Scott H Young

Sleeping Enough is More Important Than Early-Rising


Yawn

I’m a fan of early-rising as a productivity tool. I would argue that most people have the strongest motivation to work in the morning or afternoon hours, so waking up earlier means you can gain productive time.

There is also something psychological about waking up early. When you successfully achieve the goal of getting out of bed early, that gives you some momentum for all the other things you need to do in a day.

However, I think there is an important exception to this mantra of early rising. That is that sleep is more important than waking up early. Early rising only works if you are able to go to bed earlier, I believe getting your full sleep for a night trumps any early-rising considerations.

Why I’m (Now) an Inconsistent Early Riser

A few years ago, I wrote a few articles on waking up early and the benefits to productivity. At the time of those articles, I was rising pretty consistently at 5:30 or 6:00am. I have even gone for thirty-day stretches waking up early every single day, even on weekends.

However, now I would say I’m an inconsistent early riser at best. Today I woke up at 6:45, and yesterday I woke up at 6:15, but other times I sleep in well past 10am.

The reason for my switch isn’t out of laziness. Although I have had stumbles with habits before, they are usually pretty easy to fix. The switch is because I’ve found the early-rising habit isn’t ideal, at least when practiced on a consistent basis, in my life anymore.

Early Rising is Great, Having Enough Sleep is Better

Early rising is a great habit, provided your evenings are relatively quiet. When my life revolves around work or studies, going to bed earlier to compensate for early rising is a decent trade off. However, if I’m traveling, socializing or partying, it’s almost impossible to keep it up.

I’ve since realized that, whatever the benefits of waking up a bit earlier are, they are trumped by missing sleep. If waking up early starts your day with +1, having a serious sleep deficit starts your day off at -5.

Getting enough sleep for me means at least 8 hours. I’m not someone who can get by for more than a few days on 4 hours per night of sleep. I can’t even get by with six hours.

I think my abandonment of the consistent early-rising schedule is a by-product of my life getting more complex (and interesting). When my entire focus was self-development and work, it fit nicely. Now that my focus has shifted to social-development and more far-reaching goals, it comes up short.

Inconsistent Early Rising is the Alternative

My solution has been to become an inconsistent early riser. Which means that most of the time, when life keeps me up past 10-11pm, I’ll focus on getting as much of my 8 hours as I can.

However, when my focus needs to shift mostly to work, I can wake up early those days to get the productivity-enabling benefits.

This week, for example, I had several group assignments, 7.5 hours at school each day, a new product launch, blog writing and errands with the French bureaucracy to complete my visa work. Waking up early yesterday and today have helped me chew away at my weekly goals list fast enough that I should still be able to relax on the weekend.

The disadvantage of inconsistency is it requires more discipline to get up early. When I had trained myself to wake up at 5:30 without fail, I never pressed the snooze button. I always awoke on the first ring. Today, however I hit it once or twice before finally getting up.

I think if I were to go back to a mostly-work focus for a longer period of time, such as a month or two, I might try the early-riser schedule again. But, for now, getting enough sleep wins out as the best way to stay healthy and sane.


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27 Responses to “Sleeping Enough is More Important Than Early-Rising”

  1. Toomas says:

    Had the same problem. I’ve been on this inconsistent schedule for over a year now, must say, it’s not healthy. Our body likes consistency, that way a structured sleeping pattern can form. 8 hours of sleep will then do much more than 8 hours of sleep in an inconsistent sleeping pattern.

    In a few weeks I’ll be trying out always waking up at 9am, so it’s consistent and yet I have my necessary hours of sleep.

  2. Heather says:

    My plan for December was to wake up at 8am every day. That didn’t happen (largely because most nights I’m awake until 1am), but on the days where it was necessary I still managed. Somehow though, when I do that, the entire rest of the week (bar one or two days) leaves me sleeping until 10-12am. Not a good system!

    Have to agree though, getting enough sleep always makes me feel better than waking earlier on not enough.

  3. [...] i also am passionate about finding my place in life and blogs like David Turnbull, Rules Optional, Scott Young, Untemplater help me with that [...]

  4. Finally, somebody is saying it. Early rising is seen as the ultimate productivity tool, and if you are an early riser, you are productive and you can conquer the world. That is how it is shown on the internet.
    But of course, early rising doesn’t work for college students. How could you wake up at 5.30am if there are nights that you are partying until that time in the morning?

    I like what you said about inconsistently early rising. Because obviously, I won’t be a consistent, but inconsistent should probably work for me. Think I should try it out sometime!

