You Don’t Need to Wake Up Early to Be Successful

The self-help world seems to be on a crusade of trying to convince everybody that we should all start waking up early. There is evidence to suggest that these assertions are not without merit. However, in my own experience, and people I am close with, waking up later is typically the way to go.

The basic argument says that by waking up early you get a jump on the day. There’s something powerful about being up before everyone else. If you work a traditional job that requires you to be present at 8 or 9am, waking up at 5 am can give you time to enjoy your morning, make breakfast, read the news, work out, and get in the right mind frame to attack your day.

If you search “Wake up early” you get all sorts of gurus and content creators claiming the benefits of waking up early and explaining how to do it. A simple search on YouTube gets you an endless scroll of videos about how to wake up early and why you should wake up early.

The average American reports getting about 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night. In order to to wake up at 5am, you have to get to sleep by 9:30pm in order to get enough sleep. And not be in bed mind you, but actually be asleep by 9:30pm. If you’re under the age of 60, this is probably unrealistic.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Index, 45% of Americans claim they suffer from lack of sleep.

If the average person goes to bed around 11:30, after playing around on their phone for about an hour they are then asleep around 1am. If they have to be at work at 8:30, they are probably getting up around 6:30 or 7:00. That means they are only getting 6 hours of sleep at the most. That’s an hour and a half of sleep debt that most people are suffering from.

Lack of sleep knowingly contributes to lack of focus, depression, weight gain, abuse of sugar and caffeine, and disinterest in relationships. This means that lack of sleep is making us sad, fat, lonely, and addicted to drugs.

Focus on amount of sleep not timing of sleep

Generally I think the body knows what it needs. It knows how much sleep it requires. If you’re having to wake up to an alarm, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

So when should you go to sleep?

According to Dr. Michael Breus, a prominent sleep psychologist from many self-help TV shows, different people have different sleep animals. He claims some people are lions (wake-up early), some are bears (normal), wolves (stay up late), or dophins (sleep whenever). He says one of the secrets is to know your sleep animal.

Essentially, not all people can sleep on the same schedule. If you like to stay up late, it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to be able to get up early. So instead of feeling bad about yourself for being unable to get up early, you might need to make a drastic change to your schedule (or possibly even your career) to enable you to be able to sleep in later.

Take me for example. I mostly work from home. I like to stay up late because that’s when I do my best work. I usually don’t even try to work until about 9pm at night. Once the world gets quiet I can really focus and get a lot done. I usually don’t go to bed until at least 4am.

Consequently I usually don’t get up until noon. It can be inconvenient at times but I never use an alarm and I rarely feel like I suffer from a lack of sleep.

This isn’t necessarily the best idea for everyone, but it works really well for me.

But don’t successful people get up early?

Actually no, this is a myth.

For some reason people think that really successful people get up super early. Granted, this may be true for some successful people but it is not a hard and fast rule.

Warren Buffett gets up around 7am.

Bill Gates gets up around 8:30am.

Jeff Bezos gets up around 10am.

Tony Robbins gets up around noon.

It’s much more important to focus on getting enough sleep rather than worrying about when you sleep.

I’d like to give you a challenge. For the next week try to wake up without an alarm every day. You’ll probably feel a little strange about it, but I bet after a week you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.

Our society is set up in a way to force people to not get enough sleep, which is unfortunate.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to stay up late but also has to get up early for a job, that’s a Catch-22 I don’t have a solution for.

One of the reasons I do what I do is because I have never fit in to normal society. I was never able to pursue a normal job because I knew I would never be able to wake up in time for it. The idea of having to be at a job by 9am sounds like absolute torture to me.

I think the world needs to change to allow late-sleepers to get the sleep they so desperately require. In the meantime, we should quit guilt tripping people in to thinking they need to wake up at 5am in order to be successful.

Freelance writer and professional gig-worker. I mostly write about the impact of technology on business & culture. Find me on twitter @chasebanderson.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store