Should I get up earlier if I’m already getting up really early?

Master BedroomThe past few mornings I’ve been setting an alarm. This is a step toward being intentional about my mornings. I’m starting with limited ambitions and the good news is that when your ambitions are limited, they’re easy to achieve. I’ve actually been waking up before my alarm. If I go to bed at midnight, I wake up on my own around 7:15. I tend to be mostly done with my shower before the first kid is out of bed and in my bathroom. We go have breakfast together. I start work around 8.

So that’s my morning. Of course, since I write about morning routines, I hear from a lot of people whose mornings start a lot earlier. The other day I got a note from someone who’d read my book and wanted to tackle personal priorities in the morning. The problem was that he had an hour-long commute and left the house at 5:30 a.m. His question: should he be getting up even earlier?

I get different versions of this question. Another iteration is parents of young kids who wake up at the crack of dawn. They want to have personal time before the kids wake up but they’re already getting up early and (worse) unpredictably. Is it possible to get up earlier? Should they be getting up earlier?

My answer is…it depends.

The reason to institute a morning routine is that mornings are a great time to do things that matter to you, and that life has a way of crowding out. So the first question should be whether there are things you’re not doing in your life that you’d like to be, and that don’t happen at other times.

One reason I’m not really getting up earlier is that this isn’t the case for me. I exercise during the workday. It’s the upside of being self-employed — no one cares if I shower! Also, it’s light out and I have childcare. For office workers who need to look spiffy, AM workouts are more efficient because you only have to shower once. Post-work workouts often don’t happen because they cut into family time, or you’re starving or you’re too exhausted. I spend a fair amount of time with my kids. I eat lunch with the two little ones, and I’m generally with them from 5-ish to 9-ish most evenings. So I don’t feel like we need to make the most of quality time in the morning. Breakfast suffices. I also don’t need to use morning hours to take on personal passions like writing a book because…that’s what I do all day.

If you’re making time for the things you want to do, then get up whenever you want.

If you’re not, though, then that’s when you need to get more creative.

For people who are already getting up very early, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you might be able to create extra morning space just by being more intentional about your routine. Is there any way to shorten it? Time yourself. Especially if you’re leaving home really early, maybe you can eat breakfast at work. Streamline your closet. Get a different haircut. You may be able to create 20 minutes or so, even without setting your alarm earlier. Or maybe you’ll just need to set your alarm 5-10 minutes earlier. That’s really not so bad, especially if you’re focused on getting to bed on time at night.

Twenty minutes is a decent chunk of time if you’re smart about your routine. So that’s the second thing to keep in mind. How can you get the most bang for your buck in 20 minutes? You can certainly pound out some push-ups and sit-ups in that time. Heck, if you have a basement treadmill, you can do a fast mile (or more!) and some push-ups and sit-ups in that time. My guess is that someone getting up at 5:00 to leave for work at 5:30 could probably wake up at 4:50, do a hyper-intense workout, shower, and be on the road by 5:35 if he/she really wanted to.

There are lots of other things you can do in 20 minutes. If you have an early rising partner, the two of you could spend quality time together doing whatever it is you like to do when you find yourselves in the same bed. Twenty minutes is enough time to read, or write a blog post (really!)

Of course, all this presupposes that you’re not horribly sleep deprived. For me, the problem of getting up at 5:00 would be that I’d need to go to bed by 9:45 p.m. I could. But I do enjoy doing creative work at night (night owl alert!) and my 9 p.m. to midnight work stint is not an unproductive time. The question of sleep deprivation plays in more to the world of small kids who wake early and unpredictably. You can know that your kid normally stirs around 5:45 a.m., so waking up at 5 could, in theory, give you 45 minutes alone. Maybe. Because perhaps 10 percent of the time, the kid might wake earlier. And there is nothing worse than getting up at 5, thinking you’ll have some alone time, and then not getting it.

In these cases, I think it’s good to look at the fundamental issue. Why are you getting up before the kids to have alone time? Especially if you’re taking care of the kids all day, you might be able to recreate alone time with…childcare. A babysitter. Seriously. There is nothing wrong with joining a YMCA with babysitting so you can go work out. There is nothing wrong with hiring a sitter for a few hours a week so you can do a few professional projects and thus keep your hand in the workforce to ease your eventual return. You can trade off with friends and neighbors, and get alone time that way. Alone time doesn’t have to happen at 5 a.m. You may be able to restructure your life to make time for what you want at other points too.

What time do you get up? Do you exercise before work or the rest of your day?



27 thoughts on “Should I get up earlier if I’m already getting up really early?

  1. Our 6 year-old is a very early riser — we have trained him to entertain himself until 6. The up-side is that he is a fail-safe alarm clock! My partner and I take turns getting up. The one who gets up then leaves for the gym at 6:40, in time for a 7 o’clock class. It’s the perfect motivation for getting to the gym — skipping getting two boys ready to leave the house is quite the reward!

