Let me just set the stage for you really quickly: A year ago, I never would’ve been contemplating waking up at 4am. Seriously. Never in a million years. If I had a glimpse into the future back then, I would swear that the current me is crazy for even considering waking up early – not to mention 4am, in particular.
Now back to the original question: Is waking up at 4am worth the hassle? (Because let’s face it, most people view doing anything other than sleeping at 4am to be a huge hassle…)
If you’re looking to increase your productivity, practice meditation, find some quiet time all to yourself, or to work on your side business so you can quit your job, then waking up at 4am is definitely worth the hassle.
However, you must be patient, go to bed early, and successfully reset your circadian rhythm so you aren’t feeling tired at 4am. Some other requirements are finding a reason to get up and good old fashioned grit. If waking up at 4 is going to work out for you long-term, all of these must be addressed.
Let’s look at each of these individually. I feel it’s important that I don’t gloss over such important details. After all, it will be best if you can start off on the right foot with your early morning adventure.
Waking Up at 4am Requires… Patience
The reason for this patience requirement is simple: You are basically shaking up your entire schedule. If you aren’t patient with yourself, you’re going to give up and fail.
Especially at first, waking up at 4 is going to require an obscene amount of patience. You are probably your own worst critic, so if you don’t immediately jump out of bed at 4am or happen to sleep in one morning, you might find it difficult to forgive yourself.
Let’s put this into perspective for a moment: Before, you were probably waking up much later than 4am, so committing to a wake up time this early is going to change everything – your bedtime, your social life, your energy levels (temporarily, until you get acclimated)… literally everything. So don’t be so hard on yourself if you slip up.
Waking up at 4am (and actually physically getting out of the bed) is a decision that only takes one second to make, but there are going to be mornings you decide not to do it. When you fall off the wagon, you must be patient enough with yourself that you get back on that metaphorical wagon the next morning.
Or there could be nights along the way where you have to go to bed much too late and have to sleep past 4am so you get adequate sleep. This is usually a situation beyond your control, but it still requires patience to recover from it and get back on your 4am schedule the next morning (or as soon as possible.)
These are all possibilities that happen to pretty much all early risers at some point. After all, few things in this world go completely as planned. Recovering from unplanned setbacks requires patience – with the situation and with oneself.
What you might not realize is that you have to be patient for a period of at least 2 months – maybe longer. This is a long term game, so don’t give up on yourself too soon.
Waking Up at 4am Requires… Going to Bed Early
This one is obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Regardless of whether you wake up at 4am or 8am, you still need to get your 7 or 8 hours of sleep. That’s just how the human body works.
The average bedtime in America is 11:30pm, but as a 4am riser, you better not be going to sleep that late! If you do, you’ll be collapsing from exhaustion in no time…
If you decide that 4am is your target wakeup time, I recommend that you set your target bedtime for 8pm. For most peoople, an 8pm bedtime can be tough – especially if you have children and other evening responsibilities.
The best strategy is to ease into it by setting your bedtime backwards in 15-minute increments every few days until you reach an 8pm bedtime.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Waking up at 4am is a great choice if you can manage to get in bed early enough and be consistent with it. In fact, I’ve already written about the health benefits of waking up at 4am in case you’re interested in checking that one out.
Waking Up at 4am Requires… Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm
By respecting and resetting your circadian rhythm, you’ll be much more likely to succeed at establishing a habit of waking up at 4am. Work with your body rather than against it; you can do this by using nature or light therapy to reset your circadian rhythm, which I’ll explain in more detail below.
What is a circadian rhythm?
Let’s back up for a second before we get too deep into this. What is a circadian rhythm? In simple terms, a circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour clock that regulates when you feel alert or sleepy. Your brain continuously cycles through these periods of being alert or sleepy at approximately the same time every day.
For example, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice you feel especially alert at a specific time (mid to late morning for most people). You’ll also notice that you might feel a bit sleepy after lunch because this is when most people experience one of the two daily energy dips (the other is when you’re hopefully fast asleep at around 2am).
Resetting your circadian rhythm allows your sleep-wake cycles to be like clockwork. By setting it up so that you’re sleepy around 8pm and automatically wake up around 4am is an example of successfully resetting the circadian rhythm.
