The Happiness Manual

Self Improvement by Laurence D. Mason

Staying up Late vs Getting Up Early

Written By: Laurence D. Mason - Jul• 24•11

Frequently there are aspects of my life, events within it, and pressing issues, that can be resolved easily with a burst of speed. That is, after all, how the cheetah catches the antelope.

Spaced learning, musical pieces and projects always benefit from consistent, and regular input in terms of time and effort. It is without doubt that the best quality of work is that which is a result of such a work ethic.

However, life is full of hills, dips, mounds, bends in the road and diversions. Regular consistent effort, although it is a desirable work ethic, is occasionally unrealistic; at this point you have two options, the first would be what all university students know as an all-nighter. Prep yourself with coffee only, (if you are a law student), grab some stimulating DVDs, arrange a night over with a class mate and burn the midnight oil.

The second solution is to get up exceptionally early i.e. 3 or 4am. This is almost like staying up all night but with a moonlight siesta.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both these methods. Yyou could argue that if you truly did commit to working for an hour per day on one particular aspect of your life without fail there wouldn’t be any need for a sprint, but that wouldn’t make for very interesting reading.


Pros and Cons of staying up late


  • Some people find it easier to stay up 3 or 4 hours later than getting up 3 or 4 hours earlier. When did you last get up at 3am? It was difficult wasn’t it?
  • Staying up all night gives you a sense of adventure in a way, because of the extremely radical nature of it.
  • You get “in the zone”. A long time before actually staying up late, your subconscious mind has decided that it will be a work night, you will not be pratting around
  • Students are likely to stay up all night as a group, so you can keep each other from falling asleep.
  • There is always time for another coffee


Pros and Cons of getting up unusually early (around 3 or 4am)


  • Compared to staying up late, there is less chance of falling asleep once you’re up, because you have had some sleep recently
  • There is nobody around to distract you, so you can get on with your work. However…
  • There is nobody around to distract you, so you can’t rely on someone else to stop you falling asleep
  • Once you get going, you won’t want to stop. As dawn approaches and the sun shines on your being, you’ll gradually begin to feel more awake
  • Succeeding in not going back to bed is an incredible morale boost
  • Getting up very very early is less socially acceptable (unless like me, you embrace aspects of your personality that add to general weirdness)


More advantage on early arising


By getting up extremely early you benefit from the mental allocation of the extra time to work, and focus. Unlike the staying up all night strategy, you get some refreshment which enables you to keep going more effectively than if you stayed up for the entire night.

If you were to stay up all night and go to bed around 5 or 6, you would feel extremely groggy when you woke up, and overall, very off -peak for the entire day. If you were to get up at 3 or 4 am, by the time you get out of the house to attend to your crap, any grogginess will have worn off, and you’ll have found more time for multiple caffeine impregnated beverages.

Being the hands on personal development enthusiast that I am, I took it upon myself to try the method of getting up ridiculously early just for a few days. (each day is in isolation as you need extra sleep to recover between these days). A flask of coffee ready by your bed is certainly a help, although many sleep purists will turn their nose up at the idea of stimulants. Interestingly, because you have already had a “reset” by sleeping for a few hours, at first it feels like you’ve gained 3 or 4 hours just out of thin air; that’s the most liberating feeling, and I personally felt I had all the time in the world until going to my day job.

I calculated my wake up time based on how long a typical sleep cycle is. The purpose of this was to maximise the possibility of waking up during a very shallow phase of sleep thus reducing grogginess. A typical sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and you are at your lightest level of sleep at the very beginning. Therefore if I fall asleep at 10, I should set my alarm to either 2:30am, 4:00am or 5:30am for maximum alertness. Upon waking (before the alarm went off, strangely)  I immediately felt alert and ready and enjoyed the relaxing feeling of not having anyone around to distract me from my work.


Last thoughts

As methods for getting a pressing issue resolved, both systems can be as effective as you want them to be. For me personally, I enjoyed the early arising system more, because I felt it compromised less on my tiredness throughout the day than staying up all night. That said, in the short term, simply extending your day by staying up is orders of magnitude easier to do.

I would not encourage the habit of going to bed very late. Cultures around the world, especially hunter gatherer societies like the Sami and the San people all share the principle that what you take from mother nature you have to give back. A trapped wild animal has to be paid for with a sacrifice or ritual. A successful harvest is thanked for with more spiritual activities. Borrowing time from mother nature has to be paid back in the form of a huge lie-in.

>>Next post: “Why I Live My Life One Hour Ahead”

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