Want to get ahead?
Here’s a piece of advice for your digital nomad lifestyle: Wake up before the rooster crows.
Before you hit the snooze, hear us out! There’s a lot of good research that backs up this idea.
Some of the world’s most successful people wake up at 5am or earlier. Ursula Burns, now the CEO of VEON, wakes up at 5:15am to get caught up on emails and then exercise. Richard Branson wakes up at 5am to work out, catch up on news and emails, and spend time with family. And Tim Cook wakes up at 4am—even earlier!
Let’s dig a little deeper. In this article, we’ll cover why you should wake up at 5am and give you tips to wake up early.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
If you wake up later, like at 8am, you probably have to rush to get ready. You get a shower, get dressed, eat a quick breakfast, and head out the door.
You rush yourself. And you miss out on one of the most productive times of the day: the early morning!
As an article in The Sleep Advisor magazine states, there are many benefits of waking up early. Early risers have more time to exercise, meditate, reflect, plan, and enjoy quiet time. Additionally, those that do wake up at 4am or 5am to work achieve greater productivity because their minds are fresh and there are fewer distractions. Even robocalls don’t happen as frequently in the early morning!
In short, the early morning allows you to focus on something valuable to you, whether that be work or your physical or emotional health. Take advantage of that undisturbed time.
So, let’s go back to the question: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
It should be something worthwhile…
Is waking up at 5am healthy and natural?
You need between seven to nine hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. So, if you’re going to wake up at 5am, you need to get to bed around 9pm.
Obviously, if you’re a night owl, this may be difficult. But don’t shake your head just yet.
Let me explain some interesting history about sleep first…
Before the Industrial Revolution, humans had much different—and more natural—sleeping patterns. As historian A. Roger Ekirch details in his essay, Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles, people divided their sleep into two phases: the “first sleep” and the “second sleep”. Here’s how the pattern worked:
- At sunset, people would go to bed. The “first sleep” would last roughly four hours.
- People would then wake up in the middle of the night. They would spend a few hours planning the day, talking, and eating.
- People would then go back to bed until sunrise. The “second sleep” would last roughly four hours.
The Industrial Revolution changed our natural sleep patterns, as a scheduled workday made two sleep phases inconvenient. It’s a pity, right?
Obviously, you can’t return to pre-industrial times, but you can learn something from the way people used to sleep. It’s that waking up at sunrise is the most natural way to begin the day.
So, is waking up at 5am healthy and natural?
The answer is absolutely yes—especially if you get seven-plus hours of rest.
Why are people more productive in the early morning?
When I wake up early, I find myself more creative and efficient. I often wondered why. Thankfully, we have science to give us an explanation.
During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our brain activity increases and we have dreams. While our waking brains think in an orderly manner, our sleeping brains break through that order and explore uncharted places. This increases creativity and the ability to find solutions.
A University of Lübeck study in 2004 proves the power of sleep to enhance problem-solving capabilities. Researchers gave subjects seemingly complex math problems, but each question had an elegant arithmetical shortcut. Before sleep, 25% of the subjects discovered the shortcut. After eight hours of sleep, 59% found the shortcut.
Pretty interesting, right?
There’s even more intriguing scientific evidence out there. In his book, The Morning Mind, Robert Carter, Ph.D., details why morning people are more productive than night owls. The fact is most people are programmed to work the best in the morning, just after waking up. Only 1% of people actually work better later in the day.
Why is this so?
Carter points to research that shows the brain is physically bigger after waking up, due to fluid flowing to the brain during sleep. In the first few hours of the day, our brain achieves the best cognitive performance, productivity, and emotional regulation of the day. As we get towards the end of the day, our cognitive ability declines.
Motivated to wake up at 5am yet?
To conclude, when you wake up after a good night’s rest, your brain is in its optimal state and has the perfect environment for work (no distractions!). This enables you to better tap into the creativity of your sleeping brain. And you can find new solutions to problems and perform tasks more efficiently.
The old adage of “sleep on it” makes sense now. It’s sound advice.
How to wake up at 5am: Tips to wake up early
Waking up at 4am or 5am is easier said than done. But with discipline and a smart strategy, you can turn waking up early into a habit.
Here are some tips to wake up early:
- Take baby steps. If you wake up at 9am now, don’t change to 5am right away. Gradually get up earlier and earlier until you feel comfortable waking up at sunrise.
- Make sure you get quality sleep. The National Sleep Foundation stresses the importance of making your room dark. Don’t use electronic devices before bed, as the light stimulates you and can affect getting to sleep.
- Wake up after a REM cycle. If you wake up during your REM cycle, you may be disoriented and want to hit the snooze. Apps like Sleep Time can help you wake up once you’re done dreaming.
- Wake up the right way. If it’s still dark, use a sunlight alarm clock to mimic sunrise. Your body will respond and wake up! Also, make drinking a glass of water the first thing you do in the morning. Because when you wake up, you’re dehydrated as your body hasn’t had H2O in hours.
- Have a morning routine. The first thing you do in the morning should get your day off to a quality start. That could be running, meditating, or doing work. Make a habit of it, and you’ll hop out of bed much more quickly.
For digital nomads, freelancers, and travelers, the benefits of waking up early are great. Imagine if you could get the bulk of your work done before 10am! That leaves the rest of the day to enjoy the good things in life, from mojitos in Cuba to fun places in the Philippines.
So, even if you’re not an early riser, know you can become one with discipline and trying tips like these! Given the benefits of waking up early, you should at least give it a shot.
The early bird gets the worm, as they say. Be the early bird!
Have any other productivity tips for digital nomads? Join the community and start the conversation.
About the Author
Nick Callos has always had a passion for reading, writing, and discovering the new and unknown. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Nick holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Boston College. He currently splits his time between his hometown, Chengdu, China, and the open road. A full-time travel writer, Nick hopes his work can inspire others to explore the world more deeply and enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle.