Chaos sleeps in, so you shouldn’t

You’ve probably heard how starting your day early is the key to success, but maybe you didn’t know why. Today I’m going to talk about why waking early can work for you, and how to start waking up early if it’s not your cup of tea. First, let me start by talking about another goal of mine, one that has to do with physical activity.

Yesterday I finished an important milestone. For 400 days straight I made sure to do something active for at least 10 minutes every day. It might be walking the dog or an intense stretching session, but this streak is designed to keep me active. Not only that, but when I start the day with the activity, I have zero brain fog for most of the rest of the day. On the days that I waited, it took me longer to “boot up” than had I simply went right to activity.

Keep in mind, the idea is to get this activity done by 7 in the morning by starting at 6:00. I was not always successful. And within that, there was something that became readily apparent: Chaos sleeps in.

There were days that I did not wake up as early as I’d have liked to or days where I was behind schedule, and so I’d get right to work. On those days, I committed myself to getting at whatever activity I wanted to do either after I finished a task or before dinner. What I had noticed, however, is that as the day wore on, more and more demands were made on my time. Despite what people say, rarely do those not immediately close to you care about your goals over theirs, nor should they. So when push came to shove, an urgent email, text, or phone call would pull my attention. In some respects, between 9 to 5, it is reasonable for students and my dean or department chair to get a relatively timely response, so I cannot hold them to fault.

What I discovered is that those days that I got to the workout sooner were the more productive ones. I’m not the only person who has taken advantage of this. The world is full of early risers. This is no secret. News stories abound about famously productive people who wake up early. And perhaps for good reason. So why is it a good thing for most people (and stick with me if you don’t think you can be a morning person)? Let’s dive into some of my opinions on this.

Everyone else is sleeping

Most people wake up with the sun, do their thing, go to work, and maybe start cranking out emails, phone calls, and requests by about 9:00am. That means that if you’re up early, nobody is going to bother you. That’s not to say that you need to work, but you get to take care of yourself without the fear of interruption. You won’t even need to turn off your phone. “But Dennis, what if someone who also wakes up early tries to get in touch with me?” Simple, know that they won’t expect a reply.

You get an extra few hours in your day

How’s that? Well, I have a hypotheses that for most people, no matter when they wake up, they are the same type of tired after 6:00. Personally, that’s why I prefer to work out before the sun sticks its head out. Even still, after the traditional work day ends and you (really should) quit your email, it can be time to spend with friends and family.

You’ll never be rushed in the morning

Never is a strong word, but that’s how it feels for me. I have overslept. But when I oversleep, it is never so late that I feel rushed and discombobulated, feel the need to speed to get to the next place, et cetera. I would have to oversleep by almost three hours and if that’s the case, I would say that I need the rest and would call out or reschedule whatever was put in the morning. Oversleeping is a pretty glaring sign that I need to take a step back.

You set the tone for the rest of the day

What many productivity pundits say is that when you start early and “win the morning” you usually end up “winning the day.” This is because you’re creating focus in the morning without all the distractions. Early meditation in your day can lead to later focus, according to those same people, and even simply doing your won thing without distractions can serve as a meditation.

So that’s the why, but what about the how. I can discuss what has worked for me and others like me to shift to becoming an AM person. Before I dive into these tips, you should know that there’s no such thing as a perfect execution, just incremental progress. Also know that while I wake up at 5am, I tried 4:30 once and my body wouldn’t let me, more on that later.

Use the Day Light Savings Time Change

When clocks spring forward there’s an opportunity for you to keep the old sleep schedule. Don’t take that extra hour to sleep, take the extra hour to win! Adjust your clocks and your alarms to your new time. You can similarly use a trip to a different time zone to your advantage here as well.

Gradual Progression

Slowly dial back whatever device you use to wake up by some increment, be it five, ten, or 15 minutes. I wouldn’t do more than that. Do this on a weekly basis, no quicker.

Wake up daily

I wake up early every single day. This programs my body to put it in the schedule and eliminates grogginess or screwed up sleep cycles the next day. Just because I wake up though, does not mean that I don’t sleep in. I might eat breakfast, or do some light activity for a few minutes before heading back to bed to enjoy a nap. This has ensured a great rhythm with the added benefit of not upsetting anyone I might be sharing the bed with at the time who might want some companionship or *ahem* attention.

Go to bed early

Seems like a no brainer, but that’s why I couldn’t get to waking up before 4:30. We all need a base line amount of sleep. For me, twice a week I was visiting student organizations I advised or spending times with friends (who usually keep later schedules). So, it was not always possible for me to get to bed before a certain time, limiting the earliest time I could wake up.


Not everyone can do this. Some people may not be the right chronotype to pull this off, and if that’s you, then stick with what you know. This makes sense as a social society. If we all slept at the same time, our little pre-historic societies might have been more vulnerable to attacks from predators or other clans. What I am saying though, is that you might want to give it a try and see. Either I’ve modified my chronotype, or I incorrectly assumed I was a night person. That means that after a few weeks if you’re not settling in, something, be it your situation or your body, just isn’t tuned into it. But if you do try it and find that it helps, welcome to the club.