I Woke Up at 4:30am for Two Weeks + Here’s What Happened
Early mornings are always associated with successful people. My guess is it’s something to do with the saying “time is money,” because while regular people are still sleeping in their beds, Successful People are already up and at ’em, running companies and empires, hanging out on their private islands, and turning all those extra waking minutes into dollars (or so I hear).
So for two weeks, I decided to test out the benefits of waking up not only early, but Successful Person early. After all, Apple CEO Tim Cook (wakes up at 3:45am), Michelle Obama (gets up at 4:30 to work out), and Anna Wintour (plays tennis at 5:45am) didn’t get to where they are by snoozing until noon. I chose 4:30am because it seemed challenging and would make, for better or worse, a significant impact on my daily life. Here’s what happened.
Waking Up Is Hard to Do
I’m normally up by 6:30am, so I thought it couldn’t be that hard to get up a little earlier. Wrong. First of all, 4:30am is not “morning.” In winter, there are still several hours before the sun is even thinking about rising, so it’s basically still the middle of the night. And second, you know what your body wants to do at night? Sleep. The production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles, is triggered by the absence of light. Melatonin levels rise when the sun goes down, telling your brain it’s time to rest, and then the levels drop in the morning and day, helping you function like a human being instead of something out of The Walking Dead. So here I was, fighting against the (ominously named) “hormone of darkness,” and I was losing.
On the first day, my alarm went off at 4:30, and until 5am I was completely useless. Yes, I was technically awake, but I lay in bed unable to move, the only semi-functioning part of my body being my tired brain slowly coming to the realization that this was maybe (definitely) a very terrible idea. At that hour, I would have easily failed any motor or cognitive test, including the ones where they just ask you to wiggle your fingers and toes. The rest of my morning went something like this:
5-6am: Answered work emails/edited stories for the day (cannot vouch for 100 percent coherency; thank goodness we have copy editors)
6:20am: Left the apartment to go to a workout class
6:21am: Realized that in my disoriented state I’d left too early, came right back, and tidied my apartment for 20 minutes
7am: Workout class
8:30am: In the office
9:30am: Already tired
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I had gotten through most of my most pressing work before anyone was awake, and I was feeling especially productive. By 2pm, I was so tired and cranky that no one really wanted to talk to me, so I sat at my desk and plowed through work, which, even though unintentional, I’m still counting as another increase in productivity. By 5pm, I was really on the struggle bus, and by 8pm, I had melted into a semi-conscious puddle on my couch. But Day 1 was done, and I was still alive with all my limbs intact, so I chalked it up as a success. And then I immediately fell asleep.
How I Tried to Live Like a Celebrity for 4 hours a Morning
For the rest of the two weeks, I decided to double down on those pre-sunrise hours and tried out the morning routines of highly successful people — and by highly successful people, I mean celebrities and CEOs who have morning activities I could reasonably do without losing my mind or an entire paycheck. Everyone is obsessed with the morning routines of famous people, and it’s probably because it’s much easier to wake up at a certain time and eat a specific breakfast than, you know, win an Oscar or something. Anyway, this is who made the cut.
1. Oprah Winfrey: Oprah Winfrey wakes up between 6:02am and 6:20am without an alarm, because she’s Oprah and simply puts “the number in her mind.” I don’t possess these billionaire mind tricks, but I was still up over an hour earlier than her, and that’s gotta count for something. She thinks, “Oh, I’m alive. Thank you!”; makes a chai tea or skim cappuccino; and heads to the gym in her house to do an elliptical/treadmill workout while watching TV. I, too, was happy to be alive, had some tea, and went for a run. Winfrey then does 20 minutes of walking or sitting meditation, so I did it on my walk to work, quietly whispering, “You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car,” to unsuspecting passersby. Takeaway: I will probably never not need an alarm to get up, but an Oprah morning is a good morning.
2. Tim Kendall: The former Pinterest president gets up at 5:30am and takes a five-minute ice bath at precisely 55 degrees. I took a shower at a temperature that I calculated as precisely “way too cold to enjoy.” It was as painful as it sounds. Takeaway: This is definitely an effective way to jolt yourself awake, but at what cost? Kendall claims “it’s kind of like drinking coffee,” and personally I’d rather just have the coffee, but perhaps this is why Kendall is worth millions of dollars and I am worth… not quite as much. I did discover that I can shower in under five minutes when the alternative is the risk of catching hypothermia.
