Why waking up at 5am is the key to feeling happier
Lose an hour in the morning, said 19th-century philosopher Richard Whately, and you will be all day hunting for it.
Two centuries on, however, escaping the warm duvet is a real battle for many, which can result in a morning of mad and desperate rushing.
There’s a sense of powerlessness when it comes to getting up. Whatever else we’ve overcome in life, we feel we’ll never overcome our addiction to the snooze button. And what’s to be gained from it anyway What advantage is there in an early start to the day
Don't hit the snooze button: Getting up earlier could make you feel more invigorated
Like all converts, the ‘early riser’ lobby can sound a little worthy to those who struggle to prise their head from the pillow.
Just listen to Benjamin Franklin, the sixth president of the U.S.: ‘The mind must be fully made up that to rise early is a duty, wherever it is practicable and safe; that the habit is attainable and possible and that a strong effort and a sustained one, must be made, to overcome all obstacles to it.’
Fine words butter no parsnips, however, and the reality on the ground — or rather, in our bed — is a little different.
Again and again we press that snooze button, desperate for extra drowsy minutes, but only postponing the moment when our feet must touch the floor and our face feel the wet flannel.
When I used to work in a supermarket, the 7.30am team meetings were a mere extension of most people’s sleep. They’d get out of bed at the last possible moment, dress hurriedly, run down the road, just catching the bus, and make it to the shop on time.
But though they were at work, they were not fit for work. They arrived disorientated, sour-faced and fuelled only by high-energy (but low-happiness) drinks.
'Watching dawn break through the kitchen window really does “make light of the day” whatever it may hold'
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Early riser: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used to get up at 4.30am and go straight to the gym
Our sleep will adjust to our life. But equally, leaving sleep up to the biological clock may result in many of us being horizontal for around 12 to 15 hours a day, which is not necessary.
No, the answer lies in neither and both. The important thing is not to get too hooked up on how many hours of sleep you need. Where did that figure come from anyway
I was always told I needed ‘a good eight hours’ but I don’t know when I last slept for that long — and have remained happy, active and creative in the meantime.
Some people say: ‘Oh, if I’m to get up at 5am then I must go to bed at 10pm.’ Well, maybe, but only if you’re tired. If you’re not tired till 11pm, stay up until then — but here’s the crunch: still get up when the alarm goes off at 5am. So…
RULE ONE: Listen to the biological clock in the evening and go to sleep when you’re tired.
RULE TWO: Get up when your alarm goes off. (Note for beginners: when starting out on this practice, your body, unused to discipline, will attempt to subvert the process so the alarm clock — and more particularly the snooze button — will need to be beyond easy reach.)
But the big question is this: if I am to gain an hour or two every day, what am I to do with it One frequent use of the time is exercise.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used to get up at 4.30am and go straight to the gym. Early mornings are a good time to exercise. Studies have shown that more than 90 per cent of people who exercise regularly do so in the morning when there are no other distractions.
The market for coffee, used by many to help them wake up, is forecast to be worth 976 million in the UK by 2015
If you plan your exercise for the
evening, it’s more liable to get lost amid life’s variables such as a
late shift at the office, unexpected visits from friends, family
commitments or just sheer exhaustion.
And then there’s breakfast. Many
people skip the most important meal of the day not because they aren’t
hungry but because they don’t have time.
Studies show that children who eat a
good breakfast do better in school because their bodies and minds are
not being asked to run on empty.
They’re also less likely to spend the day snacking their way to obesity in order to compensate for the absence of nutrients early in the day. Are there lessons for adults here, too
‘I’d like mornings better if they started later,’ someone once joked, but I like them as they are.
Make time for breakfast: Studies have shown children who don't skip the first meal of the day do better in school (posed by models)
There are plenty of motivational writers who’ll tell you the early start helps you to get ahead of others and be more productive. This may be so — the brain is wonderfully fresh at that time. But what most defines the dawn watch for me is not competition, but optimism.
‘I’ll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time,’ wrote the poet Emily Dickinson as she watched the first light of day, and we can join her there.
Watching dawn break through the kitchen window really does ‘make light of the day’ whatever it may hold.
In the uninterrupted stillness — people don’t phone, text or email at this time — you hold the new day like you hold a new-born child, wondering what will be.
The peace around you becomes a peace within you and such calm before the storm can leave you calm in the storm if it strikes later on. And amazingly, this game-changing time at the start of the day is free.
Whether we know it or not, we all have a morning routine. The only question is whether it serves us well. If your current pattern leaves you rushed, stressed out or anxious, there’s always 5am and that golden extra hour. The best time of the day Wake up and give it a try.
Simon Parke is the author of Solitude – Recovering The Power Of Alone published by White Crow books