How to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm to be “4am Ready”
Now that we are clear about what the circadian rhythm is, you can go about resetting it for your 4am gig. After all, the worst feeling in the world is waking up early while being sleep-deprived. A properly reset circadian rhythm is what you need in order to wake up refreshed, even if it is indeed 4am.
You must expose yourself to light during your waking hours and avoid light at least an hour before bedtime (preferably 2 hours before). There are essentially 2 ways to reset your circadian rhythm:
1 – Go Camping to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
Go aunaturale and get out into nature to reset your circadian rhythm. Nothing helps your body reset itself faster than Mother Nature. By sleeping in a tent and avoiding electronic devices and other forms of artificial lighting for a couple of days, your body will naturally start to wind down and feel sleepy when it gets dark. The lack of blue light will cause the body to produce melatonin, the hormone that induces feelings of sleepiness, much earlier in the evening.
The reason it’s so easy to burn the midnight oil is because we are always sitting inside our houses under the harsh, overhead artificial lighting with the melatonin-blocking blue light of our phones, computers, and TVs in our faces until the moment we close our eyes at night.
2 – Use Light Therapy to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm
If camping isn’t a possibility, it will be helpful to invest in a light therapy box or use the sunset simulation feature of a wake up light alarm clock.
There are a lot of awesome light boxes and glasses available, but I recommend purchasing a wake up light alarm clock instead because it is a multi-functional tool that can be used to both help you fall asleep and wake you up.
I love the multi-functionality of the Somneo wake up light (check it out on Amazon by clicking the link) because its sunset feature helps me wind down in the evening and its sunrise feature wakes me up at the perfect part of my sleep cycle, helping me to wake up feeling refreshed.
I realize I’ve recommended this wake up light alarm clock a million times on this blog, but that’s because it has genuinely helped turn me into a morning person. It is no exaggeration to say that I believe the Somneo is the best wake up light alarm clock on the market.
Waking Up at 4am Requires… Finding a Reason to Get Up (AKA Purpose!)
Ooh… this one is a biggie! Point blank, you’re not going to wake up at 4am if you don’t have a good reason. Finding purpose in one’s life is the driving force behind everything – waking up at 4am is no exception.
Find a goal you want to work toward at 4am that you don’t have time to pursue during the rest of the day. Or find something you genuinely enjoy doing at that time that can’t be done throughout the day.
Regardless of whether you are pursuing a goal or just pursuing something fun – or some combination of the two, you will be able to wake up at 4am easier and more consistently when you are passionate and purposeful.
Waking up at 4am simply to impress others or give yourself bragging rights is not going to work out very well for you. Waking up at 4am must be driven by genuine desire and purpose.
Waking Up at 4am Requires… Grit
I never said waking up early at 4am, or even 5 or 6am was easy. It requires good old fashioned grit.
One of my favorite authors, Angela Duckworth, wrote a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (you can check it out and read some reviews on Amazon by clicking the book title) that I’ve read at least 3 times so far. She has such a powerful way of explaining the concept of grit.
Put simply, grit is passion and perseverance combined to achieve a long term goal. It’s more about long term consistency and stamina than short term bursts of intensity.
Having grit is incredibly relevant to waking up at 4am. In fact, grit is crucial to your 4am success. If you’re just going to wake up at 4am once in a while, that isn’t grit (and it isn’t going to help you very much).
If anything, occasional 4am rising will only throw off your circadian rhythm and make you feel exhausted, so keep that in mind when you decide to “take a morning off” to sleep in.
In order for waking up at 4am to help you achieve your goals and improve you as a person, you must wake up at 4am every single day. Yeah, even on weekends. Even on holidays.
If you’re going to make the decision to get up at 4am, you must fully commit and do it 7 days a week, whether you like it or not. This isn’t about what you like, but rather, about what you want to achieve.
Waking up at 4am is a lifestyle choice, much like diet and exercise. Its success lies in the small, everyday wins – the persistent, gradual progress you make on a daily basis.
In her own words, Angela Duckworth answers the question, “what is grit?” here:
Good luck on your 4am journey! And remember, if your goals and dreams are worth the hassle, then waking up at 4am is worth the hassle…