My head spun and my whole body felt heavy as I sipped my cup of tea. The cold December sky outside my window was black as tar. For months I had been rising at a leisurely 7:30 am, but this morning I had rolled out of bed at 5:15 am on the dot. I badly wanted to go back to sleep, but I had a good reason to get myself up and moving: In order to prepare for an 8:00 am statistics final later that week, I needed to adjust my internal clock so I could nail the complex calculations on the big day. The statistics exam came and went, but the habit of getting up early stuck around. As I maintained this practice throughout the next semester, I dreaded my alarm clock a little less each morning. By now, I crave watching the sunrise and getting a handle on my day before many people have crawled out of bed. I’m a night owl turned early bird, and I’m never going back.
I’m not the only person who swears by getting up early to tackle their day. High-performing business executives such as Tim Cook, Kevin O’Leary, and Mary Barra all share this habit. As the leaders of major corporations, these executives are pulled in multiple different directions all day, bouncing between meetings, phone calls, dinners, and more. By making the most of empty morning hours, these executives are able to fence off time specifically for themselves and their own important priorities. One quote from Steve Reinemund, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo from 2001 to 2006, sums up this group’s feelings well when he says, “I look forward to my mornings. I cherish my mornings, my personal time.”
Waking up early is one of the most common habits of successful people within industries as disparate as technology to transportation. Early birds claim many benefits, from increased productivity to better stress management. These recognitions are nothing new; thousands of years ago, Aristotle famously said, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” It’s time to explore the evidence that suggests waking up early can benefit your mind and body.
One of the biggest advantages enjoyed by early risers is their ability to use their mornings productively. From my own experiences, I have found this observation to hold true. In the early morning hours, there are little to no distractions. Your mind is well-rested, which lends itself to better decision making and concentration. While the rest of the world is still hitting snooze, it’s possible to catch up on work, crush a workout, and chow down on a healthy breakfast before your scheduled responsibilities for the day properly begin. By doubling down on important and necessary tasks in the morning, you are free to devote your undivided attention to other high-priority responsibilities later in the day.
Early rising can occupy a vital place in a toolbox of healthy habits. Everyone knows that in order to present the best version of yourself, maintaining your health is an important piece of the puzzle. One of the best ways to use the time gained by rising early is to exercise. Exercise boasts a long list of diverse health benefits, including increased cardiovascular function, greater muscular strength, and even the alleviation of depression and anxiety. Rising early has also been linked to healthier dietary choices, according to a 2017 study from the Obesity Society. The results of this research suggest that night owls traditionally consume more foods containing sucrose, saturated fat, and fatty acids. In contrast, early risers typically eat diets that have higher levels of protein, a necessary macronutrient that is involved in tissue repair and important chemical reactions. One explanation for these differing food choices could be that early risers, who head to bed earlier, don’t allow themselves to become susceptible to late-night temptations, which are typically unhealthy snack foods. Additionally, early birds don’t have to scramble to grab a sugar-packed breakfast bar before hustling out the door in the morning.
When taking a holistic approach to health and wellness, it is vital to consider the important role mental health plays regarding daily functioning. Within this area, early risers may enjoy another perk over night owls. Within a major genetics study at the University of Exeter in England, the genomes of over half a million people were analyzed and data was collected regarding the individuals’ self-classification of themselves as an early bird or night owl. This study found that being an early bird is associated with a lower risk of developing schizophrenia and depression, as well as greater overall happiness. While it is important to recognize that many conditions, including mental health disorders, often involve factors more complex than sleeping and waking times, the tiny and sustained habits we practice each day can powerfully influence how we live in and interact with the world around us.
Even though resetting your body’s internal clock is a challenge, I can vouch that the benefits are worth it. From breaking free from a harried daily schedule, to more sustained and regular energy, I continue to discover new benefits each morning. If you believe early rising could help you optimize your time and energy, aim to set and achieve small goals to keep yourself motivated while you adjust to your new schedule. Don’t be afraid to enjoy an extra cup of coffee for the first few days as you sit back and enjoy the sunrise. If I can do it, so can you.