Brandon Vogt

5 Reasons Why You Should Wake Up Early

This article is a follow-up to Jen Fulwiler’s excellent piece today at the Register. With her usual clarity and wit she makes several great arguments for waking up early, even though she’s a self-proclaimed night owl. If you aren’t reading Jen’s blog on a regular basis you’re missing out on some really great stuff. Check it out!

I’ve always been a morning person, though in the past that meant waking up at 7:00am. With that schedule, I was getting out of bed just a few minutes before the average American, who according to one survey rises at about 7:15am each day. But three months ago, I made a drastic change:

I decided to wake up at 4:45am every single day.

So far it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m able to get so much done before the official workday begins–productive writing, a solid workout, and even daily Mass. And I’m able to devote most nights to my wife and family.

Here’s a look at my typical morning schedule (click to enlarge):

Now I know the thought of rising early can send shivers down the spines of most night-owls–here’s looking at you, Jen Fulwiler. I know that as soon as you see 4:45am the warning bells start ringing and the internal censor shouts, “I could never wake up that early!”

However there’s plenty of data–and even a whole blog–showing that rising early is really a beneficial move. Each morning person has their own reasons for waking up early, but here are my top five:

1. Most saints woke up early—and so did Jesus.

Let’s just begin with the ultimate early-bird trump card which, for many people, is reason enough. If you scan each century of Church history you’ll find that most holy people consistently woke before dawn. Jen points to St. Josemaria Escriva as one example, but there are plenty more.

St. Benedict is one. He was known to rise in the early hours to recite the Psalms, a practice he eventually commended to his entire religious order. Even today many monastic orders wake up at 3:00am or 4:00am for communal prayer. Mother Teresa’s nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, are early birds, too. They start their busy schedule each day at 4:30am.

If that’s not enough, consider this: Christ himself liked to wake up early:

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

“Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” – Luke 21:37-38

So if nothing else, waking up early puts you in very good company. But there are more reasons.

2. You’ll begin the day satisfied.

One of the best parts of rising early is that you’re able to knock out so much work. Instead of slogging through the day lamenting all you have to do that night, you can bask in the satisfaction of your morning accomplishments.

As Jen confesses, “When I’ve drifted back onto my natural schedule of staying up late and sleeping late, there’s always a question mark looming over my day as to whether I’ll use my quiet time for something fruitful.”

I’ll tell you, if I plan to work-out, write, or pray at night-time, it can be extremely daunting after a long day at work. Even though I know I’ll be glad after I do those things, their specter hangs over my day like a dark cloud and it’s tough to summon the will-power I need. When I wake up early and conquer those activities first thing in the morning, that cloud fades and my day is bright and clear.

As usual, Jen articulates it well: “A prayerful and productive morning gives me a sense of accomplishment that I can carry with me throughout the day, no matter what else may go wrong.”

3. Your work will be constrained.

This one didn’t strike me until recently. Yet if you’re waking up early in order to read or write, it’s huge. Think about this. When you work at night, there’s no time limit pressing you to work efficiently. What’s the difference between working until midnight, or 1:00am, or 2:00am? Either way you’re going to wake-up tired so there’s no real urgency to wrap up your work. Even more, without external pressure to finish your work by a certain time, it’s much easier to surf the web, slow down, or become distracted by other things.

Mornings are different, however, since they with a built-in constraint. When I begin writing at 4:45am, I know that no matter where I am in my work, I have to stop at 5:55am to eat breakfast and help with the kids. Each morning has a built-in deadline that forces me to focus and not waste time. For me, that’s been extremely helpful and it’s led to more productive writing.

4. Mass and exercise.

OK, technically I’m squeezing two reasons into one, and at first glance they may not seem to have much in common. But I think they’re two sides of the same coin–one is fuel for the spirit, the other for the body. So consider this my hypostatic argument (there’s one or my fellow theo-nerds).

First, we’ll talk about Mass. Now any Mass you go to, whatever the time, is phenomenal. You’re meeting Jesus Christ in the flesh and participating in the Heavenly Banquet. Since every Mass is equally fruitful, there’s no inherent benefit to going in the morning instead of at night. Practically speaking, however, more parishes offer daily Mass in the morning instead of the afternoon or evening. So if your main goal is to attend Mass each day–and I couldn’t recommend it more–the morning typically gives you more options to choose from.

When it comes to exercise, morning is best here, too. Several studies show that exercising at night can have disastrous effects on your sleep. Because your heart rate and bloodflow are so high, it’s difficult to drift into sleep, but even when you do you’ll typically face a restless night.

Exercising in the morning is just the opposite. Raising your heart rate and moving your body starts your day with spring and vivacity. In my own experience, I have much more energy during the days I work out, especially in the early afternoon when I otherwise begin to fade.

