According to an article Adam Popescu wrote for the New York times, Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, rises a little before 4 a.m. every day. President Trump wrote in his 2004 book that he only needs four hours of sleep a night. David Cush, the former Virgin America C.E.O., has said that he wakes up at 4:15. And Jennifer Aniston wakes up at around 4:30 to meditate, as does Kris Jenner, the same time that Michelle Obama is hitting the gym.

The same article states that there is no data that shows that successful people get less sleep.

It is, however, fairly acceptable in our society to brag about the fact that you rise early in the morning. I know because I do. I rise early and I brag about it. Well, I try not to brag, but I have always felt just a bit smug about my waking time. In my case, I am aware that it is an imitation of my father. My mother also was an early riser. My father invested at least 25 years of his life flying light airplanes at high altitudes. In order to fly a super cup with a 12,000 foot service ceiling for fire or animal patrols over Yellowstone Park, you need to have the advantage of cool temperatures and calm winds, both of which are part of the early morning hours. My father rose at 4 or 4:30 every morning and went to work. In the winter, when aircraft operations were slowed, he and my mother rose and worked on the books of their businesses. Most days Mom worked for an hour at the office books and billing before she started to prepare breakfast for us kids.

I learned to get up early during the summer when there was no school because I loved airplanes and the airport. I could go to work with my father if I was up and dressed in time.

As I became more serious in my studies, I learned that I was more productive in the morning hours. I could focus on my studies early in the morning with less effort than it took for me to focus late in the day. When I married, I discovered that my wife was nearly the opposite. She liked to rise and get into her day slowly and could be very productive late at night. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t get up early. She could do that, it was that some of her best work was done later in the day. That combination worked well for us because we shared the same manual typewriter through our college and graduate school years. That little portable machine got a good workout, with me typing in the mornings and her typing in the evenings, with the exception that at times, especially when she was frustrated, she could be a really irregular typist. The lack of a regular rhythm would make it hard for me to sleep and more than once I would get up from bed and type a paper for her.

There are plenty of famous studies that show that people who don’t get enough sleep at night have reduced cognitive function. One famous study by the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School found that reaction times and performance on cognitive tests were severely decreased for those who get less than six hours of sleep. Those who sleep only four hours per night showed significant cognitive performance deficits. Other studies have demonstrated a rise in levels of the tree hormone cortisol, higher blood pressure and decreased effectiveness of common vaccines such as the flu shot.

Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, calls early rising a “performance killer.”

While the effects of not getting enough sleep are well documented, there is less evidence that shifting your circadian rhythm has a similar effect. Some of us who rise early simply go to bed early. In her senior years my mother often rose early in the morning and went to bed at a similarly early time at night. She was getting enough sleep, but was just out of sync with much of the popular world. She wasn’t bothered by being alone and used her early morning times productively. She finally became aware that her tendencies were providing a challenge to her social life. She couldn’t stay awake for normal evening activities. She then taught herself to stay up a little later in the evening and rise a bit later in the morning.

The issue, from a biological perspective, is melatonin, the sleep hormone. If you rise when your brain is producing melatonin, you can feel excessive daytime sleepiness, low energy and a decline in mood and cognitive performance.

Our society demands that some of us be awake at times when others sleep. Hospitals, fire department and law enforcement agencies need to be staffed with awake and alert personnel 24 hours per day. There are a lot of workers who need to work at night and sleep during the day. Studies show the health dangers to frequent changes in shift work, but are less conclusive on the negative effects of working at night. Some of us have jobs or volunteer positions that require our sleep to be interrupted on occasion. I take overnight on call duties two weeks per month an average. I know i have to be ready to respond to a phone call quickly. I don’t get that many calls, usually only one per month or so, though I have had as many as three in the same week.That does make me tired and affect my performance.

I have by no means found the perfect balance, but I do find that my current lifestyle suits me pretty well. I can perform well at evening meetings and still be time to write my journal first thing in the morning. I don’t however, compare myself to the famous early risers with whom I began this essay. I think I’m a bit more like Thomas Edison who used to say “Four hours are good enough for me.” What he left out of the picture is that he was a prolific napper. I’m good at taking naps. And when I get a good nap, I’m good for both early morning and late at night.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!