I’m a fan of educated personal growth. Sleeping, eating, exercising, you name it. So when a friend of mine started sleeping 5 hours a night, waking up as early as 4 AM, it peaked my interest. He is one of the most disciplined people I know. An attribute that he continues to inspire me with.

When we discussed the pros and cons of his approach, he summarized the benefits with the proverb: “the early bird catches the worm”. In other words, when you sleep less, you have more time to do things. And when you wake up early, you are ahead of other people. Sounds like the ultimate lifehack, huh?

At first, I saw it as a kind of a Spartan exercise and couldn’t but respect it. But now, I still see it as a Spartan exercise, except I do not recommend it to anyone.

Why you should proudly sleep 8 hours a night, and wake up when you feel like it

Being the first to wake up is local thinking. If you wake up early, you do it in your hometown. You beat your neighbor and office colleagues to a morning jog, reading the newspaper and even getting some work done. But when your co-workers and customers are located around the world, the only way you’ll be the first is by not sleeping at all. That’s right. If you wake up at 4 AM in New York, you’re already late, because it’s 9 AM for your friend in London, and 4 PM (!) for another in Singapore.

Do things that have a big impact sooner. There are two ways to look at this. Cutting back on sleep and waking up early just to run errands every morning is not worth the trouble and damage. Instead, it’s valuable to complete things that have a big impact on your life. It’s a quality over quantity thing. So, if you are planning on doing something important that has a big impact, why leave it to the last minute? Why not do it the day before, in the evening? Heck, why not do it a week, a month, a year before? By identifying things that have a big impact, and completing them early, not just a couple of hours early, you become the earliest bird in the whole wide world.

An efficient day is more important than starting it early. Is it natural for you to sleep little and wake up early? Do you feel right when you do it? Do you start your day by wobbling to a cup of coffee if you do? Sleep is important. It recovers our minds and bodies from previous endeavors and recharges them for the next ones. If you are sleep-deprived, you are grumpier, you’ll learn less and you become worse at making decisions. It all adds up too. If you are sleep-deprived the whole week, you have tried your relationships, missed out on new knowledge, and made sloppy decisions several times. Better yet, when you aren’t at your sharpest, you actually end up losing time, because everything you do is slower and of lower quality. Imagine doing the same for months and years. It isn’t the trajectory to success. Then again, if you allow yourself to be sharp every day, you’ll see a positive compound effect in all areas of life.

Sleep deprivation is unhealthy. I mentioned that I’m a fan of educated personal growth. Health is important. If you have it, cherish it. Improve it. No one wishes for an illness or an impairment. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there about how sleep deprivation affects our physical and mental health. In short, if you do not get enough sleep, it increases the risk of viral infections, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. I get that sometimes we get less sleep in a crunch, but we shouldn’t make a lifestyle out of it. Enough proper sleep is one of the cornerstones of health, just like enough proper food and exercise.

Why do some people choose to sleep very little and wake up early?

For clarity, many people have kids and follow a 9-to-5 work schedule. You could say that they do not have full control over their sleep. The following points are about people who choose to tweak their sleep as a daily tactic to success.

Inspirational stories about leaders who need little sleep. Some of the stories refer to a gene that very few of us have, called the “Thatcher gene”. What gets lost is that some leaders take naps during the day or are on the older side. Sleep and the need for sleep change as we age.

There are fewer distractions when everyone’s asleep. While this is true both for early mornings and late evenings, distractions can be limited without changing the amount and timing of sleep. For example, by turning off notifications, and finding quiet places to work in the middle of the day. If your co-workers and customers happen to be based around the world, you have to find a way to control day-time distractions anyway. And let’s not forget, your favorite websites and apps provide sweet distractions around the clock if you let them.

It’s natural for many people to wake up early. We have different circadian rhythms that affect the timing of our biological processes like sleep and alertness levels. It would be uncomfortable for a morning person to work and sleep late.

It’s difficult to evaluate sleep deprivation yourself. Everything feels fine after you get used to the rhythm, but performance continues to decline. It’s easier to track time.

The goal is to sleep it off over the weekend. While this removes sleepiness, it does not restore cognitive performance such as focus or attention. The effects of sleep deprivation accumulate week after week.

Sleep your way to success

Obviously, it would be great to have the “Thatcher” gene. For the rest of us, here’s how to become successful without cutting back on sleep and waking up unnecessarily early.

Sleep according to your natural sleep cycle. If you are a morning person, go to bed early. If you are an evening person, stay up later. Remember, even if you are an evening person, it doesn’t mean that you should play with your phone until 4 AM. Personally, I feel a bit off in the morning if I’m not in sleep by 12 AM – 1 AM. If you feel off after 8 hours of sleep, go to bed earlier.

Sleep efficiently. There are habits that allow you to fall asleep quicker, limit waking up in the middle of the night, and sleep deeper.

Start your day the moment you wake up. If you find yourself hitting that snooze button in the morning, it means that you haven’t had enough proper sleep. Go back to step one for your and your partner’s sake.

Make the first hour count. It’s powerful to use the first hour of your day to do something with a great impact on your life. Personally, I write. I prepare for that first hour in the evening by deciding on the topic and setting up my computer. I even have a playlist that will improve my concentration ready. If you do this every day, you will move your passion project forward more in a couple of weeks than the past year.

Get all the sleep you need tonight. Enjoy your refreshing, healthy and productive day tomorrow.