5. Good dreams require hustle.

The other four reasons are good, but for me this is the ultimate one. Don Miller, in his phenomenal book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, talks a lot about conflict. Every good story has it. Every good tale has some sort of resistance, or push-back, or moment when it looks like the hero isn’t going to make it.

However in the face of impossible odds, he somehow does. He somehow overcomes his opposition and gets the girl, destroys the Ring, defeats the villain, or saves the world. His victory does come at a price. It’s hard and tiring, painful and perilous, and it usually requires every last ounce of energy.

And that’s what makes the pursuit worth chasing.

That kind of difficulty is what makes some goals worthy and others vain, and it’s a sign that you’re on the right path. Simply put, if it’s a dream worth chasing, you’re going to face resistance–internal or external–and that resistance demands a sacrifice.

Now I have many goals. I want to write another book. I want to get in shape for my wife and kids. I want to draw as close to God as possible. And to accomplish those things I know I’ll have to fight. I’ll have to sacrifice and struggle and push from all directions.

Waking up early to accomplish my goals is that type of action. Call it what you will–hustle, discipline, will-power, grit. Whatever you call it, it’s the energy you need to fuel your dreams. It’s what gets you out of bed when the covers beg you to stay and the voice in your head says, “You’d much rather be sleeping.” It’s what forces you to write even though you’re empty and you’re sure nothing good will come of it. It’s what separates dreamers from doers and visions from visionaries. Choosing to wake up early says, “even though my goals seems daunting, they’re worth the daily struggle of rising in the dark.”

The good news is that the battle isn’t even as tough as it seems. When all is said and done, all you have to do is move three short feet from your bed to the floor. That’s it.

If you can rise as soon as your alarm clock rings–if you can master St. Josemaria’s ‘heroic minute‘–you’ve already won. And you’ve proven your dream is worth the chase.

Now I know some night-owls will read this and remain skeptical. Some people, they’ll claim, are just wired to be late-risers. I get that. And I also understand the biology–your blood sugar levels are at their lowest in the morning, which makes many people groggy and lethargic.

So I won’t go so far as to say early-rising is objectively the best way to go. But if you can muster the will, if you can train your body and conquer your mental resistance, the benefits are incredible. I’ve only been doing this for three months, but I’ve already decided to make it a lifelong habit.

How about you? When do you wake up and why?

  • R.Saxon

    I found your writing on waking up early a perspective that I’d been searching for .I was born and raised Catholic but later in life chose non denominational.Religious preferences doesn’t mater,what matters is that you serve the one true God.I also am perusing a deeper relationship with our Lord and the discipline act of waking early in the morning I know will give God the glory because the days will be more fruit everyone.R.Saxon

  • I moved to a new residence just northwest of my work place a few weeks ago. I go to work early (around 6:30 am) to avoid driving right into the sun on winter mornings or summer evenings. It is working out very well for me, except that I am too tired when I want to watch TV or get together with other people in the evening (and often find myself drinking coffee to help stay awake through it).

  • Julie

    I just have to say…I’ve been getting up early for the past few months – I started a few weeks before Ash Wednesday (why wait til Lent?) and my experience has been: I don’t like it. I have to give up three lucid, productive hours when I feel great (9-12) in order to gain 30, maybe 45 usable minutes on a good day, in the morning. And in the time that I gain, I feel like crap.

    It hasn’t gotten any easier as time has gone on – in fact, it’s gotten harder. But the reason I’ve kept up with it is that for the entire family, it’s made our mornings go twice as smoothly. But that’s it…that’s the only benefit. Personally, for me alone, independent of my family, there is no upside.

    So, I’ll continue to sacrifice for the common good over here, but the minute school’s out, I’m taking my three hours back, thank you very much. On the rare day (I could count them on one hand) over the past few months when I’ve gotten to stay up late and sleep in ’til 8 or so, I’ve felt like myself again.

  • BriannaHeldt

    Okay, you’ve got me really thinking about this. I am NOT a morning person–never have been. But as writing/blogging is picking up, I am realizing that something has to give. And I know it really does come down to getting up earlier. Which I DREAD. But I really want to do it. I think the thing that stood out to me the most is, no matter how the day goes, you will feel productive and fulfilled if you’ve gotten up early and gotten some work done. Hmmmm. Thank you for this inspiring post!

    • Yes! The more you you do, the better you feel throughout the day, and that momentum propels you up the next morning.

      So do it! Like anything worth pursuing, it’s hard but worth it.

  • Some people think that waking up early has only advantages which are limited to books and articles. Actually it has a number of psychological benefits also which we apparently do not understand but this habit make your life wonderful. You cannot get a lazy kind of feeling throughout the day.

