The Rise of the Early Risers: How the '5 to 9' Became the New '9 to 5'

The 5-9 trend claims to be the solution to getting more out of your day. But is getting up early the way to find balance or just adding more to the to-do list?

Not enough hours in the day? Go to bed with a to do list half done? The answer to your time management challenge, according to TikTokers, A-listers and the super successful, may be setting the alarm for the crack of dawn. 

Getting up early is trending on TikTok, where fans of the 5 to 9 routine utilise the four hours between 5am and 9am for well-being exercises and admin tasks set against motivational music and hashtags like #productivity, #riseandgrind and #growth. 

Many follow the rules of the 5am Club,  leadership coach Robin Sharma’s 2018 book in which the 5-6am ‘golden hour’ is optimised using a 20/20/20 formula (dividing those 60 minutes into 20 minutes of exercise, reflection and learning a new skill – all before breakfast). Elsewhere, popular productivity gurus like Ryan Holiday enthuse about the benefits of early to rise. “If you want to start executing at a higher level, then you have to get in the habit of waking up early,” he writes on his blog.

Why are all these TikTokers getting up so early?

The 5 to 9 trend might have taken off on social media but in the higher echelons of the successful, it’s the only way to work. In Hollywood, Mark Wahlberg is the daddy of early call-times: he gets up at 2.30am to crank out pull-ups in the gym. US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s legendarily tight schedule starts at 4am.

From Apple’s Tim Cook to Virgin’s Richard Branson, successful entrepreneurs tend to be morning larks. Wahlberg, who is both an A-lister and a burger empire kingpin, finds he needs the extra time to juggle commitments. “I’m just getting busier and busier, with less and less time in the day to get everything done,” he told The Ellen Show.

So why is it trending with us normies? Cera Paslawsky, aka @theorganisedaddict, is a dedicated 5 to 9er who shares her morning routine with her 700k+ followers on Tiktok. 

Before work, she will have meditated, journaled, read some non-fiction, made the same breakfast she makes every morning (two eggs and avocado toast,“to avoid decision fatigue”) watched a “studytube” video, been for a 45 minute run or walk and got ahead on cleaning. 

She understands this is a lot to pack in but like most of us, she has a lot on. “I just got so much done it was crazy,” she says. “I felt like I had more hours in the day, and my energy levels in the morning are far greater than the afternoon or evening so I was able to be 3x as productive.”

There are other benefits to consider. When productivity expert Graham Allcott needs to be his most efficient self – writing books like How to be a Productivity Ninja – he’ll rise for the 5 to 9 shift. The main benefit is that you’re able to work without distractions.

“Since everyone else is asleep or not yet at work, you’re much less likely to be checking emails or being distracted by WhatsApp messages or calls,” he says. Plus, you feel good about it once you’ve done it. “There’s something about being ‘in flow’ in the early morning light,” Allcott adds, “watching the sun come up, and feeling like by 9am you’ve accomplished a full day’s work.” 

Habit is a key mantra of the 5AM club; Paslawsky sticks to her habits so religiously, she takes a version of the 5 to 9 on holiday. She can’t take time off from her business, but getting up early on vacation allows her to crunch out a few hours of work. “By the time everyone wakes up and is ready to explore or adventure, I have already checked in and stayed on top of work,” she says, “so I have the time to be able to have an actual vacation and relaxing stuff with them.”

Is there a solid case for getting up at the crack of dawn?

Not everyone imbibes the 5 to 9 so readily. For every day-in-the-life vlog extolling its virtues, there are equally popular TikTok skits satirizing the phenomenon as a symptom of late capitalism and hustle culture gone crazy

The routine’s insistence on productivity (no-one is suggesting you get up and just flake out for a couple of hours before work) could be problematic if you are simply adding working hours to your day, Allcott says. “I find the glorification of certain morning routines dangerous. It promotes a hustle culture that tells people that if you follow some ridiculous morning routine, then you’ll be successful. What matters much more is getting the right things done.”

Still, 5 to 9 advocates like Paslawsky see benefits beyond the hustle. “The biggest difference I saw was how much it helped my anxiety,” she says. “As someone who is very introverted, I found waking up before the world and having a few hours to myself helped me charge my social battery for the day. I become less burnt out by social interactions.” 

There is plenty of research to suggest getting up early is good for you. Morning larks have been found to be more persistent go-getters who set higher goals for themselves and plan for future success. Research shows that early risers have a sunnier disposition, and this can have significant knock on effects, particularly on well-being. A 2018 study suggested that night owls were 10% more likely to die earlier than morning larks. We also live in a world timetabled to suit the early bird, which can leave night owls struggling to adjust and experiencing problems with exercise, stress, and social isolation, according to the study published in the journal Chronobiology International.

The studies urge caution around causation and correlation. Is it getting up early that causes problems or forcing people to conform to an AM schedule? For about half of us, our internal clock or chronotype neither favours morning nor evening. But one in four are early risers and the same number are night owls. What you can do about that appears limited. 

“Your chronotype is to a large extent genetically determined so you cannot change one to another, however hard you try,” says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. “For larks getting up at 5am would not present too much of a problem but for owls this is akin to getting up halfway through the night.”

Trying to turn night owls into early risers might not help their well-being. The optimum time to go to sleep is individual to us. Messing with this ‘sleep gate’ could present challenges, says Stanley. “Regardless of the wake-up time you have chosen to impose upon yourself your sleep gate remains the same,” the author of How to Sleep Well explains. “All you are doing by getting up at 5am is curtailing your sleep period, which given the importance of sleep to good physical, mental and emotional health is a rather stupid thing to do.” 

Should we all try to become morning larks?

But why force the issue? Night owls have been found to hold their own against early risers: they tend to perform better in memory tests and score higher in processing speed and cognitive ability. They also share positive straits like straightforwardness and openness to excitement.

Over achievers pull late nighters too: night owls include literary giant James Joyce, former Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti and Golden Globe winning star of The White Lotus Jennifer Coolidge, who only comes alive at night.  “I love night-time,” she told People magazine. “The whole morning, afternoon and dusk are wretched, and I can barely function. And…something like 8 or 9pm starts happening and I’m like ‘woo…now something’s gonna happen.”

Perhaps the biggest deterrent against rising early is the restraint on nightlife and fun times favoured by the likes of Coolidge. Paslawsky, for example, is in bed by 8.30pm. “I am an absolute grandma,” she admits. “My body knows when it's 9pm and will just start to fall asleep.”

This strict routine may be the only way to make 5 to 9 work, particularly at the outset. Paslawsky also recommends early morning rewards like your favourite coffee on the go and, if you really struggle, get a pet that will wake you for 5am feeding. “Once they get on that schedule, they will be your annoying lovable alarm clock you can't ignore,” she says.

Productivity guru Allcott positions his alarm clock away from the bed, and has a Lumie light to mimic sunlight. He also only does the 5 to 9 when he has a good enough reason to get up. “Ask yourself why you want to do this? Is it worth sacrificing evening entertainment, and have you got the right support and adjustments in place in terms of your relationships and family, to make it all work?” he says. “Early mornings can be a magical and productive time, but it can also lead to feeling like a hermit.” 

The trend for 5 to 9 is driven by the desire to balance your 9 to 5 schedule. But even the most committed understand not to simply front load their day, every day. “I always turn off my alarm on Saturday mornings just to let myself sleep if my body feels it needs it,” says Paslawsky, who gives herself the weekend off. Well, some of it. “Sadly, I work most weekends, but if I have actual social plans,” she laughs, “I sleep in until like 7-8 am.”

Words: Colin Crummy

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