Think waking up earlier will make you more productive? Think again.

Takeaway: There is essentially no difference between waking up early and waking up later in the day, assuming you sleep the same amount of time in both scenarios.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 53s.

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Every morning for the last couple of months (except on holidays and weekends) I’ve woken up at 5:30, and I’ve absolutely loved it. I’ve even settled into an awesome morning ritual over the last couple of months:

  • 5:30-6:00: Wake up (with SleepCycle), take a pre-workout drink, drink 1L of water
  • 6:00-8:00: Workout at the gym: 20 minutes of cardio, 50 minutes of lifting weights. Define my three outcomes for the day while doing cardio.
  • 8:00-9:00: Drink a protein shake, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, turn my phone on to check emails and messages.
  • 9:00: Start working

While I love my morning ritual, a lot of articles seem to only talk about the pros of waking up early, and many of them assume that waking up early is simply something every productive person should be doing.

I don’t think that’s the case, and neither does world-renowned professor of circadian neuroscience Russell Foster. According to a TED talk that Foster gave, there’s absolutely no difference in socioeconomic standing between people who wake up early and people who wake up later. I’m personally convinced that the whole notion that if you wake up earlier you’ll be more productive is complete bullshit.

When you think about it a bit, there is essentially no difference between waking up early and waking up later in the day. Assuming you sleep the same amount of time in both scenarios, in both cases you get the exact same number of hours during the day to be productive. The only difference is when you wake up early, you have less excuses to not get stuff done.

I think you should be able to determine whether you should wake up early by asking yourself one simple question: Can you get more done past 9pm, or before 9am?

If you frequently find yourself up late, hammering away at an awesome idea, should you immediately drop everything you’re working on and head to bed because the clock strikes 9pm? Of course not. If you constantly find inspiration striking you late at night, stay up late, and sleep in! But if all you do after 9pm is watch TV and mindlessly surf the Internet, you’ll obviously be way more productive if you wake up early and get a head start on the day. In that case, you should create a habit to wake up early.

Your circumstances will naturally vary, too. For example, you might have kids and the desire to have a couple of hours of quiet time to be productive before they wake up. But I think there are just as many good reasons for why you should stay up late, like if you want to invest time into your friendships and relationships. Or, you know, you occasionally want to go out and have a life.

Assuming you get just as much sleep when you wake up early and when you wake up later on, there is absolutely no difference between waking up early and staying up late. I personally love waking up early and working out, but your mileage will vary.

I’m still drawing conclusions from my experiment to wake up at 5:30 every morning, but I can truthfully say that my productivity hasn’t changed one bit now that I’m waking up early. I do feel cooler now that I’m “that guy” that wakes up early every morning to hit the gym for a great workout, but bragging rights aside, nothing else has changed.

Incredible sunset image source.

  • Chris,
    Interesting article. Personally, I am much more productive when I wake up earlier. That’s my prime time for being creative and learning.

    I can do things later in the day too, but statistically I am simply more productive in the morning.

    PS:

    I used to use that app Sleep Cycles. But it stopped working on my phone.

    • Thanks man! I’m a bit different: I’m the most creative at night, but I can focus a lot better in the morning. That sucks about the app, what happened to it? I’m finding it invaluable as I dive deeper and deeper into hacking my sleep.

      • I have no idea man. It just started being very strange and messing with my alarm.

        How has it been particularly helpful to you in terms of hacking your sleep? Got any other general insights to share?

        • Something else I’ve been experimenting with is wearing blue-blocking sunglasses 2 hours before bed, which has helped me considerably! I’m doing up a post on that as we speak. I’m also experimenting with a few sleep aids/devices :)

          The most recent builds of the app have a “sleep quality” rating, which has been really helpful for me to quantity the actual changes different experiments have had. I’m definitely not smart enough to read the actual graphs (though I get the gist), so that helps a lot!

          By the way, the latest version of the app can track your sleep even you set an alarm in another app. Highly recommended if you’re looking to hack around with your sleep.

  • Chris,
    Interesting article. Personally, I am much more productive when I wake up earlier. That’s my prime time for being creative and learning.

    I can do things later in the day too, but statistically I am simply more productive in the morning.

