I have always admired those who start their days at 4 A.M., but I never had a reason to do so. For the most part, I have always been a morning person. I’ve never been a night owl. Sure, there were times in my life I stayed up binge-watching true crime shows until 2 A.M., but those nights were the exception rather than the rule. I was never a partier. I never pulled all-night study sessions during college or law school. Instead, I kept a productive schedule during the day that freed me up to rest at night. However, I never really had a reason to wake up super early. Rising at 6 A.M. or 7 A.M. always allowed me to workout, study and go to school or work (or both).
But when I became a mom nearly five years ago, that changed. My son kept me up at all hours of the night. Many of my days would start — begrudgingly, unwillingly — well before dawn. That only intensified when his twin siblings came along three years later. During those exhausting days of early motherhood, I rarely rose before I absolutely had to. Surviving on fragments of broken sleep meant that I grasped at any shuteye I could get and I never had to set an alarm because my kids always woke me well before I was ready.
However, as my kids have gotten a little older, I’ve gotten into the habit of intentionally waking up between 4 A.M. and 5 A.M. every morning — even weekends. Here’s how I do it:
I have always been most productive in the mornings. Staying up late does little to boost my productivity. In fact, it only makes me more tired. So, I go to bed early. For me, that means lights out between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. Since my kids are still rather young, inevitably, at least one of them will wake at some point during the night. My husband and I take turns answering their calls, but by getting an early start on sleep, I find I still feel rested in the morning even if there’s been a sleep disturbance in the night.
Part of the reason I rise so early is that it allows me to have uninterrupted time to get my workout in. As a lifelong fitness devotee, fitting in a training session has always been important to me. I currently work from home with my kids. If I don’t workout first thing in the morning, I must sneak it in during my twins’ nap time. However, that poses two problems: sometimes they resist their nap, which throws off my schedule, and I have many other tasks that I need to complete during the nap time slot. Getting in my workout before the day starts solves both problems. It also provides a huge mood boost and fills me with feelings of endless potential.
Another way I force myself to wake up at 4 A.M.: I remind myself of how good I feel when I do. I have always been a good self-motivator. When I go to bed, I set my alarms and look forward to the morning knowing I will be starting it off on the right foot. I look over my schedule. I glance at my workout program to see what I’ll be doing in the morning. Doing these things remind me why I’m choosing to rise at that hour and gets me pumped up for my early start. Then, in the morning, I immediately roll out of bed without giving it a second thought.
I coax myself into waking at 4 A.M. because I accept that it’s my best option. In other seasons of life, I could afford to wake a few hours later and take on the world. However, these days, as a busy mom and wife building a business, I need to wake up at that time. Doing so gives me the time to exercise for as long as I need. It gives me time to dress and put myself together for the day, to write and to get a head start on the morning without much interruption from the kids. By 7:30 A.M., we are out the door taking my oldest to school and starting work and errands, the day open to endless possibilities.
Finally, although I’ve gotten into the habit of waking at 4 AM, I also cut myself some slack. I tell myself that if I’m really tired, I have the option to sleep in later if I want. However, rarely do I exercise this option. Most days, my internal clock wakes me before my alarm even goes off. Even if there’s not much to do that day, I still enjoy the productivity and promise of the early morning hours. Although I never thought I’d be here, I am now a very early morning riser — and it feels great.
Candace Alnaji is an experienced workplace civil rights attorney, career strategist, and consultant. She's also a working parent advocate and the founder of The Mom at Law, PLLC and Alnaji Career and Workplace Strategies, LLC.