I recently found myself agreeing with a client as she complained of not having enough time each day to complete her workload and attend her personal needs.

The problem with agreeing with the problem is that coaches like me are hired to offer solutions, not sympathy, however in this case I had no real solution that I could offer from personal experience.

I asked her for two weeks to test an approach for myself and we parked her time management challenge for a follow up session. That night I started an experiment I have been putting off for years, which is simply, extra early to bed and extra early to rise.  My lights out time for this experimental phase has been set at 8.30pm. My waking alarm is set for 04.00am, though I’ve so far woken a few minutes before it each morning.

I have two young kids who hit the sack around 8pm. In our house its teeth cleaning, story time and wind down with the lights low, and therefore easy to roll straight from kid mode to bed mode for the grown ups too.

The benefits

Waking really early is giving rise to many benefits that I could have guessed at, but really needed to experience to fully appreciate. For instance, as I write this blog at 11.40am, I already feel like I have achieved a good day of work. By 6am this morning I had rewritten important text for my website and begun editing videos for a training program. Prior to this early schedule it would have been 11.40am before I’d even completed one of those tasks. The sense of personal satisfaction from this is huge.

A clear benefit of wakefulness when most people are snoozing is that you can work free of calls, texts or email distractions. I’ve made it a habit to focus on the most important work as soon as I rise and to not allow the distraction of responding to other people until after breakfast.  My ability to concentrate is on another level at 4.30am compared to 4.30pm.

I also experience a sense of taking back control of my time, rather than having to respond to the never-ending events of being a parent, husband and coach and business owner.

A number of studies have also confirmed the benefits of getting up really early.  With claims that early risers are more productive, proactive, better problem solvers, better planners, they exercise more, are optimistic and surprisingly, that they get better sleep.

Being a night owl

So what stops most of us from turning in early so we can reap so many rewards?

In my own case I commonly use my evenings to complete work from earlier in the day. From 6-8pm I am with my kids and often feel the need to go back to my laptop once they are asleep. Working in the evenings is mostly a battle to remain focused for me, so by allocating all work to the early morning and daytime, I’m much more relaxed and present in the evenings and find sleep to be much deeper and undisturbed.

Need for stimulation is also a major factor for many people going to bed late. If you finish work at 7pm and get home at 8pm, you’re unlikely to want to go to bed at 9pm.  Many of my clients like to have a glass of wine or beer in front of the latest Netflix series. Which, though a way to relax, often leaves people feeling tired and unmotivated the next day.

There are many intentions for staying up late, from socializing and social media, to dinners and working on deadlines.

The important question is, how much of the late evening experience is of a high quality and personally rewarding?

Four hours at night or four hours in the morning?

Shifting over to a sleep early, rise early pattern actually provides the same free time, just at opposite ends of our body’s biological clock.

Will you feel and behave more effectively after four hours of evening activities, finishing at midnight, or four hours of morning activities, finishing at an 8am breakfast?

Our bodies have evolved to be up and about, alert, focused, aroused and ready for action in the mornings.  It makes sense (to me at least) to rest when we would historically have done so, and to benefit from accessing maximum energy and attention when the sun rises and we are biologically primed for it.  To rise and shine in this way is as natural as wanting to get jiggy in spring time. 

My suggestion to my client, and you, is to give an early sleep/wake pattern a trial for a month. It’s unlikely you will ever want to go back to the late night alternative.

Unfortunately my client is single and enjoys nothing more than eating and drinking with her colleagues most evenings. She didn’t apply my suggestions for an early night, but she did agree to stop complaining about her tiredness and lack of time.