3. Jennifer Aniston: The actress gets up at 4:30am on days she’s working and has hot water with a slice of lemon (check and check). She meditates for 20 minutes (check, but I might have been too good at this, because I almost fell back asleep). Then she has a protein shake; I didn’t have the right ingredients or the energy, so instead I had a protein bar and SmartWater, which seemed Aniston-y enough. After, she works out — spin, yoga, and the gym — so I went to a 7am spin class and visualized doing three workouts in one. Takeaway: I would love to have toned arms like Aniston, but I can’t spend the entire morning exercising and expect to keep a steady office job, so one morning workout will have to do. I did feel full of energy heading into the office though.
4. Martha Stewart: The domestic icon and Snoop’s BFF wakes up at 4:30 or 5am, checks her email, and reads The New York Times. She then makes her bed, which I also do and have done every day since elementary school, mainly to get my mom to stop nagging me. Stewart tends to her animals — dogs, cats, horses, peacocks (!) — but I’m not allowed to have pets in my apartment, let alone exotic animals, so I skipped this. She packs her clothes and goes to the gym around 6:30. I signed up for a 6am workout class and was shocked at how many people were there, but especially by how intense 6am exercisers are. Takeaway: I worked out harder at 6am than at 7am due to sheer competitive will and possible delirium.
Waking up at 4:30am never got easy, but it did get easier. (Except on the weekend. No one should wake up that early on the weekend unless you have a small infant or a large media empire, neither of which I have.) After dragging myself out of bed, those early morning hours were invaluable in setting up the rest of the day. In the quiet and stillness, I was able to either relax, get a workout in, and/or get a head start on the day — it was a luxury to have uninterrupted time to myself. I came into the office feeling accomplished and energized, and my mind wasn’t racing with an endless to-do list the minute I sat down at my desk. I got more done in that early 1-1.5 hour timeframe than sometimes in half a workday full of meetings, distractions, and, unapologetically, too many snack breaks. My super-productive mornings gave me the flexibility to take breaks guilt-free(ish) and also cut down on the work I did in the evenings at home. I was actually able to watch a Netflix show without looking up from my computer every few minutes to rewind and rewatch scenes that I still can’t remember. My work inbox was down to zero unread emails, which hasn’t happened since my first week on the job, and my personal inbox under 30 unreads, which hasn’t happened since… maybe ever. On the weekend, I deep cleaned my kitchen and bathroom, organized my closet, read, had breakfast, worked out, showered, got coffee, had second breakfast, donated a bag of clothes, took out the garbage, and bought groceries. All before noon.
What did take a hit was my social life. Admittedly, I’m no raging party animal, but my whole schedule shifted to accommodate my early-bird bedtime. If happy hours didn’t start immediately after work, I was out for the count, and any dinner reservations after 7pm made me exhausted just thinking about them. One evening, I visited my 10-month-old niece, and I think I went to bed before she did. So unless I plan to replace all my friends with new ones under 5 or over 65 years old, this early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine would be hard to sustain long-term. I was exhausted pretty much all the time, because who really wakes up at 4:30am every day? Not even Oprah.
I’m also not sure this boosted productivity would last forever. It’s like when you do the same exercise class every day for a month, and then you memorize the moves and go through the motions while your mind is actually planning out what you’re going to eat for dinner or which Real Housewives you’re going to binge later that night, and then you’re barely even working out anymore. At some point, I think my brain/body would adjust to the new schedule and get more efficient (read: lazy). But I get the appeal of waking up before the rest of the world, and I plan on waking up at 5-5:30am (slightly more reasonable than 4:30am) whenever I need to jump-start my work/life. Then again, I could always just take an ice-cold shower.
Do you have any tried and true morning routine tricks? Share them with us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty, Amanda Edwards/Getty)
Lesley Chen is a California native who writes about travel, health/fitness, and other lifestyle topics. She has a serious case of RBF and exercises mainly to balance out an aggressive candy addiction.