  • David Bates

    Thanks to you I’ve got up at 5:30am for the last two days and gone to my 6am Boot Camp class.

    I hope you’re pleased with yourself :-p

  • Sara Kraft

    This actually sparked some great conversation between my husband and I.

    One point my husband made which I think you’re missing is that above all, it’s important to have BALANCE in your life. For many, getting up earlier can help obtain this. However, my husband is a professor at our local university. He says some days, he feels he has to supply the energy for the entire class. If he doesn’t get enough sleep so he’s not “performing” at his best, then the students’ experience suffers.

    Since we currently go to bed about 9-9:30 pm, there’s honestly not much room to head to bed earlier.

  • caitlin o’malley

    Don’t you have two very young children? I find it interesting that you fail to acknowledge the practical, spiritual, and emotion support you doubtless receive from your wife that makes this all possible. What is she doing while you are becoming like Christ?

  • Robert

    For years I worked 9:30 pm to 6 am, followed by years of a schedule that changed daily. I frequently worked 9:30 to 6 Sunday night, 2 pm to 10:30 Monday, 7:30 am to 4 on Tuesday etc. Now working 10 pm to 6:30 Sunday through Thursday nights. The goal of a stable daytime schedule seems unattainable. Stooopid post-modern world…

  • David Fetzer

    Desire More?

  • servantofcharity

    Number four for me. I get up at 4:00, go down to the garage to workout and then out the door for Mass before work. I have 3 small kids and if I didn’t do that, there would never be the time. I notice when I oversleep. The day starts off on a totally different foot.


  • Brian

    Brandon, what time do you go to bed? And do you have kids?

  • Lu Harvey

    I have been waking up at 6am to exercise with my husband, then try to have a quiet cup of coffee before the kiddos begin their attack; I mean, wake up. We homeschool, and I firmly believe that beginning my day with a bit of quiet is extremely beneficial to us all. I am a much better person for it. The exercise probably helps with that, too. I also try to read the Magnificat each morning, and maybe listen to a spiritual talk.

  • I appreciate the insight and reasoning present in this post. Naturally, I arise fairly early in the morning- perhaps around 7:30 or 8- however, my daily schedule does not reflect this. I am a senior, completing my B.S.N (bachelor of science in nursing) this year; consequently, I generally arise around 5-6 a.m. Though I am able to burn candles on both ends, I do feel better when I get up at an early hour.

  • Great points. My husband and I have been working on getting up earlier so I might have to show him this. I love being a night owl and always get my burst of energy before I go to bed, so that’s when I write and do most of my cleaning. That being said, I’ve been drawn to St. Josemaria lately and the “heroic minute” is just the last push of inspiration I needed. Thanks.

  • Total night owl here. I think of it as “keeping vigil.” 🙂 There have to be some people willing to watch and pray in the night hours, too, right?

    I remember when my oldest was around 5 or 6, and I was still getting up “early” (for me) at around 7 a.m. She started waking up at 6:30, so I started to get up at 6. Then she started waking up at 5:30…I gave up, and let her be the first one up, something she liked very much until the teenage years hit!

  • I wake up early because am a morning person – really !
    My best hours are 5am to 7:00am . So unless there it has been a particularly bumpy night with the kids those will genrally be my hours. I do nap at 12:30 because i find that waking early tends to also makes the afternoon slump really nasty

  • Bill G.

    I work rotating shifts, and I change every eight weeks. I have noticed that no matter what shift I am working, I want to get out of bed and going by 5am on my days off. I like the feeling of not having to rush out into the world unprepared!

  • Matt_38355

    I get up around 5:30 now, looking to wake up earlier. Making to time to study and take care of things in the evening is still a struggle because being in school it sometimes is the only time to get anything done. This is the second time I’ve heard of Josemaria in the past week (first time was “There Be Dragons”, awesome movie by the by). I hope to learn more about him soon from what they portrayed in the movie I saw, he sounds like an awesome example of the priesthood and holiness in general.

    • monching

      tsk…the problem is ..the nature of my work ends late at night….im in broadcasting and somehow it becomes a habit to sleep late

    • Fred

      I hope you do look into St. Josémaria more. I recommend his great book “The Way” for starters. It is small but poweful.

  • Marcel LeJeune

    Unfortunately I don’t have a normal work schedule. I have to work until 10pm several nights a week, which means I might not be in bed until much later. Campus Ministry means you work with college students who are anything but early risers.

    Good points though.

  • Denise M

    I am a night owl. I am sitting here with my mouth hanging open like a cod-fish. LOL All I can say is that I am aiming for “earlier.”

