Waking up at 5 AM: The Cold, Dark Truth

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I’ve always said that I’m a night owl, that I preferred to work at night when everyone was asleep. The problem was, I wasn’t always working. When it’s so late at night, 2 AM looks exactly the same as 3 AM, and 3 AM looks exactly the same as 4 AM. I would only really head to bed when I was exhausted. Eventually, it got so bad that I was preparing my midnight snack as the sun was coming up. Except, it wasn’t really a snack, it was a full pot of buttered noodles. I think that was the tipping point, when I realized I would have to make major changes to my lifestyle, and soon after forced all my friends in the newspaper to take part in this challenge together.  

My problem wasn’t necessarily getting enough sleep. I could sleep whenever and wake up eight hours later because all of my classes started so late. I knew I needed to form a healthier routine, so I decided to wake up every day for the next three weeks at 5 AM. And why did I choose 5 AM? I’m not sure, but at the time it just sounded more impressive than 6 AM. 

Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it, and had someone as a backup to pick up this lifestyle change if I failed early on. To my surprise, shifting my sleep schedule was incredibly easy. The first night, I only slept 2 hours, rendering me effectively exhausted the entire day thereafter, such that sleeping at 10 PM the next night was a godsend. The pattern wasn’t too difficult to keep up after that.  

Waking up so early was highly motivating and uplifting, especially early into the challenge. Just like at night, I was met with the silence and darkness I prefer while studying or doing work. Unlike the nighttime, however, I wasn’t wasting (as much) time rewarding myself for a long day’s work. I had the energy to start homework, especially projects that would take a few hours, because I could complete them before my roommate had even woken up. Some days, it even felt like a race between me and the sun. I was completing entire take-home tests and writing full articles before it hit 8 AM. 

I also realized I loved sunrises, they acted like warm motivators that would either say “look at all you’ve already done today!” or even if I was just scrolling through TikTok and hadn’t done anything that morning, it would reassure me, “you still have the full day ahead of you!” 

One of the greatest benefits was receiving more quality sleep after establishing this routine. Even though I couldn’t always control how much sleep I got, having an idea of when I would sleep and when I would wake up set up a routine I didn’t have before. I felt my body was under less stress, I would get sleepier as the sky got darker as it was intended to and I took much fewer naps. 

However, the difficulties were not insignificant. I failed plenty of times, especially when it was extremely cold in the mornings as we were getting used to heating the dormitories, or when I felt it was just so dark and bleak I couldn’t convince myself to get out of bed at all. Sometimes, I felt I didn’t have any urgent work to do, so sleeping was just as (if not more) enticing than pulling up a YouTube video. I also felt immune to my phone’s alarm some days, and when I asked my roommate if I could use my loud alarm clock I bought in my freshman year, she was appalled. Rightfully so. 

There were a few times, too, when I was on a date, or celebrating my friend’s birthday or when my roommate needed the light on at night, when I was forced to receive less sleep than usual. Despite its benefits, I had a feeling it would be difficult to maintain waking up at 5 AM after the challenge ended because of the factors I couldn’t control that happened at night. It would be unrealistic for me to ask all my friends to cater to my bedtime. 

The habit has stayed with me, to a certain extent. I’ll wake up almost instinctively between 6:30 – 7:30 AM nowadays. Overall, the experience has been highly rewarding. I work in the mornings effectively, and even more than that, I am enjoying having a semi-routine that helps me manage my time better. I think I’ll try this challenge again over the summer when it’s warmer and I can explore more hobbies, but as for now, I won’t be racing the sun anytime soon. 

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Katherine Ji

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