    PS:

    I used to use that app Sleep Cycles. But it stopped working on my phone.

    • Thanks man! I’m a bit different: I’m the most creative at night, but I can focus a lot better in the morning. That sucks about the app, what happened to it? I’m finding it invaluable as I dive deeper and deeper into hacking my sleep.

      • I have no idea man. It just started being very strange and messing with my alarm.

        How has it been particularly helpful to you in terms of hacking your sleep? Got any other general insights to share?

        • Something else I’ve been experimenting with is wearing blue-blocking sunglasses 2 hours before bed, which has helped me considerably! I’m doing up a post on that as we speak. I’m also experimenting with a few sleep aids/devices :)

          The most recent builds of the app have a “sleep quality” rating, which has been really helpful for me to quantity the actual changes different experiments have had. I’m definitely not smart enough to read the actual graphs (though I get the gist), so that helps a lot!

          By the way, the latest version of the app can track your sleep even you set an alarm in another app. Highly recommended if you’re looking to hack around with your sleep.

  • Woah!

    Haha I guess most of us have been tricked into the “successful people wake up early mentality”.and failed to think about things such as sleeping hours.

    “I do feel cooler now that I’m “that guy” that wakes up early every morning to hit the gym” – the same thing goes for me. I like to be a morning person – it makes me feel I’m successful and of course, cool.

    • Maybe there’s something to that idea that the more cool you feel, the more productive you’ll be throughout the day! Even though there’s no link between wakeup time and socioeconomic status, I bet that for a lot of people waking up early is a habit that leads to more positive habits and changes down the line, so there’s likely something to that notion!

  • Woah!

    Haha I guess most of us have been tricked into the “successful people wake up early mentality”.and failed to think about things such as sleeping hours.

    “I do feel cooler now that I’m “that guy” that wakes up early every morning to hit the gym” – the same thing goes for me. I like to be a morning person – it makes me feel I’m successful and of course, cool.

    • Maybe there’s something to that idea that the more cool you feel, the more productive you’ll be throughout the day! Even though there’s no link between wakeup time and socioeconomic status, I bet that for a lot of people waking up early is a habit that leads to more positive habits and changes down the line, so there’s likely something to that notion!

  • Tomas

    Couldn’t agree more Chris. I travel a fair bit and can get into some “bad” (read: late) sleeping patterns – but I’m no more or less productive. I put this down to not starving myself of sleep – regardless of whether or not I get up late or early, I make sure that I am still getting a minimum of 8.5 hours of sleep per night (depends on the individual of course).

  • Tomas

    Couldn’t agree more Chris. I travel a fair bit and can get into some “bad” (read: late) sleeping patterns – but I’m no more or less productive. I put this down to not starving myself of sleep – regardless of whether or not I get up late or early, I make sure that I am still getting a minimum of 8.5 hours of sleep per night (depends on the individual of course).

  • David

    What time you go to bed Chris? I would love to be able to wake up at 5.30 am, but it would mean I would have to go to bed quite early to get my 8 hours of sleep, which is really difficult if you live in a noisy student dorm like myself. ps: any tips on how to sleep in a noisy environment?

    Cheers dude:D

    • I hear you. I have a bedtime ritual from 830-930 every evening, and I head to bed right afterward, at 9:30pm. It usually takes me a few minutes to get to sleep, so I get about 7.5 hours every night.

      That’s a tricky one, because from what I’ve read the noise around you can really impact your sleep quality, so I don’t really have much for you except to suggest you do all you can to eliminate the noise. I personally use an alarm app on my iPhone that vibrates as well as makes a sound, so I could imagine that working well with earplugs in!

  • David

    What time you go to bed Chris? I would love to be able to wake up at 5.30 am, but it would mean I would have to go to bed quite early to get my 8 hours of sleep, which is really difficult if you live in a noisy student dorm like myself. ps: any tips on how to sleep in a noisy environment?

    Cheers dude:D

    • I hear you. I have a bedtime ritual from 830-930 every evening, and I head to bed right afterward, at 9:30pm. It usually takes me a few minutes to get to sleep, so I get about 7.5 hours every night.

