I recently came across an article by a fellow Inc. contributor that claimed waking up at 5 AM increases productivity. It sounds like solid advice. After all, Benjamin Franklin said, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise."
As a behavioral scientist, I had to ask: Is this true? Will you actually be better off waking up at 5 AM? After examining the research, I have to disagree. We're not all early risers. Unless you are biologically wired to wake early, you shouldn't force yourself. Here are three reasons why:
1. It could reduce happiness
A lot of successful people wake up early to get a head start on their work. According to circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster, there is no research that says waking up early makes you more productive. It also doesn't mean you'll be richer--there's no difference in socioeconomic status between late and early risers.
In fact, in a survey on what makes people happiest, the number one factor was getting enough sleep. Far below that was social interaction.
2. It goes against your biological nature
Dr. Michael Breus, also known as "The Sleep Doctor", stresses that our bodies are programmed to function best at certain times of the day. This time preference varies from person to person because we each have different biological clocks. In "The Power of When", Dr. Breus separates these preferences into four Chronotypes or categories--Dolphin, Lion, Bear, and Wolf.
- Lions are morning people that tend to rise with the sun.
- Bears are the most common or normal sleep pattern, in which you sleep at night and are up during the day.
- Dolphins never sleep well at all. In nature, dolphins only let half of their brain sleep at a time.
- Wolves stay up late at night working and are most productive during those hours.
Our biology influences what times of the day we are most productive. The overwhelming majority of all people are not built to consistently wake up at 5 AM.
Unless you are a Lion, built for waking up early, don't force yourself. You may be able to do it for a short time, but it is not sustainable. Eventually, you are going to crash.
3. You lose productivity
Waking up at an unnatural time for you can cause sleep deprivation. When you are tired, you lose productivity. You become more irritable and are less functional.
Studies estimate that the effects of sleep loss can mirror those of intoxication. In fact, one study found that after 17 to 19 hours without rest, people performed the same as or worse than someone who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 percent. Reaction times were 50 percent slower in people that were sleep deprived in comparison to those that had been drinking.
For those few people that are biologically predetermined early risers, waking up at 5 AM may be natural and helpful. However, the majority of us are built to sleep on a different cycle and trying to change it is like trying to fight gravity. No matter how high you jump you will always be pulled back down. Never feel bad because you aren't waking up at the crack of dawn. You wouldn't benefit from forcing yourself to do it anyway. In the long-term, it could negatively disrupt your biological sleep cycle and decrease happiness--without making you more efficient or giving anything truly valuable in return.