“The early bird catches the worm.” This adage is frequently used to suggest it’s better to rise early rather than late if you are keen to be more productive. Certain celebrities and entrepreneurs swear by it, insisting the root of their success lies in waking up at 4 am and putting in a few hours of hard work that are free from distraction before the day truly begins.
Of course, as is the case with any adage, it lacks nuance. There are plenty of factors that need to be considered when trying to determine the best time to wake up for productivity. In this blog post, we examine these factors, briefly cover some benefits to waking up early, and elaborate on what steps you can take to try to increase early-morning productivity.
Morning larks vs night owls
Sleep quality, duration, and consistency can impact cognitive function and performance1 – or, looked at from another angle, sleep plays an important role in productivity. Which is why, before trying to determine when is the best time to be productive in the morning, it’s worth understanding your chronotype – which indicates your sleep-wake preferences. 2
It goes without saying that every individual is unique. Each individual may have a preferred time to wake up, and more importantly, an optimal time when they achieve peak physical or cognitive performance (and are therefore at their most productive, physically or mentally).
Individuals who are early risers are known as morning larks3. Their circadian rhythm favours “morningness” or going to bed early and getting up early. Most importantly, studies suggest they mentally and physically perform well in the morning hours.4
By contrast, individuals who stay up late and prefer to wake up later are known as night owls. Their circadian rhythm favours “eveningness”. They tend to achieve peak mental and physical performance in the late afternoon or evening.5 What’s more, night owls experience more sleep inertia than morning larks6 – sleep inertia being that feeling of grogginess after you wake up, when your cognitive and physical performance is impaired.7
Various studies, a few of which we examine below, have been conducted to examine the relationship between chronotypes, sleep patterns and productivity.
Research into the best time to wake up to be productive
Determining when exactly is the best time in the morning to wake up for productivity is of significant interest to businesses, academic institutions, policymakers and more. Which, of course, has led to a number of studies into the topic.
A study that focused on undergraduate students to try to determine the most productive start time for university classes found that while there is no “one time fits all” solution, start times around noon or later are good for all.8 Naturally, whether you’re a student or professional, waking up at noon is impractical, though it is good to keep in mind for perhaps scheduling more demanding or complex tasks. This study also found that even morning larks struggle to be productive between 5 am and 6 am, with their productivity improving significantly after 7 am. What’s more, their peak functionality period is from 9 am to 12 pm. Whereas for night owls, their peak functionality period is from 5 pm to 9 pm.9
Another study that looked at healthy individuals focused on time of day and chronotype on cognitive and physical performance. The study found that peak performance differs significantly between morning owls and night larks, with the latter suffering from higher daytime sleepiness and performing far worse in the morning, both cognitively and physically.10 And yet another study found that age-related circadian patterns play a role in this context as well, with older adults’ peak performance usually in the morning, while younger adults’ peak performance usually in the afternoon.11 Other factors which have been looked at in relation to wake-up times and productivity include day of the week12 and stress13 – and they too have findings that do not point to a single time of day for peak productivity.
So while some people may ask, “Does waking up at 5 am make you more productive?”, the recurring theme among these studies suggests that there is no one perfect or best time to wake up for productivity.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wake up earlier if you are keen to do more in the day. Nor does it mean that night owls or those with a predisposition towards eveningness simply cannot wake up early to be productive. In the sections that follow, we briefly talk about both the benefits of waking up early, and what steps you can follow to do so.
The benefits of rising early
We cover this in some detail in our post on the scientific benefits of waking up early. However, within the context of productivity, there are a few key pros to rising early, and they include:
- more free time (to work out, study or complete tasks at your own pace)
- fewer distractions (as there are fewer people contacting you and fewer commitments to keep earlier in the morning)
You also stand to benefit from more energy, less stress, better physical and mental health and more – though they all hinge on sleep. As mentioned before, sleep quality, the number of hours of sleep you get, and making sure you are consistently getting enough sleep all influence your ability to be productive.14
Tips to rising early
If you are not a morning person, it can be quite challenging rising early. You may be used to waking up as late as you possibly can, sometimes repeatedly pressing the snooze button on your alarm clock to sneak in an extra ten minutes of sleep. (We recommend you avoid doing this, as the latter part of a sleep cycle involves REM sleep, and so hitting the snooze button disrupts that REM sleep and can impact your mood and result in decreased mental flexibility. Plus, the extra five to ten minutes of sleep you get is not restorative sleep, and so won’t help you feel rested.15)
What you should try to do, if you’re looking to wake up earlier to be more productive, is improve your sleep quality by focusing on your sleep schedule and adopting good sleep hygiene. We cover this in great detail in our post on how to sleep well, though some basic tips to follow include:
- Pick a sleep time and wake-up time that you can consistently follow. Try to gradually adopt the new sleep schedule, and aim for between 7 to 8 hours of sleep (the recommended amount for adults).16
- Adopt a morning routine and night routine to help you adjust to your new sleep schedule. For example, in the night you could avoid alcohol, caffeine, and meals just before bed, and in the day you could motivate yourself to work out in the mornings, enjoy a healthy breakfast, and avoid taking long naps.
- Practice good sleeping habits. Avoid using electronic devices before you go to bed, reserving your bedroom for sleep or intimacy only, use blackout curtains or an eye mask when you sleep, and keep the temperature of your bedroom between 18 to 24C (the ideal temperature for most to comfortably fall asleep).17
As is evident, sleep and time management can help you wake up early to try to be more productive. If you find it difficult to stick to a sleep schedule or continue to feel extremely groggy in the mornings, then consider taking B・SYNC ON. It’s a clinically tested wake-up supplement with natural ingredients that are designed to help you wake up with ease. Not only that, it may be used to align your body clock to an early rising schedule – so that you can have a more productive day.