I Tried Waking up at 5:00 AM for 30 days and Here Is What I Learned7 min read
I want to accomplish more, I want to do more, and I want to be successful. Does this mean I have to wake up early? And how early is early? I don’t even like worms.
But, Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 am, Jack Dorsey wakes up at 5:30 am, and Richard Branson wakes up at 5:45. I admire what those three have accomplished. There was only one thing to do, I had to try it.
For the next 30 days, I would wake up at 5 am, no matter what.
“I want to accomplish more,” I told myself, “I want to do more.” The argument for waking up earlier to get more done made sense. If you wake up earlier, you have “extra” time before your regular day begins (this applies mainly if you find yourself wasting time or struggling to focus later at night, which was me).
In medical school, time is hard to come by; extra minutes or hours are gold. I can use that spare time to be a more well-read medical student or make YouTube videos or exercise. If I wake up earlier, say 3 hours before I have to be in the hospital, I can finish many of those tasks before the day even begins.
Day 1 was an absolute struggle; I had to remind myself, “why am I doing this?”
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized the sun had not risen. I could see the moon.
Ignoring the ringing of my phone alarm, I admired the warmth of my blanket cocoon. Outside of, it was cold. Outside of it was work. Outside of it was effort. Eventually, however, I remembered something from Marcus Aurelius about how my meaning of life is not to be in bed:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’Marcus Aurelius
I wasn’t created to be under the blankets. The challenge is the way forward. The strongest powerlifters in the world are constantly increasing the weight. The groundbreaking musicians don’t only perform covers.
I stepped out of bed.
As day 1 winded down, I realized I needed more of a strategy; I can’t have an internal battle every morning. Here’s what I added:
- Cold Showers
- Physical Alarm out of reach of bed (no snooze button)
- Phone out of reach with a backup alarm
- Auto-temperature changes (Nest would go from 65 degrees to 72 degrees at 4:30 am)
I will go into detail in a future post, but for now, temperature changes, specifically stepping into a cold shower or warming up your ambient environment, can help shift your state into a more “awake” state. Then, if my alarm was farther away, it would force me to get out of bed to turn it off. Finally, I had the rule once I was out of bed, I was out of bed! No going back in; it was hot lava after I stepped out.
Emblazoned by my new rules, I went to bed around 10:30 pm after day one, ready to wake up stronger tomorrow. However, on day two, the fog of sleepiness was still there at 5 am. I craved to stay in the toasty embrace of my blankets. I thought I was being stupid, “if I am this sleepy, how can I get anything done? I should just stay in bed.”
Then, thankfully, my thinking brain took over. I don’t want to be in this bed right now. Stepping out of bed was the first hurdle; the next was the cold shower.
I stared at the handle; I was frozen, simply standing there, with no water coming out. Closing my eyes, I turned the knob. The water was cold. Bone-chillingly, fingers are pale when you step out, lose my male anatomy, kind of cold. Surprisingly, when the first blast of cold water hit my face, it was like a shock of electricity. Of good electricity. It was like someone injected three espressos into my veins—time to do stuff.
I entered my day excited and ready to go, but the energy faded by lunch time.
In the afternoon, I was ready for a nap. Struggling through the rest of the day, I was prepared to crawl into bed at 8. Going to bed at 10 or 11 wasn’t going to cut it with this schedule. I wondered if I would even make it past day three.
So Much Time
Morning three, however, I knew waking up early and the cold shower was going to suck, so I might as well do it immediately. Day four went like this, and day five and day six. I kept stepping out of bed. I kept stepping into the cold shower.
After I was beyond the pain of just waking up, I started to realize the benefits of this earlier wake-up time.
Every morning I had ample time to do anything I wanted.
- I was awake at 5
- I had eaten breakfast, cleaned my apartment, and dressed by 5:45
- I had 3 hours before I would have to go into the hospital
Not only did I have three hours, but everyone was asleep. That meant no pings, emails, or calls, and I couldn’t ping, email, or call anyone else. What does that leave me to do? It left me time to work on myself and to do things for myself.
This could mean studying and preparing for the hospital that day. Writing a YouTube video, editing a YouTube video, planning out my exercises or meals for the week, deep cleaning the apartment, going for a run, lifting weights, or reading a book.
Sure, I was a little more sleepy for the first week, but that was because my sleep schedule had not adjusted. What actual good work did I do after 7 pm? Nothing much. However, “transplanting” those hours earlier in the day has been like adding an extra three hours per day because I do good work in the morning as opposed to at night.
As I neared the end of my experiment, I thought the mornings would get easier. They didn’t. The alarms still sucked. The cold showers still put fear into my soul. However, I could bring myself to do these things on command. It is hard to explain. The actions themselves didn’t become easier, and the physical reactions didn’t soften, but my mind hardened.
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.Epictetus
I experienced this “mind-strengthening” similarly when I tried running for the first time. The actions didn’t become easier; I just became stronger.
Two weeks in, waking up early and cold showering was my routine. I was astonished by the amount of work I got done on these early mornings. Again, I had prepared for my day by 6:00 am at the latest, which gave me two or three hours of solid “work” time before my day began. And that was a perfect amount of time because even if I had a whole day off to work on YouTube stuff or study, I would need a break after two or three hours anyway.
The final weeks felt normal. Then, before I knew it, the experiment was over.
Overall, I enjoyed this experiment. I think. However, 5 am too early for me. 5:30 seems a more reasonable time. Also, instead of waking up precisely at a certain time, I now have a wake-up “range.” I don’t always go to bed at the same time; my sleep isn’t always the same. Instead, I wanted to wake up in a 30-minute time range. Using this range, in combination with an app called Sleep Cycle and the later wake time of 5:30, allowed me to wake up at my lightest stage of sleep, which made waking up earlier 10x easier (I would set the “awake” time from 5:15 – 5:45).
The application tracks my movements based on sound and uses that to correlate to my sleep cycle. It’s been about a month since the experiment, and since then, I’ve been waking up consistently between 5:15-5:45, and I’ve gotten more done than I ever thought possible.
Do you have to wake up at 3:45 am to be the next CEO of apple? Or creator of Twitter? Definitely not. Will waking up generally earlier help you accomplish more? Maybe. It does for me. I like waking up early. I’m going to keep doing it.
The world is different earlier in the morning. Walking outside, everything is quiet. Things are empty. People aren’t around. Squirrels and birds were the rulers, and I was an observer. Phones don’t buzz; Emails don’t ping. I like a pingless world.