest to “having it all” — the peaceful quiet time and the productivity — but I would actually have to BE a morning person to achieve that. You can’t just try it for three days like a new flavor of creamer. You have to stick to it to reap the full results, which is why I ended up crashing and burning when I attempted to revert to my normal late night weekend schedule. As of this week I’m back on my normal morning schedule, dreaming literally and figuratively of breakfast snacks.

Nora, Managing Editor at MR

I am not a great sleeper. I am a deeply passionate sleeper and I am obsessed, as I am with so many things that elude me (Rami Malek), with sleep. It often takes me a while to fall asleep, and when I do I am reluctant to wake up. I worked so hard for this! Let me sleep a full 10 hours! I have in recent months, however, learned that in order to keep my life running smoothly, I have got to get up early. So throughout the weekdays I tend to wake up somewhere between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Am I getting out of bed in a timely manner? Absolutely not. But am I up? You bet!!! So when Haley suggested I get up early for three straight days I thought, sure! I can wake up at 5 a.m. temporarily. Instead, she set the time at 6:00 a.m., which seemed easy, but three days of the exact same time turned out to be a little bit hard.

When I do get up at 6 a.m. during the week, it’s so I can make it to an exercise class. It’s hard, but getting up and knowing I only have three things to do (eat something super fast to get my blood sugar up, pull on some athleisure and fill up my water bottle) before running out the door means I can usually propel myself out of bed. Getting up at 6:00 a.m. with nothing but a full morning ahead of me it proved to be harder. My three mornings looked largely the same: I scrolled mindlessly through Instagram, checked the weather, scrolled through Instagram again, checked the weather and tried to conjure up the feeling of 52 degrees. I drank water, half-heartedly did an exercise video and made coffee. I checked personal emails and tried not to check work emails before 9 a.m. (one day I succeeded, two days I did not).

The week before this little experiment, I had a hard time getting up. So hard that I thought I should drop out of the story in case it happened again and things would have to take a deeply confessional turn. This time of year has historically been a little annoying but not difficult for me (I’m horny for fall! I love this time of year!), but before Daylight Saving Time, the mornings were rough in a way that was unprecedented. My inability to go the gym, or journal, or do some of the normal self-care things I’ve been really proactive about building into my life during this challenge felt like a holdover from that struggle. But still, I was grateful for the external reason to get out of bed in a timely fashion.

Having a series of leisurely mornings certainly made me feel less frantic while running out the door, but I wish I’d been smarter about it. I loved waking up and taking some time with the morning light, thinking about the day ahead and yes, giving everyone’s Instagram stories the time and attention they truly deserve. I did miss the freedom I give myself to take an extra 20 (or 30) minutes when I feel like I need it and went right back to playing it fast and loose with my normal wake-up time. I know that being consistent in one’s bedtime and rising time is crucial for a good sleep routine, but a flexible wake-up time feels like the most true and important way of honoring what I need in the moment, and I don’t think I’ll be giving it up any time soon.

Haley, Deputy Editor at MR

It would be fair to say I failed this challenge completely, but I did learn something.

As a kid, I woke up early because my siblings did (they had band practice). The moment my eyes opened, I was energetic, emotionally present, nothing like the kids who needed to be dragged out of bed by their moms. As such, being a responsible early bird became an important ingredient in my childhood identity. A source of pride. But recently, I’ve had to come to terms with a less flattering truth: I’m not anymore. At all.

Nowadays I drag myself out of bed at the last possible minute, often sacrificing breakfast, an errand, a sense of calm, just so I can stay asleep for five more stupid minutes. This all stems from my seeming inability to get to bed early; my desire to cram so much into my evenings that I rarely fall asleep before midnight. And then, since my life in New York requires so much energy, I set my alarm as late as I possibly can. A last ditch effort to preserve energy required of me later.

Could I break this cycle? Could the rewards of more time in the morning be worth the lost sleep? I was happy to find out, because I miss mornings! I miss having time to myself before the rush of the day sweeps me up into a tender stranglehold. I want to look out my window in the morning with a mug of tea!

The first day my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., I immediately reset it to 7:30 a.m. Pretty cool, huh?

The second day my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., I thought of quitting. Not just the challenge, but my job, because it was my job’s fault that I had to do the challenge in the first place, and that’s the kind of logic I employ at that hour (which felt much earlier than it was seeing as I’d gone to bed at 1 a.m.). I got up anyway out of deference to my colleagues and dragged myself to the sink to do my dishes. I then cleaned the kitchen, swept my floor, emptied my cat’s litter box, vacuumed the couch (?), made myself eggs then sat down to answer emails for 30 minutes before getting dressed and heading out the door earlier than usual. I felt two ways: amazed at how much I’d gotten done and really fucking tired. So tired, in fact, that I still haven’t recovered five days later.

The third day my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., I reset it to 7 a.m., even though I’d gotten eight hours. Even still, I headed out extra early and got to work an hour before everyone else, which was wonderful. And yet, the fact remains: I was tired, still am. Unshakably so!

Over course of these three days, I almost fell asleep in a bar (antisocial), actually did in a cab home (ill-advised), and once considered going to bed in the afternoon (literally nocturnal). All this lead me to the rather obvious, if comforting, conclusion that I set my alarm as late as possible because, when my days and evenings ask a lot of me, I simply have to. I’m not the kind of person who can function on less than eight hours of sleep; I might even need more. So until I can genuinely learn to shut down my evening at 9 p.m., I simply can’t be an early bird, extending my mornings for the sake of a leisurely ramp-up. Until I undergo a much larger paradigm shift, waking up earlier will ultimately slow me down.

For now, sleep is more important to me than productivity. In fact, they end up being one in the same.

Do you love waking up early or are you one of those people who counts hours of sleep in addition to sheep? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Collage by Emily Zirimis; Illustration via Getty Images.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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