Do early risers have an advantage?
Set your alarm: Whether you are networking with entrepreneurs at dawn or dating before you start work, sunrise is the new time to be seen.
I‘M NOT SURE HOW LONG I’ve been staring at my feet in the shower. A cloak of water trickles down my shins and between the crevices of my toes. The thought of moving my limbs right now fills me with dread. They’ve been through enough today. I’ve done a load of washing, run 10 kilometres, replied to last night’s emails and prepped for tonight’s risotto—and it’s not even 7 a.m. yet.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been setting my alarm for 5 a.m. in an attempt to reboot my energy levels. While I have long prided myself on being a morning person and consider sleeping in on the weekend wasteful, it’s rare for me to intentionally wake before dawn. But after 18 months of working from home, I had found that the spring in my step had been reduced to a shuffle. So filled with Zoom meetings and Slack notifications are the hours of my day that I was left feeling too fatigued to exercise or meet friends come sundown. I had endless time on my own but seemingly none for myself.
To find a solution, I did what any millennial does in times of uncertainty and took to social media, where I found that the answer might lie in not lying in bed. The #morningroutine hashtag has amassed more than 4.2 billion views on TikTok, while vlogger Lauren Snyder’s “6am Morning Routine” video—which shows her journalling, exercising, doing her skincare regimen and making breakfast—has accrued more than 3.4 million views on YouTube.
Of course, waking up at first light isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. For millennia, farmers, labourers and religious communities woke with the rising sun, long before the alarm clock was invented. But recently, those early hours have become a magical window—the key to productivity and self-realiz
ation. Leadership expert Robin Sharma, bestselling author of The 5am Club—336 pages extolling the virtues of rising early—is spearheading the movement. For ultimate well-being and success, readers are instructed to start their day at 5 a.m. with exercise, reflection and personal growth, with each session lasting 20 minutes. “The way you begin your day has an outsized effect on the quality of your day,” he explains. “If you look at many of the greatest creative leaders and sages of the world, most of them have one thing in common: They are daybreakers.” He notes early birds such as Michelle Obama and Apple CEO Tim Cook as examples.
But as the pre-dawners quietly get on with their 5 a.m. ice baths (Twitter CEO JackDorsey), green powders with brain-octane oil (Orlando Bloom) and 95-minute workouts followed by cryo-chamber recovery (Mark Wahlberg), everyone else gets more sleep. More and more of us are using the extra hours in our days to take meetings, network and even socialize with likeminded peers, leaving the well-rested lagging behind. Sharma is not surprised. “We’re looking for the game-changing hack that frees us from our slavery to technology,” he says. “The morning routine is the answer.”
The idea of speaking to colleagues pre-caffeine would have most of us pulling the duvet over our heads. But in Miami, before-work networking is as common as jogging along Ocean Drive. Thanks to low taxes, a hot climate and pro-business mayor Francis Suarez, the coastal metropolis is making a name for itself as the next Silicon Valley. Consequently, the city has ushered in a new wave of early-rising techies, venture capitalists and former Wall Street financiers itching to share ideas at breakfast lectures and on networking bike rides around the town of Key Biscayne before clocking in at the office. After all, time is money.
It’s a culture that inspired Brandon Evans, co-founder of technology community Miami Made, to launch the Thrive Together Tuesday event. Once a month, members, all of whom are founders, meet at 7:30 a.m. to share their knowledge and find support from like-minded moguls. The eye-watering start time was “very intentional,” says Evans. “Being a founder is hard and often isolating work. To start your day with 100 people who want to see you succeed is a game-changer.”
But it’s not all work and no play for early risers. The morning is getting a makeover, with some viewing it as the new “happy hour” (without the gin). “My friends and I regularly have 6 a.m. calls,” Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, founder of communications agency TishTash, tells me from Dubai. The entrepreneur initially began setting her alarm for 5 a.m. for work (“I want my inbox empty by 9 a.m. so I can focus on clients”) but has tailored her morning routine to accommodate time with friends too. “We end our calls and feel energized for the day,” she says. Anna McLeod, athlete and team and partnership manager at cycling brand Rapha, is another fan of starting work early. She meets her mentor for a weekly 7 a.m. “bun run” cycle in the countryside with a pit stop for coffee and pastries. “I’ve had meetings on the bike before, and I find conversation is more casual and relaxed than it is in a meeting room,” she says.
Could morning meet-ups really become the alternative to post-work drinks? Yes, says George Rawlings, who co-founded the dating app Thursday in April. Having had more than 110,000 users sign up in London and New York prior to its launch, the platform is now looking into a feature that enables users to show their available time slots, which Rawlings believes will benefit early risers who want to date before work. “I think people will be more inclined to give half an hour of their time for a morning coffee and make dating more low-key,” he says.
The cultivation of relationships early in the morning is something Aurelien Schibli and Brenton Parkes have seen first-hand. In 2018, the former roommates launched the 5.30 Club in Sydney for individuals who were interested in meeting in a café on weekdays at 5:30 a.m. It has expanded across Australia, with attendees socializing, working and even dating. “We’ve attracted people who value connection on a sober level,” says Vani Morrison, who co-founded the club with the pair. “Anyone can get up early and have a morning routine, but there’s a difference when you have a community to hold you accountable.” And you don’t even have to wait until the sun sets to party. Morning Gloryville, which is based in the U.K., has had worldwide success with its pre-dawn alcohol-free raves, which start well before 7 a.m.
But while waking at an earlier hour may benefit some, sleep expert Els van der Helm isn’t so sure it makes you more successful; it may even be counterproductive. One major drawback is the myth that waking early means you’re getting ahead. “In believing this, you’re basically misaligning your sleep with the rhythm of your biological clock,” she says. Humans have different chronotypes that determine our ideal sleep times, van der Helm explains, and with morning types making up just 14 percent of the population, most people who wake up early will be forcing themselves into a schedule that doesn’t naturally fit their chronotype, especially if they’re going to bed early to rise early. “Eventually you’ll adjust, but you’re never going to be completely optimal,” she says.
Does that mean you’re free to stay in bed? Don’t bet on it. In an age of comparison culture, earlier-than-you routines are on the rise. Hatherall-Shawe has already seen it happen. “We’ve got an entrepreneurial community in Dubai, and people are competitive,” she says, noting that she often finds herself comparing how she uses her “power hours” with her early-bird colleagues. And as Sharma says, “We’re fundamentally tribal animals.” We’re not only fascinated by the chief of the tribe’s practices; we’re inclined to copy them, he adds.
There’s nothing inherently better about packing the early hours with activity, but there’s no doubt that the purity and simplicity of dawn fit with this generation’s focus on wholesome self-improvement. And in a time-starved world, what rising early gives daybreakers over night owls is a feeling of achievement before the day has really begun.
Pre-dawn networking and breakfast bike rides might not replace the hedonism of a night out with friends. But post-pandemic, when working from a spare room is the norm and the term “office hours” has lost all meaning, perhaps it’s time we wake up to the potential of mornings. Just don’t hit “snooze.”