I was inspired to write this blog after reading an article in the New York Times after doing some research to find out how our brain works and if we really are as productive as I seem to be at 4:00am. I then read an article in which a famous sportsperson is quoted as saying ‘we’re here because of 4:00am’. Whilst I have no doubt that the quote is meant as somewhat metaphoric, taken to mean that they have succeeded because of hard work and sacrifice, I also have no doubt that there is a large amount of literal truth to it as well.
Writing an article about starting your day at 4:00am only a matter of weeks after writing an article about the importance of sleep might seem a little hypocritical. Though starting your day at 4:00am shouldn’t preclude you from getting a good night sleep and nor am I really even going to say that everyone should start their day at this time. Depending on your life situation it might not even be possible or necessary.
The first thing to appreciate about this time of the day is your body’s brain chemistry. We secrete a lot of hormones throughout our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle and these hormones, among a lot of other things, can help to command us to sleep or stay awake. Interestingly, for those of us that rise very early we are actually fighting our natural hormonal urge to stay in bed. Melatonin, our sleep hormone, is at its highest concentrations at around 2:00-4:00am, though this will vary in each person. Cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones and one that you would want at a fairly high level when you wake up, is at its lowest level at around the same time as melatonin peaks. So in many ways we are directly fighting the urges and commands of the body by waking up at this time.
However, studies are finding that highly successful people and highly productive people do start their day a lot earlier than most other people are prepared to. Some research has been done on this topic and the reasons for the increase in productivity at this time are actually fairly obvious if we think about it.
Whether it is 3:45am, 4:00am or 4:30am, the level of distractions that are available to us at say 11:00am or even 8:00am just aren’t there. There are very few people on social media in the dark hours, you won’t be receiving a flood of emails, the roads will be quiet, the gym will be empty and it is a time of the day that you can just spend some time with you, planning your day, answering emails, sending emails, exercising or brainstorming for your next meeting or project with the knowledge that you will not be interrupted.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook is well known for starting his day at 3:45am and his reasoning is the same as outlined above. ‘When you have peace and quiet and you’re not concerned with people trying to get your attention, you’re dramatically more effective and can get important work done, so they have that part right,’ says psychologist Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute.
Now I’m not saying that everyone should be up at 4:00am sending email or writing business plans. But what I am saying is that to be successful at life and in our careers we need to make some sacrifices. That sacrifice might be in the way of not staying up until 11:00pm watching another re-run of keep up with the Kardashian’s. It means organizing ourselves so that we can be in bed just that little bit earlier and therefore up just that little bit earlier, planning our day or getting an early exercise session in so that we don’t have to find the time later. Or, not do it altogether because the day just got the better of us, as is often the case.
The take home message? Get in to bed just a little bit earlier than you normally do. Wake up just a little bit earlier than you normally do. Perhaps with an extra 30 minutes in the morning you’ll be able to get your exercise session in for the day – and as an Exercise Physiologist that is certainly something I would advise. You will be amazed at how great you feel if you can tick off a great session before you’ve started the rest of your day. It will give you a great sense of accomplishment and take a load from your shoulders in that now you won’t have to worry about finding time to exercise later. It will also free time from your day and will certainly help you be more productive with your work life and personal life. Give it a try!
Yours in Health!