• Daniel Kephart

90 Days of 4 A.M.

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

This past August, I moved to the state of Texas.

A few weeks later, I started waking up at 4 A.M. every day. This is the story of how that changed my life.

Okay, well maybe that's a bit dramatic. Before you start hurling full wine bottles at your computer screen, though, at least hear me out.

My sleep schedule changed almost by accident. During my first few weeks, I had little more to occupy my time than training for a new job. Those first few nights in a strange city, I knew that I needed to be cautious about how late I stayed out in unfamiliar places. So I came home early.

But, and here's where things get scary, I didn't have WiFi.

So, without much to think about other than being ready for the next day, I found myself clamoring into bed earlier than usual. Which was nice. I felt better rested, obviously, and had more energy to look at memes on my laptop while other people were talking the next day.

Enter, stage left: My big idea.

My friends, though, know that I'm insatiably curious. If there's an idea that can be experimented with, I want to be waist-deep in it. Here was my chance, as a started a new life in a different place, to experiment with something radically different.

So I set my alarm for 4 A.M.

I'd tried becoming an early-riser before (in college, I made this resolution about every-other week, with predictably bad results). This time, however, things felt different.

Experiencing so many changes in my life made it easier to decide to try something new. What's more, my 4 A.M morning rituals helped provide stability in a sometimes chaotic new way of living. So put on your matching flannel PJs and moo-moo slippers as we walk through the benefits (and problems) that come with joining the 4 A.M. club.

Pro: Stress-Free Commuting

That's right, just consider how few people are really up-and-at-'em by 6:00AM. I walk to work, so traffic isn't really a huge factor for me anyway, but there's something remarkably freeing about seeing ciy streets nearly empty. Without the stress of focusing on vehicles constantly zooming past me, I found myself better able to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, or mentally organize my plan for facing the day. Besides, who doesn't love to watch the sunrise?

Con: Waking Up

Painfully obvious, but painfully true. During the first few days of 4 A.M. life, getting out of bed can be hellish. Cold weather doesn't help either, so sorry to our northern readers. Never fear: Putting a sweatshirt on your bedside table can make tossing aside the covers a little easier.

Pro: A Better Relationship to Television

If you're at all like me (and you are, nerd), then YouTube might as well be your spouse--you pretend to listen, even when you're really just zoning out and letting "Safety Dance" play on repeat inside your brainbox. Knowing that I need to get up early keeps me from spending too much time binging TV or letting YouTube autoplay show me yet another chiropractic video. Plus, in the morning, I find my willpower is still fresh. I make better (if equally strange) decisions about what to watch after I've just woken up. Currently, I read the New York Times morning briefing, watch a clip of my favorite comedian, and then practice my German on Duolingo. A pretty productive half-hour.

Con: "You're Such an Old Man" It's a pretty small price to pay, but get used to hearing this phrase if you decide to become an extreme early bird. Staying up late has a sort of mystical quality to it, in some ways, that we associate with youth. Somehow I find I don't cry too much about losing that youthful quality in the morning, though--I'm usually too busy fying up hashbrowns to go with my eggs.

Pro: The Work/Life Divide

Alright, in fairness, this is definitely achievable on a more normal schedule, but I think it's easier if you are an early riser. When I wake up in the morning, I know that the first thing I have on the schedule is time spent investing in myself as an individual. Cooking a good meal, working on my language skills, reading about something new and exciting, these are all something I can look forward to each morning.

When I go to work, a couple hours later, I do so knowing that even if the rest of the day is a trainwreck, I've already enjoyed some of life's simple pleasures. For the same reason, when I come home at the end of the day, I enter a space that my mind naturally associates with positive emotions. I was here earlier, my brain seems to say, and good things happened.

Con: Goodbye, Nightlife

It's pretty difficult to hit the bar with your friends when you know you're going to have to be up at 4 A.M. the next day. This can be awkward, at times, especially if you're in an environment where the local watering hole is a natural place to network and make new connections. On the upside, however, that change in nighttime activity might be just the impetus to build a healthier relationship to alcohol.

Pro: The Nighttime Ritual

Okay, so I have to admit, I never would have antipated this benefit of waking up in the small hours of the morning. Wierdly enough, my nighttime routines became way more structured. Largely by accident, I found myself constructing a routine of basic calisthetics, a hot shower, and spiritual devotion in the hour before I hit the lights. Apparently, organizing your mornings can help organize your evenings, too.

The Point: Do What Is Right For You

The early-to-bed, early-to-rise equation isn't for everybody. If you're a social butterfly, spending so much time moving through the world while others are still asleep can be a little daunting. There's a lot to be said for the simple pleasures of a strict morning routine, however, and how they unlock potential in the rest of your day.

Because, after all, life is a lot like a story. Do your best to take it a chapter a day.

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