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  • Kylie van Gelder

Does Waking at 5 a.m. Really Make You More Productive?

As an evening person, you can imagine where I'm going with this post, but just bear with me.

From a personal development standpoint, there is a lot of information supporting 5 a.m. start and for some, like Dwayne Johnson - a.k.a. The Rock, a 4 a.m. start. Robin Sharma even wrote an entire book about the benefits of waking at 5 a.m, aptly called The 5 a.m. Club.

While many of us remain in the land of the zzzzz's, these people are hitting hardcore productivity levels during the early hours.

I used to feel like a lazy bum crawling out of bed at 7 a.m., especially since my kids have to be at school by 8. More so after hearing so much about the importance of getting up at 5 a.m. to start your day off on the right foot, with the right routines, etc.

Feeling guilty and unproductive were the responses of these so called "late" mornings of mine.

Until I read that we are not all built to wake at or before the crack of dawn. Really, like biologically speaking, not built to. Yes! I'm not a lazy, unproductive, unmotivated ass!

We all have something called our circadian rhythm - our natural physical, mental and behavioural functioning that responds to light and dark within the 24-hour clock. Individually, this can be broken down into our chronotype.

Our chronotype is what sets our diet, mood, physical activity cycle and lo and behold, our sleep.

Research has actually broken our chronotypes down to 4 different categories, which they've defined in relation to other animals.

  • The dolphin: light sleeper, waking frequently

  • The lion: up early, energetic, evening dip

  • The bear: follows the sun and typically needs a full 8 hours

  • The wolf: struggles to wake early and actually feels more energetic waking closer to noon

Each of these comes with its own estimated time slot of productivity.

  • Dolphin roughly 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., or as late as 6 p.m.

  • Lion are the very early 5 a.m. people

  • Bear roughly early morning until an afternoon dip any time between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Wolf is a noon starter until about 4 p.m., followed by an early to late evening peek again.

Again, these are rough estimations. Nothing is set in stone, but it shows you that we all have varying productivity times.

As a teenager and definitely into my 20's I'd be up all night and could easily sleep until noon during the weekend, with my peek productivity being from noon until midday and then again late in the evening hours. This was the natural pattern I followed. Wolf much?

In Sharma's book, he talks about how we have less interruptions during 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and for this group of people, they tend to be very productive because of this. I say good for them, they have found what works for them.

In the morning, I'm happy if I can find my kitchen!

While I'm not saying you can't join the 5 a.m. club if you're not a lion or a bear type. I'm just saying you'll have to work much harder and use more self-control to do it.

You'll need to become extremely aware of your sleep routine and slowly - in 15 minute increments - wake up earlier and earlier until you get there and have developed the habit. Waking earlier also means going to be earlier.

In the personal development world, there are some that say things like "You can do anything, anything you set your mind to." and sure you can definitely adjust your habits and think more positively in order to flourish and grow as a person. No doubt.

But because of this you can do anything you focus on mindset, I'd end up questioning why it was so bloody hard for me to just get my butt out of bed in the morning.

Now, I know why. I am not built to!

Like I said above, changing a habit is absolutely possible if you set your mind to it. It's hard work to change a habit, for sure, but it will be even harder for you if you have to work against your natural rhythm.

You can definitely do it. I simply feel it's better if you have the facts rather than assuming there's something wrong with you.

If you think you would be more productive in the early, yawning hours of the morning, by all means, give it a whirl. After all, nothing is one-size fits all and sure, even the chronotype categories offer some flexibility. We don't all fit perfectly into one category.

Different life circumstances might also force you out of your type as well. For example, the young-ins I mentioned earlier. Kids bring us so much joy and laughter, but they also wake us up at odd and, for some of us, unnatural times.

Actually, Sharma even points to the importance of sleep and about adjusting to fit his productivity formula to your lifestyle. Phew!

Once I make it back to my wonderful land of the sleeping, I will stick to my wolf like behaviour. If you're in on joining the "chronotype club", then I recommend you let go of any preconceived notion that you "should" be getting up early or that you "should" be going to bed earlier.

Productivity is based on how you feel and how you approach activities. If you're not a 5, look to people who don't fall into the 5 a.m. club, but who are extremely productive.

People like Elon Musk, who reportedly doesn't go to bed before 1 a.m., or Mark Zuckerberg who tends to get up around 8 a.m. I mean these two guys are billionaires. You don't become a billionaire buy working against yourself.

In reality, you have to go with what works for you. There is no right or wrong here. You can figure out your chronotype (see quiz suggestions below) or just work when you feel most productive. More importantly, stop trying to fit yourself into someone else's category of what it means to be productive. Do what feels right and fits your lifestyle.

Additional resources

For more information on your chronotype or sleep type, try taking a quiz.

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