From Oprah Winfrey to Apple’s Tim Cook, some of the world’s most successful people wake up early to start tackling tasks. Productive morning routines are so highly associated with success that leadership expert Robin Sharma wrote about the strategy in a bestselling book called “The 5am Club.”
Early birds have flocked to social media to post videos of themselves exercising, enjoying nature, meditating, journaling or eating a fresh breakfast. On TikTok, the tag #5amclub has millions and millions of views, while #morningroutine has nearly 25 billion. The trend has also led to a popular vlog format where people share their “5-to-9s” before their 9-to-5s.
Beginning the day with personal interests sounds healthy, but carving out extra time is not easy, especially for those who have young kids or work long hours. When asked about these types of constraints, Sharma said on a podcast: “The pathway to world-class is hard. I think suffering’s got a bad rap.” Based on social media posts tagged #TeamNoSleep, many people agree with him.
The rise-and-grind lifestyle has become undeniably popular. But is it actually healthy ― and how much suffering is too much?
While taking on a challenge can be a good thing, sleep experts and psychologists recommend considering your individual situation before taking part in this trend. If you’re someone who can’t get an adequate amount of sleep and you’re eating into time you could use for rest, you might want to pass.
A person’s typical day is split between work, leisure activities and sleep, said Michael Leiter, organisational psychologist and co-author of “The Burnout Challenge.”
“It’s not a simple little equation,” he said. “If you’re stealing something from sleep in order to do things you really love or be with people you really love, you’re gaining something but losing the physical and psychological recovery that comes when you sleep deeply.”
People need between seven and eight hours of sleep to feel restored, but one-third of Americans say they don’t get enough rest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are forgoing sleep to join the sunrise productivity crowd, you may feel exhausted quickly.
Exhaustion can lead to cynicism and depression, and it can cause you to withdraw from the people and activities you once enjoyed, according to Leiter. “You’re going to be operating on a much more flat level,” he said. “Sleep debt keeps building until you can catch up.”
Here’s how to wake up early and still get enough sleep.
If you want to join the so-called 5 a.m. club, sleep expert James Maas recommends getting at least seven hours of rest and sticking to the same schedule every day. So if you’re going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m. on weekdays, you’ll need to do it on the weekend too.
“You have one biological circadian rhythm,” Maas said. “It can’t switch because you live your life differently on the weekends. Otherwise, you’ll put yourself into an eastbound jet lag without leaving the airport.”
For anyone who is likely to be roused in the middle of the night by a crying baby or a bathroom visit, Maas recommends planning extra time to account for the disruption.
“If you’re up for 20 minutes, it’s probably going to be 90 minutes, a full REM cycle, before you can get back to sleep,” Maas said, referring to the phase of rapid eye movement during rest.
Depending on factors like lifestyle, genetics, age and overall health, some people may need more than seven or eight hours of sleep. Athletes like Roger Federer rest up to 12 hours daily to achieve peak performance, while the Dalai Lama and actor Matthew McConaughey have said they can pass the eight-hour mark at night. Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy liked to tack on extra sleep during their presidencies with naps.
Resting in the middle of the day replenishes your physical and mental energy, according to Maas. But he recommends limiting your midday siesta to 30 minutes or less.
As long as you’re able to get enough sleep each night, you will be well positioned to join the 5 a.m. club. But there are still a few other factors to consider before diving in.
You’ll need to keep your energy going all day.
If you’ve already been productive in the morning, it can be tempting to let other healthy habits drop off later in the day. Willpower is like a muscle; if you overexert yourself, your self-control can become depleted. So, you should slowly ease into new morning rituals.
Adjusting your sleep schedule slightly each day until you get to 5 a.m. can make the transition less shocking for your body and mind, and it may help prevent you from feeling tired. On days when you do feel sluggish, resist the urge to reach for caffeine, which can mess with your sleep routine. There are natural ways to stay energized.
“A breakfast centered around whole foods that contains a balance of carbs, proteins and fats will actually help set the tone for the day,” said Alex Oskian, a registered dietitian and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “You start out with not just physical energy but mental energy, which is super important if you are a busy individual.”
From there, Oskian recommends eating every three to five hours, drinking plenty of water, and engaging in physical movement continually from dawn until dusk.
Going for a lunchtime walk, standing at your desk or even doing chores around the house can keep your body active, and it will help you feel energized.
You can be intentionally productive later in the day, too.
At sunrise the world around you is still asleep, so you have uninterrupted time to work on personal goals. But the benefits of the 5 a.m. club can be found at other times of day as well, according to Jeff Sanders, author of “The 5 a.m. Miracle.”
“I take a more flexible approach and acknowledge that life is messy,” Sanders said. “You want to choose the time that is most appropriate for what you want to do. First ask yourself, ‘What do I want to get out of tomorrow?’ Then, you need to schedule it on your calendar at the time that makes the most sense.”
If your goal is to meditate, the morning might be the quietest period. But if you want to write in a journal, the end of the day may be the best time to reflect.
Sanders recommends marking off blocks of time on your calendar to focus on accomplishing your goals, while also setting boundaries by turning off your phone, going to a quiet location or separating from other people.
Ultimately, what the clock says doesn’t matter. If you’re giving up healthy habits like sleep to be more productive at a certain hour of the day ― but struggle later on ― it might not be worth it.
“It’s not 5 a.m. alone that is important,” Sanders said. “It’s really the intentionality of your time usage that’s important.”