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By the second day of waking up at 5AM, I felt terrible. It was the combination of a maladjusted sleep schedule and the requirements of school.
The problem was, after school let out, I had to attend club meetings, finish assignments, study for tests, and work on other personal activities such as this website. All in all, to obtain 8 hours of sleep on a 5AM wakeup, I would have to sleep at 9PM.
But that sleep time was completely ridiculous. I had to keep cramming in my duties while forgoing breaks, which led me to feeling exhausted. And since it took me a while to wake up in the morning, much of that time felt wasted.
I kept up the experiment for another week. But, by day 3, I already knew what the result would be. There was no way I could continue the 5AM wakeup.
Here were some of my key takeaways from the experience.
1. Your schedule adds constraints to your wakeup.
Many who advocate for a 5AM (or other early time) wakeup schedule often have flexible days. Or their days start early and end early. With a predictable, flexible, or early day, of course it would make sense to wake up early. But as a school student with unpredictable days and difficult tests to study for, it was impossible for me to manage a 5AM wakeup. For others who have packed schedules or strict workdays, the same might apply. Would you sacrifice your evenings for some productivity promises?
2. Sudden changes to your sleep schedule DON’T work.
If you plan on waking up at 5AM, don’t suddenly shift your sleep schedule back more than an hour. Even if you take melatonin to sleep earlier, it takes time for your body to accommodate a change in your circadian rhythm.
For me, my optimistic self mis-assessed how taxing a sudden change would be. Even though I felt fine for the first day, my mistake caught up to me quickly.
Instead, if you’re adamant about changing your sleep schedule, move your alarm back by 30 minutes per week, adjust, and then repeat.
3. You might not be suited for early wake-ups
A common concept permeates sleep science: early birds and night owls. Contrary to productivity “common knowledge”, some of us are just more productive when we sleep and wake later. It has nothing to do with laziness.
The science explains that in our past, because we needed to stay safe, it was genetically preferable for a portion of the population to stay up late and another portion to wake up early. Many fall in between the two extremes though.
I am no night owl, but I am also no early bird. My personal comfort zone leans early, but 5AM is too early.
Before making a sudden decision to change your schedule, be sure to ask yourself if you’ve ever felt comfortable waking up early in the first place. If the answer is “no”, a 5AM wake-up schedule is not right for you.