      That’s a tricky one, because from what I’ve read the noise around you can really impact your sleep quality, so I don’t really have much for you except to suggest you do all you can to eliminate the noise. I personally use an alarm app on my iPhone that vibrates as well as makes a sound, so I could imagine that working well with earplugs in!

  • I think the other important difference is control. If you choose to wake up at 10 every day, and do it diligently, then you should have the same productivity.

    But if you wake up at 10 because you can’t get yourself out of bed, then it’s a problem and trying to move it earlier could be very useful for your productivity.

    • Good call brother! I hadn’t considered that idea before, might have to chew on that one a little bit :)

  • I think the other important difference is control. If you choose to wake up at 10 every day, and do it diligently, then you should have the same productivity.

    But if you wake up at 10 because you can’t get yourself out of bed, then it’s a problem and trying to move it earlier could be very useful for your productivity.

    • Good call brother! I hadn’t considered that idea before, might have to chew on that one a little bit :)

      • Daisy

        Hi Chris what does “might have chew on that one” means? sorry I’m not a native English speaker and it’s my first time to see that expression

        • Christian Ostmo

          It means he’s going to have to think about it, maybe read a bit more, before coming to his own conclusion.

  • Arek Skuza

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • Arek Skuza

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • David Suleiman

    Could you expunge ejaculatory fluids in the morning like you do at night? That is the question I want answered.

  • blanchie

    Blanchie, I find it hard to get started everyday even if i plan to do things iam late.l want to shower and dressed but i feel stuck and idon’t do it. I want to be free. To shower dress and leave the house.

  • blanchie

    Blanchie, I find it hard to get started everyday even if i plan to do things iam late.l want to shower and dressed but i feel stuck and idon’t do it. I want to be free. To shower dress and leave the house.

  • To me it’s about when I have quiet alone time to get stuff done, even if it’s just quiet thinking time. My kids and wife are up early so I sleep later and stay up later – late night is my productive time. I think this meme going around that you MUST get up super early to be successful started with early-risers who have a superiority complex about it (probably instilled by parents who taught them that sleeping in is “lazy”) and now it seems like everywhere I look, people are doing sleep “hack” crap and getting up insanely early.

    The bottom line is what you said: It doesn’t make any difference when you get up, since you’ll get the same amount of productive hours.

    And this “get up at 5am to be hyper-productive” fad I see all over Facebook can have a dark side (pun intended): As this article points out, waking before sunrise wreaks havoc on the brain and can even lead to long-term and sometimes severe health problems: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/snoozers-are-in-fact-losers

  • I get up on the late side because I can’t help it, but that doesn’t mean I have a productivity problem. That’s just the clock my brain is set to. Everyone has a circadian rhythm somewhere between 24-25 hours. Morning people are closer to 24 and night owls are closer to 25. (The bigger problem isn’t getting up as much as it’s getting to bed.)

    A while back when I bought into the myth that getting up earlier would make me more productive (it didn’t – just the opposite because I was “off my clock” and less alert all day), I read every book out there on circadian rhythms and like it or not, they’re pretty well permanently set. You *can* temporarily shift your sleep/wake times using the method sleep-cycle disorder doctors use, but it will eventually slide back.

    One thing I have learned is the importance of a routine. Once a week I get up insanely early by my standards for a business roundtable group I’m in. It’s also the only day I put on a suit (my Rotary club meets the same day at lunch) and laying everything out the night before so I can get going and be there on the the next morning has a definite positive impact on falling asleep early and getting up early.

    Having said that, I’m considering leaving the group because even though I have no problem getting up 2 hours early, around 1-2pm I flat-out crash and am useless the rest of the day, making it a wasted day, and the next day I end up sleeping an hour later despite trying to get up my regular time.

  • Martyn Halán

    Getting up early just for gym..is not seemingly productive.. only if the lifted weights would do more of your real necesary things for life..notwithstandin the fact of just getting the body to be erlier tired or quite unsuitable early load for body system. Zen meditation or brisk walk for 30′ would be much more proficient and less time consumin

  • Kadean Pleasents

    I go to sleep at 11:00 and wake up at 2:00 or 4:00 or 5:00 and I fell great as ever! And personally that is just my clock and how its setup for my body.

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