What Happened When I Woke Up Two Hours Earlier For A Week

Here's what happened when we challenged readers, and ourselves, to wake up much earlier than we wanted to.

Editor's Note: This story is part of 5 Habits Changes You Can Actually Make In 2015. Check out the full list here.

Last week I challenged readers, and myself, to wake up what they considered to be "insanely early"—a time earlier than when they would normally wake up, whether it be 6:30 a.m. or 4:30 a.m.

The idea is that having a time in the day where there is no pressure and no expectations from other people would result in better focus and more creative thinking.

What happened when I put this advice to the test?

My plan was to wake up at 6:30 a.m. instead of my normal rising time, 8:30 a.m. I would get in my workout in the morning and then arrive to the office early.

That was the plan at least.

I did not—not even once—arrive to the office by 8:30 a.m. as I had originally hoped.

What I didn't factor in was just how slowly I operate in the morning. The first morning I caught myself staring blankly at my coffee for 10 minutes.

I did wake at 6:30 a.m. most mornings, but even though I had my things packed the night before and I only needed to throw on my gym clothes, I still couldn’t manage to get out the door until after 7 a.m.

But I essentially accomplished what I was striving for.

Focus

One of my goals for this challenge was to become more focused on something that is important to me, my health.

With so much of the day devoted to work, it’s easy to put exercise on the back burner and think, "I’ll get to it tomorrow." This is because, as we see from next week’s habit challenge, we make tons of decisions throughout the day, and our pool of decision-making energy is limited.

As the day progresses our willpower depletes and we’re more likely to either act impulsively or do nothing.

By waking up early, I allowed myself to focus on what I consider important to my well being, exercising, and I prevented myself from reneging on that responsibility to my health.

Creativity

Making time in the morning to take care of myself felt really good.

The first day I had so many endorphins shooting around my body that I almost felt manic—but in a good way.

My mind was bursting with thoughts and ideas, possibly because of the effect exercise has on our bodies, but also because I felt unencumbered by the need to start working immediately. My inner dialogue just wouldn’t shut up on the walk to work.

Challenges

Despite the happy vibes and positive feelings the challenge evoked for me, it’s important to point out that this experience was not all rainbows and butterflies.

Take Your Significant Other Into Consideration.
Waking up a lot earlier than your significant other means making some extra preparations. For one thing, I made sure to leave my gym clothes and packed bag outside the bedroom so I could get ready in the living room. I set several alarms leading up to my wake-up time and I kept my phone under my pillow and set the alarms to the lowest level possible.

Getting Out The Door Is Easier Said Than Done.
You can find a lot of things to distract yourself with when all you want to do is go back to bed for just a little while longer, so getting out the door was half the battle.

Even before getting out of bed I found myself—a young woman with very few responsibilities other than myself—tempted time and again to keep hitting snooze and rationalizing the idea to myself: "What’s another five minutes? No one is going to notice."

As long as I made it to work at a decent time and got everything done, the stakes were pretty low if I snoozed.

Not the case for many parents who chimed in on the challenge. Many pointed out that they rarely have the luxury of sleeping until 6:30 a.m., which would make their wake-up time for this project much earlier. This seems implausible, though some have done it.

What You Got Out Of This New Habit

Silence

A 3:50 a.m. riser, Scott Thigpen says he rises so early because he has children, and it’s the only time he can get some peace and quiet before work. While he uses the time to make breakfast for his wife and kids, he also uses it to meditate, which for him often means simply enjoying a cup of coffee in silence.

Better Writing Time

Reader Erica Wiggins says she wakes up at 6 a.m. every morning to get some writing done. The mother of two says this is the most peaceful time of the day for her, and having some time to herself and her morning cup of Joe, knocking out some writing, and even leisurely checking the news and social media gets her day off to a great start.

I can sit down to a project that later in the day would feel impossible to focus on and knock it out. Getting harder projects done earlier makes the rest of the day feel like a breeze.

Fitness

Reader Chris Smith says the rewards from waking up at 4:45a.m. every morning have exceeded his expectations. While he says it has taken discipline to get to bed by 9:30p.m. each night, the effort was well worth it. He’s since enjoyed losing weight, less road and gym congestion, cooler temperatures while walking his dog, and time to eat breakfast while watching the news.

And while reader Jorge Tovar doesn’t believe waking up early is the reason he’s lost weight and feels more energetic throughout the day, he says that without the hours dedicated to him in the morning, he wouldn’t have been able to get it all done.

Preparation For The Day Ahead
Waking up at 3:30 a.m. allows reader Mie-Na Srein to feel more alive and ready for the day ahead, she says. She uses her time to train for a marathon, and she says an added perk is being able to make early morning meetings and flights with ease.

Before I started the early riser habit, 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. were occasions only reserved for, 'Well, I guess saving $100 on a flight is worth it" or "darn those East Coast people scheduling morning meetings."

And while reader James Grunwald doesn’t completely love the idea of getting up early, he says "the silent morning, empty roads, and time to get into the office before the rest of the crowd offers a tremendous opportunity for productivity." He says getting an early start on the day keeps him feeling ahead rather than fearing that he’s falling behind.

Time To Study

While waking up at 4:30 a.m. left reader Christopher Sanchez a little wiped by 8 p.m., he says he hopes to turn the challenge into a long-lasting habit. Sanchez explains that he uses the early-morning quiet time to study for the CPA exam before work: "I can have peace of mind, not deal with the distractions of emails, roommates, loud noises from the city, and actually focus! This allows for super efficiency. No one but me, my flashcards, notebook, coffee, and Macbook."

The Verdict: I am going to keep this habit up for now. So far I like how it makes me feel, and I have a suspicion the benefits will only keep on coming.

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[Image: TAGSTOCK1 via Shutterstock]

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