  5. Dave says:

    I would argue that sleep consistency is as important as the amount of sleep. Simply put, if you have a night-life, early rising is probably not for you. If you insist on waking earlier during the week than on weekends, I would gradually adjust (no more than an hour earlier, 3 hrs later a day).

    Early rising is usually the first thing someone who gets involved with PD; I personally believe early rising is one of personal development artifacts, that seem interesting and appealing but is often inconvenient to implement. I fortunately never fell for anything like that (as I’m typing in dvorak because I don’t want to relearn qwerty lol).

  6. Hi Scott.

    I gladly agree with you. It is better to sleep to normal time than wake up early with not enough sleep. It might feel cool for a few minutes after waking up, but then you are tired the rest of the day, so it is pretty worthless.

    I usually always wake up around 7, basically all the time, unless some non-standard item kept me up a bit late.

    Once in a while I get up a little earlier to run with the sun coming up, but usually I run or bball in the evening.

    Relevant point here.

  7. Have you ever tried biphasic sleeping? I think the 8 hour pattern was just forced on us during the industrial revolution and before this we actually slept several times a day, which is more natural for our bodies.
    Even with a modern schedule this is possible; a 20 minute siesta where you have REM sleep (takes practise but can be achieved and is worth the investment) means that you actually only need 5-6 hours at night to get the equivalent of a one block 8 hour session. You don’t actually “need” 8 hours; it’s a chain of deep sleep (unnecessary) versus spikes of REM sleep (that actually rest you). So you are getting the same restfulness in less time if you split it up.
    Ever since I started having brief siestas in the afternoon, I’ve not only had more energy in the afternoon because of them (it’s like getting an adrenaline injection!) but I’ve become an early riser simply because I don’t actually need to sleep any more than what I already have. :)
    If I go out to party I can still get up early and just extend my siesta a little more – I get up easily because my body knows that it only has to wait a few hours for the next sleep time, whereas most people have to wait a huge 16 hours for their next chance.
    It’s your body’s natural rhythm! Short naps have dramatically improved my day. Even when I wasn’t freelance, I’d use the one hour lunch break and find a quiet room near where I worked and nap for 20 minutes and still have 30-40 minutes to eat and socialise.
    It’s something that I’m very much convinced about; I’ll write a post about it soon enough since people have a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to afternoon naps.

  8. Shelly says:

    I think this is something that is quite subjective, however, on a personal level I have also experimented with early rising and found that getting enough sleep is more important. I have found that I need at least 8 and a half hours to be fully rested. If I want to wake early, this means planning my bedtime to ensure I get a full sleep time. If I have to stay up late, and wake early the next day sometimes I do compromise, but try to get a full 8.5 hours wherever possible.

  9. Ian Nuttall says:

    I agree to an extent that sleeping enough is more important and outweighs the benefit of early rising.

    The main point for me is that “sleeping enough” is very different from person to person. You need 8 hours. I only need 6. One guy I know has two young children, runs a successful boxing fitness consultancy and works out like an absolutely maniac pretty much every day and he does it all on no more than 5 hours sleep.

    It’s something that everyone has to judge for themselves. For me, if I am in bed for anywhere between 10pm and 11pm, then I know that rising at 5-5.30am is achievable and I’ll feel great and be very productive.

    For you, well, you’ll need to test it for yourself and see what your sleep time to performance threshold is.

    Good post and well written. Thanks!

    Ian

  10. I agree that sleeping enough is more important than getting up early but why not just get up at a fixed time every day to be in line with your circadian rhythms? I suppose you could organize your social activities around this but it’s hard at a young age because everyone wants to socialize late. Nice post Scott.

  11. Scott Young says:

    Benny,

    Agreed, perhaps biphasic is a better alternative. I haven’t officially experimented with it, so I can’t say whether it beats the full-day alternative.

    My only critique of zany sleep schedules is that they tend to interfere with other people’s schedules. That’s the reason Steve Pavlina stopped polyphasic sleep and one reason I’ve found early rising isn’t always a win.

    But you have got me interested in maybe doing a trial!

    -Scott

  12. Niko says:

    I also was getting up at 5.30am consistently last summer (when going to bed between 11-12) and since I really was able to accomplish a huge workload in the morning I was full of energy + happy about the finished stuff. In the afternoon, especially after lunch, I got sleepy – but, as Benny writes, napping saved the day! Check out this link on “How to nap” :
    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/naps/
    , a compact explanation about how it works, and how to do it best. Before I always thought “I am not the napping kind of guy”, beacause I felt even more sleepy after having to get up after only 20-30mins. But with a little practise it really started to work. Woth a try :)

  13. AHA says:

    Read TS Wiley.

  14. AHA says:

    More specifically the book Lights out.

