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Working when it’s still pitch black


Are you an early riser? Or do you prefer to sleep in a bit, because you’re not really operational until the sun is high up in the sky? There is plenty of self-help advice about that argues that getting up early in the morning – while it’s still dark outside – will make you happy and more productive. Famous and undoubtedly very successful people do it: Tim Cook, Michelle Obama, Anna Wintour – to name but a few. But is rising early really their secret weapon? Would it work for you too? Or is it just nuts?

Here is why you might want to try getting up at 4am

Waking up in the early hours, say some time between 3:30am and 5:30am, has two main advantages.

Firstly, it’s the time of the day where you will find zero distraction and absolute focus. In an always-on and hyperconnected world, that’s worth a lot! When it’s still dark outside, when no phone is ringing, no emails are arriving and no meetings are scheduled, you can power through some of the things you really need to do, but never get round to. Like clearing your inbox, sorting your life admin or even doing household chores. Unless you’re working across all time zones, getting up early gives you a head start on the day; when the others get going, you are already prepped, organized and at full speed.

Secondly, you gain extra time to do the things that matter to you. Take physical and mental fitness: Getting up in the dark gives you time to do sport, eat a healthy breakfast and even prep a nutritious lunch for later. You also gain space to do what you are really passionate about. What are your top three things you really want to achieve? Maybe write a book, draft plans to set up your own business, or learn a new language? For most of us, our ambitions falter because we lack time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to dedicate just one hour every morning to follow our dreams – for real, and not while we’re sleeping?

However, before you set your alarm clock for 4am, consider the downsides too.

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Here’s why you should hit the snooze button

For starters, your body needs enough sleep to recover. That’s a fact. If you plan to get up very early, make sure you go to bed early too. Seven to nine hours are what an adult’s body requires to be healthy. Lacking sleep increases the risk of exhaustion, strokes, heart attacks and other things we all want to avoid. A University of Westminster study found that people who get up early, have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Researchers in San Francisco, meanwhile, say that just one hour less sleep can make you four times more likely to catch a cold . So, if you get up early to squeeze even more into your day, or because you fear you won’t be able to pack everything into your day… well, you’re probably on the wrong track. All you’ll do is wear yourself out, and that doesn’t make for a successful and happy life.

Last but not least: Yes, the early bird might catch the worm, but the late-night owl might catch a mouse. Many of us are on a constant quest to optimize ourselves. To be more productive. More efficient. Better organized. But sometimes this might not help us to improve. Life really should be about enriching moments that matter. Think about what moments you might be missing out on. Maybe a beautiful dinner with your friends. A great conversation with your spouse. Or a book you read late at night, which inspires you and gives you new perspectives. When it comes to sleep, the world – unfortunately – isn’t black and white. The hours in the early morning might be great for your focus and productivity, the hours in the evening are not to be neglected either. So, check out both options and see what works best for you – your choices will decide whether you live a seamless life.

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