Health and Wellness

I woke up at 5 a.m. for 7 days to see if it would increase my productivity: Here are the pros and cons

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I'm someone who sleeps until noon most weekends, so it was very out of character for me to volunteer for my most bizarre challenge yet: waking up at 5 a.m. for seven days.

We're often told that the most successful people wake up super early in the morning to get things done, and what I really wanted to learn from this exercise was if waking up earlier than I usually do would help me be more productive.

When I'm heading into the office, I get up at 6:45 a.m. And, on my work-from-home days, I'm probably rolling out of the bed around 8:30.

But, from Tuesday, Jan. 31, to Wednesday, Feb. 8, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and got up before the sun each morning. Though, some things never change because I could not, and did not, stick to my 5 a.m. wake time over the weekend.

Here's what I enjoyed, found helpful and what I didn't. And whether or not this experiment had any effect at all on my productivity.

Plus, tips from a psychiatrist about how to wake up at 5 a.m. while considering your overall wellbeing.

Pros and cons of waking up at 5 a.m.

Let's start with the good, because there were benefits to waking up earlier than I typically do on weekdays.

The pros:

  • More time in solitude: Some mornings, I was simply able to sit in the bed for an hour or two in silence, which was very nice because I don't live alone. Every day, I was able to meditate, for however long I wanted to, before rushing to prepare for my workday.
  • Increased energy at the start of the workday: Usually, I don't feel completely awake before jumping up to get ready for my commute. And when I work from home, I just hop right onto my laptop. However, my earlier start made me feel more energized at the top of my workday.
  • Laundry in the morning: I mean, checking laundry off of my to-do list first thing in the morning was honestly amazing.
  • Going to the gym before working: I joined a gym last week (which I was going to do anyway). And though I only went in the morning on one day of the challenge, it still felt so great to be in and out of the gym before 8 a.m.
  • Bigger breakfasts: I made pancakes for the first time by myself and paired it with eggs, fruit and cucumber water! My normal breakfast before work is almost always oatmeal, and maybe eggs on a good day.

Yet, like all things, there were some downsides.

The cons:

  • Going to sleep at 9 p.m.: When heading into the challenge, there was one thing that I decided would not be affected by waking up earlier: my sleep. So, in order to get the same amount of sleep that I usually do, that meant going to bed at 9 p.m. And, I felt like I was missing out on so much, including the Grammys!
  • Rushed evenings: My commute is about an hour long, so getting home around 6 p.m. meant taking a shower, cooking and doing anything else I wanted to do after work within three hours. Need I say more?
  • Waking up earlier on weekends: Now, I know I said I didn't wake up at 5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday; but, because my body was used to my new wake time, I still got up at about 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. This also meant that I was tired much earlier than I'd usually be, and asleep before 11 p.m. on both days.

I'd say the good outweighs the bad, and maybe I'll consider getting up at 5 a.m. some days for productivity – but not tomorrow.

Tips for shifting to a 5 a.m. wake-up, from a psychiatrist

Waking up at 5 a.m. can be very beneficial, says Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of LifeStance Health, an outpatient mental health company.

"Depending on your unique situation, it can allow you to incorporate a self-care practice without disruption, like a workout or meditation, or accomplish a few things off your to-do list before your kids or partner wake up," she says.

Yet, that doesn't mean shifting your wake time to 5 a.m. will be easy. Here are some tips that Patel-Dunn recommends if you plan to make the switch:

  • Be realistic with yourself and understand that the adjustment won't happen overnight
  • Ease into it gradually by waking up slightly earlier over time
  • Make sure you're getting enough sleep

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