The sun was barely rising, but I’d already downed my coffee, laced up my trainers and grimaced my way through a dumbbell circuit . With the rest of the world still asleep, I found myself hungry, slightly jittery and trudging into a self-prescribed ice-cold shower, which caused me to yelp like a wounded animal.
I was just one week into a month-long quest to test as many scientifically backed practices as I could for becoming a productive “morning person” – which is something I’ve never really been but have been told (by social media, regular media and, um, everyone I’ve ever met) is the key to killing, crushing or otherwise surviving the wild ride that is 2020.
Think of this as morning culture 2.0, a sort of New Age approach to productivity embodied by everyone from The Rock , whose 4am workouts hit Instagram like a sweaty fever dream, to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, whose ritual involves dawn meditation. The list of early risers with mornings tagged as “me time” includes former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Disney’s executive chairman, Bob Iger. Both rise at around 4:30am, but neither – and this is the kicker – seems to mind it. In fact, they seem to like it.
All of this feels like a natural extension of today’s prevailing hustle culture: our society’s collective inclination to celebrate long working days as a badge of honour. But what about all the data telling us that most men aren’t getting enough sleep? (The Sleep Council prescribes seven to nine hours a night, but the average man barely catches six and a half .) Or the countless studies that show how too little sleep and too much productivity can quickly spiral into burnout and depression? Is it possible to become a morning person without torturing yourself and – given what we know about the importance of sleep – do we really want to?
I had a lot of questions. After a career move, I’d started working late, sleeping late and feeling hopelessly behind. It was no way for a grown man to live, so I asked half a dozen researchers to see if they could help me get back in gear. I also reached out to a former night owl named David Osborn, co-author of the self-help book Miracle Morning Millionaires, who credits changing his sleep-awake cycle with supercharging his career in real estate. “Mornings are everything for me now,” he says. Those mornings often include reading, making his family breakfast and hot-tubbing with his wife. (Yes, seriously.)
With Osborn and co as my guides, I spent 30 days rethinking the way I slept, woke up, ate, exercised, “got centred” and generally worked in pursuit of a better me. Here is what I learned. Day 1: Rise with the Simulated Shine
Waking up, like everything else we do, isa skill, and some people do it better than others. A morning person should be able to get out of bed without too much effort and without feeling exhausted. While others hit snooze, he should hit the day firing on all cylinders. Osborn uses a handy acronym to help people improve their waking-up habits: SAVERS, short for activities that involve silence, affirmation, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribing (the making-it-fit way of saying“writing stuff down”).
But before I could manage any of that,I knew I’d have to get better at the actual eye-opening part. Sleeping with the curtains wide open isn’t really an option when you live in the city. In fact, research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that light pollution might be a key contributor to insomnia.
So, to kick things off, I bought an alarm clock: the doctor-recommended Somneo Sleep and Wake-Up Light by Philips. Our bodies are innately sensitive to daylight, and the alarm wakes you up by glowing brighter over a period of 30 minutes, just like a sunrise. In theory, this would wake me gently from the lightest phase of sleep, instead of ripping me straight from REM or deep stage-four sleep. “That means you’ll usually wake up feeling more alert,” says Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health at San Francisco State University.
My first night, I set it for 6.15am, expecting to rise less than seven hours later, bathed and energised in warming light. Instead, I woke up to the sound of birds chirping – the alarm clock’s failsafe. I had slept through it. So, the second day, I hopped into bed earlier than usual, skipped my screentime and intended to read until I fell asleep. It took a few days for my body to acclimatise, but going to bed early seemed to help. As the week went on, I found myself rising peacefully with the fake sun and heading into the office early. A colleague whose reputation hinged on being the first one there saw me and stared: “What, did you sleep here?” Day 7: Get Hungrier for Success
In a 2016 study from the Netherlands, 3,018 people agreed to end their daily showers with a blast of ice-cold water . Afterwards, this hardy lot reported having more energy and were less likely to call in sick to work. That’s how I ended up shivering in my bathroom. I’d jump straight in and try to jog on the spot to keep from freezing. And though the showers definitely woke me up, I came to resent them. The dread that I felt in my pre-shower moments erased any positive feelings on the other side.
Osborn powers up with a more controlled kind of masochism: he fasts intermittently, restricting his food intake with the classic 16:8 protocol. (Don’t eat for 16 hours, then pack what you want into the other eight.) “Fasting makes you feel great,” he told me with earnest enthusiasm. “I have more energy, so my mornings are way more powerful.” I wanted a more powerful morning, too, so I adopted his eating window of 11.30am to 7.30pm.
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