Are There Actual Health Benefits of Waking Up at 4am?!?

Are There Actual Health Benefits of Waking Up at 4am?!?

What’s with all this fuss about 4am in particular? Why are so many people advocates for waking up at 4am? Are there seriously any health benefits of waking up at 4am as opposed to a more reasonable time of 6am or 7am – or are these people just pulling our legs?

Being the human guinea pig that I am, I took it upon myself to seek out these so-called benefits of waking up at 4am by… you guessed it… waking up at 4am.

For the record, I wasn’t too happy about this because 4am is freaking early and it’s physically difficult for me to fall asleep before 9:30pm because I end up just lying there getting frustrated. The whole 10pm to 4am thing is still too little sleep for me.

Anyway, for my experiment, I decided to go to bed earlier than my normal 9:30pm and wake up at 4am for 60 days in a row (no weekends off) so that I can observe any health benefits I discover that aren’t already present by waking up at 5:30am for the past year.

But first, a short 4am wake-up tutorial…

How to Wake Up at 4am Every Morning

How to Wake Up at 4am Every Morning

The quick answer? You suck it up and just do it!

Okay fine, that isn’t a good enough answer. I get it. Let’s dive into some early rising basics so we can make this 4am thing happen if we so choose to…

However, do know that I still stand by my initial “You suck it up and just do it!” comment because that’s essentially how you power through the pain-in-the-butt task of rising at 4am. You certainly don’t do it for fun because it’s not very fun at all – especially after the novelty wears off after a day or two.

The deeper answer? How to wake up at 4am every morning depends on your ability to physically get out of your bed on autopilot before you start thinking and talking yourself out of getting up.

We really are our own worst enemy when it comes to waking up in the morning. If we’re not trained to pop out of bed automatically at the sound of the alarm, we tend to screw ourselves over and stay in bed too long – even when we have the best of intentions and kick-ass motivation the night before.

In one of my recent blog posts where I go into detail about how to train yourself to wake up early automatically, I mention some really helpful tips for becoming an early riser. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into learning how to become an early riser over the years, so I’m really proud of that blog post and hope you take the time to read it. I do sincerely think you’ll get a lot of value from it. 🙂

Wake Up During the Right Part of Your Sleep Cycle

Regardless of whether you wake up 4am or 9am, it matters at which point in your sleep cycle that you wake up. In fact, it matters just as much as the number of hours you sleep per night.

Obviously, not getting enough sleep makes you tired, forgetful, weakens your immune system, and gives you a serious case of brain fog, but these unfortunate symptoms of classic sleep deprivation can also manifest themselves when awakening mid-sleep cycle regardless of how much sleep you got.

Remember, quality sleep is vital for waking up feeling refreshed. Quality sleep depends on your completion of entire sleep cycles and waking up at the end of your final sleep cycle.

The “right part” of your sleep cycle that I’m referring to is the final stage in the cycle before it starts over, which is called the REM phase. You might know this as the dream stage. This is when your sleep is lightest and you are having dreams; it’s the ideal time to wake up.

If you think back to the mornings you were allowed to wake up on your own without an alarm clock (weekends, for example), you will notice these are the mornings you woke up feeling the most refreshed. That’s because you woke up during the REM phase of your sleep. Waking up during your REM phase is the sweet spot.

sleep tracking apps - health benefits of waking up at 4am

Use a Sleep Tracking App

I found it’s best to use a sleep tracking app for the purpose of finding your REM sweet spot. I like Sleep as Android because it’s free on the Google Play Store and it’s pretty accurate from my experience. The app accurately reflected the general time I fell asleep and acknowledged I was awake if I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or if I had a toss-and-turn fest, as I tend to do sometimes.

This magic window of time might end up being a few minutes before 4am, give or take 15 minutes; sleep tracking apps account for this flexibility.

As you approach a week or two of waking up at 4am, you’ll probably start getting into a groove and know exactly when your sweet spot (best time to wake up) is that makes you feel most refreshed. During my 60-day experiment of getting up at 4am, my sweet spot was around 3:52 to 3:56am. Once I got to that point, I felt like I didn’t need the app as much anymore.

If you have an iPhone, I’m sure there are similar apps, but I don’t know of any in particular.

