Each morning, I wake up without an alarm clock.
It's a scientific study I've been conducting on myself since the late 90s. I'm here to report on the results: It works wonders. You wake up when you need to wake up, unless you have to catch a flight or drive the kids to school. Eventually, though, your sleep schedule sets itself and you don't need an alarm. Like, ever again.
You sleep until your body tells you to take up, end of story.
Ironically, this goes against everything I've seen recently about how to boost your productivity. A recent WSJ report profiled a few early risers, some whom start at 4 a.m to get a jump on the day, suggesting in no uncertain terms that it can help you get more done. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Marissa Mayer used to work 130 hours per week; Elon Musk has also stated how many hours he thinks entrepreneurs should work in order to be a success, suggesting around 100 per week.
OK, let's dispense with the niceties here for a moment. Rising at 4 a.m. in the morning to start your work day? Really? On a morning when you don't need to catch an early flight? It's crazy, especially if you know anything about recent scientific studies.
I'm surprised the WSJ report didn't mention any of this this. First, new research by the National Sleep Foundation says a lack of sleep over a longer period of time creates a "sleep debt" which is a bit like having a high interest credit card. Eventually, you have to pay it back, which is something Chase doesn't always explain. Your body is unique, but on average the NSF also found that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Another study by Ghent University found that students performed much better on exams when they increased their sleep by one hour per night. Honestly, if you can watch this entire TED talk and still decide to wake up at 4 a.m. to start working, you're a glutton for punishment. I mean, the guy brings a brain up on stage as a word picture. A lack of consistent sleep each night is known to cause serious productivity problems, so waking up at 4 a.m. to get a jump on your day doesn't make sense.
It's all in the neuroscience. Those who make sleep a priority tend to have a higher return on productivity. You may think that checking email before anyone else helps you build a company into the next Facebook, but the truth is that this strategy is working against you. The people who are getting adequate sleep each night, even if they work far viewer hours, are blasting right past you. The TED talk reveals that your brain is more active during a sleep state. Like your iPhone, you're recharging. Sleep gives us balance and measure in life; a 4 a.m start each day destroys balance and measure. In the end, you pay for the lack of sleep after a few weeks.
I'm living proof of this concept. I wake up at 6:30 a.m. each morning, naturally and without an alarm clock. My best work hours are from 7 to 10 a.m. in the morning every day. I'm cranking away, thank you Starbucks. I could wake up hours earlier and drag myself to the keyboard, but I know the long-term detriments of that can be disastrous: Poor health. Broken relationships. Bad decisions. A lack of joy. Depression.
"If you don't sleep, you don't fly..." says the TED talk speaker, Russell Foster.
What about you? Will you stop the cycle of waking up too early? Kickstarting the day and jumping into Google Docs at 4 a.m. has more ill effects than benefits. Science has a lot to say on this topic. Try mulling that over as you doze off tonight, OK?