Waking up at 5 a.m. every day could improve your life—here’s how to make it work for you
Seize the day, we’re told. For some, that means getting up at the crack of dawn—or, more precisely, at 5 a.m. to jump-start the day.
The early morning wakeup has even become a TikTok trend coined the “five-to-nine before the nine-to-five,” where video montages illustrate a slow morning aesthetic of self-affirmations, workouts, and maybe even a head start into planning for the work day. It can make the rest of the world feel lazy.
“The pressure to be a morning person is pretty intense,” says Samantha Snowden, a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, the popular meditation app.
So, will waking up at 5 a.m. make all the difference to your day? Some experts say, yes.
For starters, getting up earlier can improve confidence, Snowden says, because it can feel like an accomplishment. And there’s something to be said for not constantly feeling like you’re in a rush, which only elevates stress levels and negatively impacts mental health.
“It's like always feeling like you are behind in a race you can't possibly win, which isn't useful for motivation or positivity,” says Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, a psychiatrist based in New York and the medical director of behavioral health at Included Health, about the typical workday morning.
Slowing down helps our nervous system ease off the gas and helps regulates our thoughts, Snowden says. And if you can use those extra morning hours to make time for yourself in a way that calms you down, it can bolster productivity and make you feel less depleted by the end of the day.
If you’re contemplating rising before the sun, experts say you need to keep in mind the following:
Don’t sacrifice sleep
Choosing to move up that alarm should not come at the expense of sleep. Over time, a lack of sleep can lead to negative mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression and put people at risk for chronic illnesses, like heart disease.
“Everyone has a different kind of job with different kinds of demands, and a lack of sleep can present many challenges for us, as far as emotion regulation [and] our ability to focus,” Snowden says. “These are big capacities that we need to get through the day, to be productive and do our jobs well, and to be present for our loved ones.”
More than a third of American adults do not get the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep a night as it is, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prioritizing sleep means having good sleep hygiene, including waking up around the same time each day, limiting screens before bed, not consuming alcohol or caffeine in the evenings, and having a wind-down routine.
“If getting up at 5 a.m. every morning creates a barrier to you getting enough restful sleep, don't do it,” says Benders-Hadi.
You can “slow down” your morning without getting up super early
Waking up early helps diminish that uncomfortable feeling of being rushed. But Benders-Hadi says there are alternative, more incremental, steps that can instill that sense of slowness without sacrificing sleep.
One way is through choice reduction, or limiting the number of things that you need to decide on the morning of a busy day when your stress levels tend to peak.
“Think about reorganizing your morning routine so you have less to do, for example. Lay out the clothes you plan to wear the night before,” Benders-Hadi says. “Prep your breakfast and lunch meals to-go ahead of time, and do the same thing for any family members you may be caring for.”
Snowden says you can spend 10 extra minutes slowing down (even walking a bit slower to the shower in the morning), not checking emails right away, and practicing a kindness message. A few examples: “may my day be filled with ease, may I see possibility today, may I enter my first meeting with an optimistic attitude,” she says.
“You're checking in with your body sensations, your mood that morning, and you're observing it with non judgment, with openness,” she says. “That sets the tone, that sets the rhythm, the speed, [and] the pace of your morning.”
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Benders-Hadi recommends we all be honest about whether a few more hours in the morning will improve our well-being. For those who work better without distractions, in a quieter environment or who need a longer self-care routine to feel productive during the day, getting up early can help.
“You should also take into consideration whether the change in their routine will lead to improved productivity, or whether they will just be stuffing more into their day,” she says. “Regarding work for example, do you have a set amount of work you need to accomplish each day where starting earlier enables you to finish earlier, or will getting up earlier simply add more to your plate?”
Don’t expect to adjust right away
Especially for the night owls, choosing to get up earlier won’t feel comfortable immediately. The body’s circadian rhythm, or natural body clock, needs time to adjust to the new routine, Snowden says.
Instead, compliment yourself for wanting to engage in something that feels motivating and be patient, she says.
Have an intention
On days when rolling out of bed feels downright impossible, it’s important to return to your intention to get up, whether that's to improve your daily productivity or enjoy extra time to read or workout. Talking to other early morning risers can help you understand what motivates them. Wanting to follow a trend, especially on the hard days, won’t be enough.
“You're going to kind of need to connect back to your motivation,” Snowden says. “What is driving this for you? And what do you imagine to be the benefits that you're really personally going to enjoy and get from this?”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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