So… What are the Health Benefits of Waking Up at 4am?

The health benefits of rising at 4am, in theory, are pretty much the same as those you can reap from rising at any early time, but only if you get enough sleep and wake up during the right part of your sleep cycle, as we discussed above. If you’re not sleeping well by getting up at 4am, it’s not going to help you at all – health-wise or otherwise.

Also, keep in mind that the health benefits exist only if you give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning and aren’t rushing out the door to work or creating more stress for yourself by being pressured to abide by an earlier bedtime in order to get up so early.

An unrushed, self-reflective morning is why getting up at 4am can be healthful – and it’s the key to getting a handle on your health once and for all if you can nail both your bedtime and morning routines.

I dove into more details about the health benefits of waking up early in a general sense in the blog post that I’ve linked to here, so I won’t go into detail about them again in this post. However, let’s briefly touch upon the 15 health benefits from that previous blog post and how they pertain to my personal experience of waking up at 4am for 60 days.

Health Benefit #1: More Likely to Eat a Healthier Breakfast?

The logic here is simple: The earlier you get up, the more time and thought you’ll be able to put into your breakfast. As a result, you’ll be much more likely to choose something healthy to eat. Right?

Yes and no.

Let’s back up for a second. During my 60-day 4am experiment, was this the case? Was I eating a healthy breakfast? Usually, yes, but that’s only because I’d already been getting up at 5:30am, which still gives me plenty of time to prepare a healthy breakfast. I’m already in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast, so that’s what I do 99% of the time.

However, during my experiment, if I was especially tired one morning from insomnia, loud neighbors, or had simply gone to bed too late, I noticed I was groggier the next morning and tended to reach for a more convenient (less healthy) breakfast like a bagel.

That being said, I think waking up early, in general, encourages me to eat healthier, but only if I’m not getting up too early. For me personally, 4am is too early.

Health Benefit #2: More Likely to Eat Healthier Throughout the Day?

For me personally, no. Throughout my 60-day experiment of waking up at 4am, I felt a sense of accomplishment when I peeled myself out of bed at such an obscene hour. I wanted to build on my accomplishment throughout the rest of the day by eating healthy, but by mid-afternoon, I was crashing energy-wise and was freaking tired!

There were a few times I caved and ate a cupcake or cookie (or whatever sweet snack they had lurking around the office at work.) Ugh. Like I said, 4am is too early for me. That extra hour and a half of sleep obviously makes a big difference because I don’t normally fall victim to cupcakes and cookies at work.

During the second half of the 60 days, I started to somewhat get used to waking up at 4am and wasn’t so tired, so I did return to my healthy eating.

Health Benefit #3: More Time to Exercise and Lose Weight Faster?

Yeah, I’d say this is a health benefit of waking up at 4am. There was more time to ease into my workout routine and I could extend the time I spent exercising, warming up, and cooling down. I liked having more time to move my body in the morning.

Health Benefit #4: Lower Risk of Developing Depression?

I’d say this one is a definite yes. By waking up at 4am, I had more time to reflect on my life, plan my daily productivity expectations and to-do list, and write in my gratitude journal. These activities tend to promote mindfulness and positivity.

A study released by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston even backs me up on this health benefit claim. Early risers tend to be happier.

Come to think of it, there is something powerfully spiritual about 4am that more easily allowed me to feel a sense of calmness and stay in the present moment. This improved my mood by leaps and bounds even though I was tired most days of my experiment.

Health Benefit #5: Healthier Sleep Schedule and Better Quality of Sleep?

Uhh… no. Not in my case anyway. If your circadian rhythm prompts you to get up at 4am on its own, then yes, undoubtedly you’d have a healthier sleep schedule and better quality of sleep.

For me, not so much. This is because I felt a sort of performance anxiety about getting to bed early enough to get adequate sleep in order to wake up at 4am and still be functional at work for the rest of the day. As I started to get more used to it toward the end of the 60 days, the stress was less, but this isn’t my body’s optimal time to wake up. YMMV

Health Benefit #6: Less Likely to Be Stressed Out or Anxious?