  15. Glad to see you are curious Scott! ;)
    I also tried polyphasic sleep and I agree that (despite the benefits in extra time) it is quite antisocial, and even boring to have that extra time at night with noone around.
    However biphasic sleep does work well once you get the hang of it!
    I just tell my mates that I’m going for a quick nap and then come back 20 minutes later rejuvinated :)
    Since it’s only once a day and in the 2-3pm lull when *everyone* is a little groggy (your body temperature naturally drops and your blood is being diverted from your brain to your stomach to help with digestion), you’re ditching people for the short time of the day when they are slightly less interesting anyway :P
    I stay up late (usually 1am) and get up early (about 6:30) every day of the week thanks to this. I can go out until 3-4 and then “sleep in” until 8-9.
    I’d highly recommend you give it a try. It’s a little easier to get into it in the summer when it’s warmer though. It took me about a week of time wasting and unrestful naps before I adjusted and could control them. Now I wake up after the 20 minutes without an alarm clock; my body has been programmed :D
    Note that coffee drinking should be abandoned since it messes up your ability to control when you want to sleep; a little hard in coffee culture France I’ll admit :P

  16. Scott Young says:

    Benny,

    I’m basically caffeine free aside from the occasional soda or cup of tea, never coffee.

    Maybe when my schedule gets a bit more predictable I’ll give biphasic a whirl. I don’t think integration would be too difficult, and it may be a superior solution to the lack of sleep conundrum many face.

    -Scott

  17. Oscar says:

    Yes! It’s easy to gain sleep debt but extremely hard to get it back. I too prefer getting up early but only if I can get enough sleep (usually 8+ hours)

  18. Rose says:

    I’m hoping that once I’ve trained myself to get up with my alarm, I can set it later on some days and still get up as soon as it goes off.
    Luckily, I only need 6 hours or so to sleep, but shall bear overall sleep in mind while testing the “early rising” theory.
    Thanks for posting,
    ~Rose

  19. Lauren says:

    I personally do not believe that waking up early is ideal. I think humans are designed to wake up later in the day, but agree with you that sleeping at least 8 hours is absolutely crucial if you want to be at your best. Speaking from someone who just got 8 hours of sleep (which normally doesn’t happen), it’s amazing to see the difference in my attitude and outlook. I just feel better in every way, even though there are plenty of things to be down or indifferent about. The challenge is getting to bed at a decent time, which can only be done through self-discipline.

  20. Great post but I have to disagree with th at least 8 hours part.

    I recently spent 4 hours researching how to hack sleep most effectively from all the studies that were out there and came up with the 3 key sleep hacks that collated what almost all the studies agreed on and were actually applicable. Some of it is surprising but backed up by over 50 years of research.

    For those interested you can check it out here http://tinyurl.com/y9bczg3

  21. nXqd says:

    Yup. I love early-rising just because at that time , we can work efficiently, get my MIT done ASAP and I can do them with high concentration.
    So I try to sleep at 10 pm every night as I can. Sometimes, I work really well from 0:00 AM to 2:00 AM. But I’ll wake up at about 9 AM unless I’ll feel terrible, this feeling almost kills my day. I’ll sleep later 3 or 4 hours.
    Let me guess 8 hours vs 5 hours + 4 hours. You lose your day and time :)

  22. Olle Linge says:

    I don’t think being an early-riser is very important, but I do think that going up at the same time every morning is of paramount importance. I try to find a time which works okay both for weekdays and for weekends, when partying, travelling or something else might be on the menu. Right now, I don’t have any classes before 10, so I usually sleep between 2 AM and 8 AM, which works very well. I find that this has been extremely useful in cutting down on sleeping time and yet newer feeling that I don’t get enough sleep.

    In other words, I don’t really think the inconsistency in your method is very good, although I do of course do it myself sometimes, recognising the fact that sometimes getting enough sleep is indeed more important than most other things.

  23. It seems to me that different people have different capacities when it comes to the amount of sleep they get. I would also agree with you, Scott, that feeling that you need to have a rigid rule of getting up at a certain time is unrealistic for many people in different phases of life. I personally need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep to function well. And when I don’t get that time, I need my afternoon power nap. But the power nap is only a cheap substitute for 7-8 hours of deep restful sleep.

  24. Sleeping 7-8 hours and waking up earlier requires a lot of discipline but on the onther hand, if we consider an early morning time as the most productive, then there is no point to work in the late evenings.

  25. [...] Sleeping Enough is More Important Than Early-Rising [...]

  26. shreevidya says:

    I agree with you..

  27. [...] Sleeping Enough is More Important Than Early-Rising [...]

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