Why You Should Think Twice Before Joining The 5 AM Club (especially during a pandemic)

Updated: Feb 9

HINT: it's less about when you get up, and more about how many hours of rest you're getting that will allow you to be more productive tomorrow.

We've all endured a sleepless night that leaves you tired, groggy and irritable the following day, but could these symptoms also arise from waking up too early? Robin Sharma’s NYT bestseller, The 5 AM Club, promises to elevate your life by owning your morning routine, which means waking up at 5 AM. The science of sleep, however, may say otherwise.

You cycle through different stages of sleep several times throughout the night, spending a perfectly designed amount of time in each stage. As you go through these cycles, your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep gets progressively longer until morning, when your last and longest stage of REM lasts about an hour before you wake up. Therefore, if you’re waking up too early and not getting the adequate amount of sleep to get through your last cycle of REM, you’re cutting off your longest stage of that precious slumber.

Scientists in a study published in October 2020 show that minimizing specifically REM sleep in participants is linked to them having increased negative affect the following day, giving a propensity to experience negative emotions and interact with others negatively. REM sleep suppression also showed increased activity in the amygdala, part of the brain which works to interpret emotion, but specifically the right hemisphere of the amygdala, which is associated with negative emotion.

Skipping that last sleep stage is a less severe version of complete selective REM suppression, but it’s more commonplace to see people waking early, than being awakened every time they drift into REM sleep. The implications, however, could be similar when you miss out on the bulk of it by setting your alarm clock too early, truncating the cycle before you’ve reached your longest and very valuable stage of REM sleep.

This could mean waking up too early makes us more vulnerable to the unpleasant experience of social exclusion the following day. This is a relevant concern during the pandemic as feelings of loneliness and withdrawal from social interaction is more prominent now more than ever. If getting a full night’s sleep leads to a more positive perspective the next day, and if “perspective is everything”, then cutting yourself short on REM to get a jumpstart on the next day seems counterproductive. The recommended sleep time for an adult is 7-9 hours, which allows for enough sleep cycles to reap the positive psychological benefits of getting the required amount of REM sleep.

My advice: if you're going to join the 5 AM Club, you also need to join the 9 PM Bedtime Club, giving yourself the opportunity for a full night’s sleep.

Or sleep in, your sleep therapist told you so.

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