    1. @Alison – that sounds like a good system! I think I might be willing to take the 6 a.m. get up every day to skip the getting-them-ready part (and getting a work out in too…)

  2. I get up at 4:50am, practice the piano (really an electric keyboard with headphones) from 5:00-5:30 and then exercise from 5:45 to 6:45. I actually love love love this schedule. It allows me to do two things that are really important at one of my best times of day. I love the quiet alone time of the morning and am an unmotivated lump in the evening so I have no problems going to bed right after my son does. In fact, sleep is often a better use of my time that what I would be doing if I were up (raiding the fridge, etc.). It would be hard for me to imagine getting up much earlier, though.

    1. @Chelsea – that sounds like a great schedule for you. And I hadn’t thought about the keyboard part – with headphones. I’d been trying to figure out when I might practice the piano, but the ability to use headphones opens up various other hours (like 9:30 p.m.)

      1. I’m still very much in the learning phase so I stick one headphone from the keyboard in one year and one headphone from the digital metronome in the other. So far no complaints about key clicking from the sleepers.

    2. this sound soooooo nice! what time does your son wake up!? do you ‘tag team’ with your husband? we are trying to do at least 2 weekdays where i am ‘covered’ (mondays and thursdays) but it’s not working out that well. (he had to go into work at 3:30 AM last night. oops.)

      1. Yes, it’s so so so so so nice to have that personal time during some of my best hours of the day. DS usually wakes up around 7am (+/- a half hour). We tag team in that DH likes to work out in the evening so our agreement is that he is on kid duty (and most of the time both of them are sleeping) when I work out in the morning, and I am on kid duty after work so he can work out. Fortunately we are both 8-5ers so we don’t have to worry about major disruptions to that schedule. Sometimes DH will work later into the evening, but that disrupts his workout routine but not mine.

  3. I suspect this article doesn’t really apply to me, however there’s something about the suggestion to “just” get up earlier, or to “just” exercise before work that really gets my hackles up. I would rather get a root canal on a daily basis than get up early to exercise or to have “me time” – it just feels that awful to me. If I streamline my routine more (which I honestly doubt is possible) I will use that time to sleep. Period.


      1. @oldmdgirl – yup. I’m not going to be one of those people getting up at 5 a.m. to exercise. I really respect it, and am kind of in awe about it, and enjoy writing about it. For a lot of people, it really is the solution to getting exercise or me time within their current lives. However, I’d just change my life instead.

  4. You need less sleep than I do atm (I have gone through times when I only need 8 hours, but now is not those times.). If I got up any earlier I’d be even more useless on the days I don’t get to sleep early enough. I’m having a really hard time adjusting to break being over. 🙁
    As it is, I do get into work most days before anybody needs to talk to me, which is nice.

    1. @NicoleandMaggie- yeah, the sleep thing is interesting. I assumed I needed 8 hours, but it turns out I really don’t. I’ve been going to sleep right around midnight these past few nights, and waking up on my own. Having an extra 45 minutes for reading is a rather nice addition to my schedule.

      Of course, I haven’t been working out very hard the past few weeks. If I do that again, my sleep needs might change.

  5. ugh, i AM a morning person and like working out in the morning. but this past week 2 things have prevented me from following my routine: increasing fatigue (at 8 mo pregnant i guess this is reasonable) and a kid who is not sleeping past 6 reliably anymore (today = 5:30). you are so right that it is the WORST feeling to get up early in prep for some me-time only to hear your child calling for you 10 minutes later. not sure why that’s worse than said child calling you out of bed, but it is.

    the bad thing is that i always suspected running was like a natural mood-enhancing agent for me, and i am in the WORST lowest mood this week. i need my fix back but logistically it’s going to be hard and only harder soon. ack!

    1. @sarah – I haven’t felt like running with the cold, so I’ve been walking. At least I get fresh air. It’s something! I am really, really glad I am not 8 months pregnant. Very sympathetic to you right now!!

  6. Yeah, every time I ever tried intentionally waking up before my kid, she was up too. So I stopped.

    Now I sleep as long as I can. Generally I’m in bed at 10:00 and ideally sleep until 7:00 or so. I’m a person who could use that 9 hrs anyway, and now have it interrupted multiple times per night (or lose an hour or more) w/toddler.

    When he does eventually sleep I’d be inclined to stay up a bit later to do things, rather than get up earlier. If I exercise (and that’s a big IF) it happens as a mid-day break.

  7. I adjust my schedule to the seasons, because I totally stink at getting up without the sun. In the winter I wake up later (7:15ish) and just putter a bit. It took my dog a few days to adjust, but if we cuddle in bed and do a little playing, he’s fine with just a potty break before breakfast. In fall and spring, we’ll take a short walk in the morning together. In the summer, we can take really long walks – have to, because it’s too hot any other time of the day.

    Because my mornings shift around, my evenings do somewhat, as well. I only have a few fixed points: bell choir rehearsal, a gym class I enjoy, and (this semester) a grad course I’m taking. I just try to be flexible and go with the seasons. I’m too young to be set in my ways!