  • Jhentz

    I have tried several times to shift my sleep schedule (I am an extreme night person!) but what it always comes down to for me is, when am I at my best? Unfortunately it’s not from 5-8 a.m. Not even close. I’m at my most energetic, most creative, and most alert from around 9 p.m.-2a.m. Since I do a lot of freelance work that requires me to be creative (and alert!) doing it at night after my kids are in bed has always been the most logical choice for me.

    Like I said, I’ve tried to shift, but really, what for? Because that’s when everyone *else* is at their best? I’m supposed to get up and be productive right smack dab in the middle of my quality REM sleep time? So I can feel rotten for the next four hours?

    I’d rather work, and pray, when I’m at my best.

  • David Bates

    What time do you go to bed?!

    • KyPerson

      I usually go to bed about 9:00 pm.

  • KyPerson

    I wake up at 3:30 am. I am simply incapable of sleeping late. The good thing is that I get to work early and leave early. My boss is NOT a morning person, so she comes in late and leaves late. If only I could find a 5:00 am Mass, that would be wonderful.

  • Chuck

    From a practical perspective, what happens at the other end of the candle? I’d have to be in bed by 9 pm, I think in order to wake up that early. For you early risers, what time do you go to bed? How much sleep do you get each night?

  • frjason

    Very good post, Brandon. I especially like your line:

    “Simply put, if it’s a dream worth chasing, you’re going to face resistance, internal or external, and that demands a sacrifice.”

    God bless you,
    Fr. Jason Worthley

  • osvdailytake

    Funny! I started getting up at 4:45 a couple of months ago, too. One of the biggest bonuses is being able to make it to 6:15 Mass in my home parish, and then getting to my office desk earlier so I don’t start off the work day reactively.

  • Philip Wilson

    You have inspired me, sir. I think that in the back of my mind I always knew that in order to make real progress against my high-minded personal goals, I needed to make a habit of waking up much earlier. Thanks for writing this; I am about to change my habits.

    Blessings to you,


  • You and I think alike! I’m a night owl myself, but due to sacrifice and discipline the last two Advents and Lent, I’ve gradually been changing my sleeping habits.

    I identify with number 4 very much.

    • JJ

      So when do you sleep at night? My problem is have so much work in the night that if affects it.

  • Cagreat1

    Wow, nice timing on this entry for me. I just started getting up at 5AM with my good friend (literally this week is our first week doing this). Monday we met at a coffee shop and discussed scripture, followed by daily Mass at 7. Tuesday was a workout at the gym, though we are looking for a different activity. Wednesday (which we have been doing for a few months now) is always adoration. This morning we met at the coffee shop and played a board game and enjoyed each other’s company. Amazingly this has been one of the best weeks for me in a long time and I think it is precisely because of the points you mention. I definitely recommend getting up early as a way to start a productive day. 5AM is a good time for me as I am generally at work by 7AM. This allows for plenty of time to shower and prepare.

  • Bonnie Engstrom

    Question: Do you still get up that early even if your kids are getting up all night long? Any practical advice for that one?

    6 months pregnant with my 4th kid in 4 years and I try to squeeze every moment of sleep I can get. But maybe I’ll try all this when the newborn isn’t a newborn any more.

    • Lu Harvey

      I didn’t do it then. I have 7, ages 2-13, and had 4 in 4 years, also. It wasn”t until my kiddos weren’t nursing at night that I really tried to keep such a routine. Like many things with being a mom, my schedule ebbs & flows. It is so important to get enough rest during the time that you are in right now!

  • Sara Kraft

    Brandon, as usual, you’ve got some awesome points. I wish I could rise earlier in the morning, but it’s simply not possible with my current schedule. Maybe it’s just my crabby pregnantness, but each person/family also needs to discern for themselves what works best/what God is calling them to do.

    I’m about 13 weeks along in my first pregnancy, and I’ve had to learn that I can no longer be “superwoman.” My body is constantly reminding me to get more sleep/rest more often, which is no small feat with a hour commute each day to work. Many things I’d like to do (such as getting up early to work on unpacking our new home, etc.) have to be put on the back burner for both my and baby’s health.

    I look forward to perhaps being able to put some of this in practice in the future!

  • yeah, can’t agree more! love waking up early, it truly helps in the whole day… i wake up at 5.15 or 5.30 and have Mass at 5.45 (it’s so early here) and go to campus at 7.30…

    i wonder at what time do you sleep? 🙂

    • Wow! 5:45am Mass? I wish they offered it that early here. Our parish celebrates at 7:00am, and that’s the earliest time around.

      I typically go to sleep around 9:30pm.

  • Priti

    Wow, that’s very inspiring!! I wake up around 7am to pack lunch for my hubby and with that out of the way, I actually have a free morning! So yea if I fit in exercise / mass for another hour there, I’ll surely have a relaxed day and definitely mass/exercise will not be given a miss that often! Thank you.

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