Like I mentioned in #5, I did feel performance anxiety about falling asleep early enough to not be a sleep deprived mess the next day. So I’d say waking up at 4am is kind stressful if it’s unnatural to you.

However, if you were to ease into waking up at 4am instead of jumping from 5:30 to 4 like I did, you might feel less of a sting. For example, if you set your bedtime and wake-up time back by 15 minutes per week until you reach a 4am wake-up time, you would most likely be able to feel the full health benefits of early rising such as lower stress and anxiety.

Health Benefit #7: Calmer Mind?

Throughout the rest of the day, not necessarily – especially at bedtime when I felt pressured to go to bed.

In the moment, yes… after I got out of bed, splashed water on my face, etc. I had so much time on my hands that I felt a sense of calmness and relief, and I really enjoyed all the time I had to myself.

Health Benefit #8: Normal Blood Pressure?

Yes, I’d say so. I was less rushed in the morning, since like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands. I didn’t feel any of the effects of high blood pressure over the course of my 4am wake-up experiment, even though I felt slightly stressed about an earlier bedtime.

Health Benefit #9: More Conscientious?

Yes, definitely. I had time to self-reflect on the day before and plan the day ahead, foresee potential problems, etc. Waking up at 4am makes me super conscientious.

Health Benefit #10: Higher Sense of Accomplishment?

Oh yes! I felt highly accomplished waking up at 4am for 60 days straight. It might be tacky to admit this, but I sort of felt like I had bragging rights since I had been consistently awakening at 4am. Bragging isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it does contribute to self-esteem, which is very healthy.

Health Benefit #11: Become a Better Planner?

Yes. This goes along with the conscientious one. 4am gave me more time to plan my day. Knowing what my priorities are for the day made me feel more confident and relaxed.

Health Benefit #12: Become Better at Handling and Avoiding Problems?

Yes. Again with the planning… Planning does wonders for handling a crisis or avoiding one altogether. More time spent planning = better problem solving capabilities.

Health Benefit #13: Become More Positive, Mindful, and Joyful?

I wasn’t necessarily more positive, mindful, or joyful waking up at 4am than I was waking up at 5:30am, but I also wasn’t less so. This one is an important health benefit across the board, regardless of the actual “early” time you decide to wake up.

Health Benefit #14: More Focused?

I think I was less focused waking up at 4am than I am at 5:30am – especially during the first couple weeks of my experiment. I was just plain groggy.

Like I mentioned in health benefit #6, if I were to better acclimate myself to such an early wake-up time, I could probably train myself to wake up better refreshed and better able to focus on tasks.

Health Benefit #15: Establish Other Complementary Good Habits?

Yes, by waking up at 4am, I tried my very best to make the most of each day. Making the most of each day is always a good habit to establish in addition to early rising. If I had kept at it longer than 60 days, I probably would have found other new good habits to establish.

Is Waking Up at 4am Healthy? What’s the Verdict?

Overall, I enjoyed my 60-day experiment of waking up at 4am in search of its health benefits.

In fact, there are quite a few healthy things about 4am rising, and if I ever find myself with a heavier workload or with a large personal passion project that I want to undertake, I wouldn’t hesitate to kickstart a habit of waking up at 4am.

Obviously, as previously mentioned, I would slowly acclimate myself to waking up at 4am and take it slow so that the habit would stick and would allow me to be productive and mindful.

Currently, though, even though waking up 4am can be healthy if done right, it isn’t the right choice for me during this phase of my life.

Waking up at 5:30am allows me to get everything done in a day that I need to do – and everything I want to do as well. It’s a good balance for me that allows me to stay up late enough to hang out with my teenage son and still get up early enough to have early morning Me Time and get a jumpstart on my day.

Yes, waking up at 4 will give you more time in your day, which can be part of the recipe for health and success, but not the whole picture. It’s not always the amount of time you have that matters, but how you choose to use the time you have (no matter how much or how little) that matters.

As long as you’re getting everything done, finding time for stress-relief, eating healthy food, and getting good quality sleep, it doesn’t matter what time you get up in the morning. Just my 2 cents in a world where everyone seems to recommend waking up at 4am like a CEO…

I'm the owner of and an enthusiastic early riser. Let's discuss why that is... and maybe I can make you a believer in magical mornings as well!

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