    1. So… my rising time is earliest in the summer – probably 6ish. That gives us about 1.5 hours to walk, which can take us about 3-4 miles at dog sniffing pace.

  8. I’ve just started waking up a little earlier than my kids. At 9.5 months old, the baby is finally sleeping almost all night — he wakes once around 5, then goes back to sleep — so I feel like I’m getting enough sleep. The real motivator, though, has been needing to get up to pump milk, since he’s in out-of-the-house daycare three days a week now, and my body is having a hard time adjusting. I also just have to get up earlier in order to make the morning rush with two kiddos manageable.
    I wish doing something for myself was enough of a motivation to get up earlier, but right now the only “something for myself” I’m interested in is more sleep, so doing something for my kid is what guilts me out of bed at 6:15. I do use the time to read for fun, or work on one of my writing projects.

    I’m hoping I’ll be in the habit of getting up when my son’s first birthday rolls around in March, and then be able to get up exclusively for me — I have grand ambitions of early morning yoga and meditation practices, or long creative writing sessions, though I’ve had these ambitions for 15 years and they haven’t materialized yet. Not *having* to get up early in order to do what I need to do makes it harder to actually get up, and the only time I’ve had success with early mornings is when I’m forced to by an external schedule, or if I can trick myself into thinking an internal goal is really an external pressure (half marathon training, for example).

  9. I’ve been struggling with this topic as well. My twins slept very well from 7 p.m. to 6:30 from 4 months – 14 months. I was working full-time and could reliably wake at 5:30 a.m. to work out or read, slip them a bottle at 6:30 then resume my own activities until 7. Then, we relocated out of state (my husband got a great opportunity in my home state with a considerable decrease in cost of living), the twins dropped to one nap, and more often than not anything after 5:30 a.m. is a guessing game. I’ve been chalking the disruption up to multiple colds and our nomadic existence until we close on our house at the end of this month, but truthfully I just want it to end! I am on a brief “sabbatical” from professional work but plan to resume working at least part-time in the next six months. I have thrown myself into getting to know our new city, networking, and buying a home. There has also been some nice downtime, and hours upon hours of time to spend with the twins. When you are in a corporate apartment with 99% of your earthly possessions in storage, there isn’t much to take care of, so I’ve taken advantage of naps, watched favorite TV shows on Netflix, cooked (one of my passions), and begun plotting a half-marathon in the spring, a passion I had to let go of for several years of aggressive fertility treatments then a twin pregnancy. As I type this, I realize that none of these activities are bad uses of my time in the short term. I might look back on this time quite fondly, and I’m trying my best to appreciate it. However, I feel like I need a time makeover to make the most of my new schedule. I definitely need to make better use of my child-free time, which includes how I use the hours of 7:30 p.m. – 10:30. Like Laura, I’ve been surprised to learn that I can feel totally refreshed on about 7+ hours of sleep, so the questions are: 1. When to go to bed given unpredictable child-waking hours? 2. What to do between 7:30 – 10 p.m. that matches my energy level? 3. How to structure my time during their nap? 4. How to structure my time during their two-morning a week preschool? 5. How to structure weekend time when their father takes over for a few hours at a time? I might play around with a spreadsheet to see just how many hours this totals and map out a trial week to begin tomorrow.

    1. @Griffin- I like the idea of pre-emptively viewing this as a time you will look back fondly on. But yeah, figuring out what you can do in kid-free hours when they are limited and come at low-energy times is hard. Good books, I suppose. Read whatever strikes your fancy at the library (where you’re probably taking the toddlers as one of the few indoor fun places in winter). Aim for 10 pm in bed, since then if they sleep until 6 it’s a bonus but if they’re up at 5 it’s OK. Use their preschool hours/dad on weekend hours to exercise. I like the idea of mapping up and totaling the hours, and then creating a priority list for it. Your favorite stuff definitely gets done, the less fun stuff not so much.

  10. I wake up at 6:00. Last May I was promoted from part-time (going into work at 10) to full-time (going into work at 9), and that hour kicked my butt! I am a morning exerciser by preference and by necessity, but with my new schedule was no longer able to sleep until 7 and still do so. Thus, the 6:00. I try to go to the gym in our apartment building 3 days a week, while still getting up at 6 on the other weekdays to do other things: write in my blog, clean the kitchen, read, work on learning to code. I am NOT a night owl; in fact, my brain pretty much stops working at around 9 pm. Even in college it was extremely rare for me to be doing schoolwork late at night. So, as someone else said, going to bed early enough to rise at 6 is a much more productive use of my time than what I would be doing otherwise (looking at Pinterest, browsing Facebook, etc.).

    That said, I’ve been at my new job for months now and still struggle with the 6:00 wakeup call, so it’s on my list of quasi-resolutions to really be consistent about my bedtime to help facilitate getting up.

    1. @Laura – always interesting to hear about people who went to bed relatively early/got up early in college. I was talking with some students in the midst of studying for finals last night, and they told me their best hours were literally midnight to 4 a.m. Ah, youth.

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