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Get up early, or stay up late?

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle


I’ve always been a night owl. When I was a kid, I hung a small dry-erase noteboard and a pen next to my bed, so I could doodle when I couldn’t sleep (reading after lights out was not allowed). As a college student, I found it easier not to go to bed at all some nights than to get up early for class or work. And when I was in my 20s, I was working nights — I slept until 10 a.m. in order to get seven hours of sleep, not because I was sleeping in. It was always easier to stay up late to finish (or start) my work than it was to get up early.

Now, though, with five kids at home and two jobs to contend with, I can’t resort to my old stay-up-late-and-get-everything-done routine; by midnight, I am wiped out. Someone is always getting up for some reason in the middle of the night, whether it’s a teen who can’t sleep or a toddler who’s kicked off his covers, and since my husband sleeps like a log, I’m the one they usually come looking for. (Parenthood has completely changed my definition of “a good night’s sleep.”)

Lately, I’ve been trying to get up early. Very early — before my 2 1/2-year-old alarm clock of a son, who wakes at the crack of dawn regardless of how dark his room is. (Really — even black out shades don’t work, he’s up by 5:45 a.m. or so no matter what time he goes to bed). He’s clingy when he wakes up, so anything that needs to get done — packing lunches for the kids and myself, doing laundry, writing, cleaning, whatever — must be tackled with 36 pounds of toddler attached to my leg. Not very efficient.

But getting up at 5 a.m. in order to get my work done? Not sure that’s working for my sanity. My hat is totally off to you ladies who get up that early to work out, because I can barely drag myself down the stairs at that hour, let alone to the gym. I think I might have to just deal with fatigue and stay up a little later, pushing through the brain drain in order to function for a few more hours late at night. At least until someone figures out how to really get 36 hours out of a day.

What about you? Do you find it easier to stay up late or to get up early?

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15 comments so far...

  • I’ve done a little of both. I like the peacefulness of early morning, and once-upon-a-time I would get up at 4 am to prepare bags, lunches, and DINNER. Lately, though, it’s become harder to get up that early, and I find myself preferring the option of staying up late instead, but I must contend with getting too wired for sleeping and resisting the temptation to get up later (than 6 am) to make up for lost sleep. I suppose, how you work it out does vary from time to time depending on your needs and state of mind, but it would be so much easier if there were indeed 36 hours in a day.

    D.  |  July 16th, 2009 at 10:13 am

  • You sound a lot like me. I too was always a night owl until I had to get up for / with my kids in the morning. Sometimes I work until 5:30am, sometimes I wake up at 5am. Depends on the situation. My kids come to my room in the morning to announce “the sun came up” so sleeping in is definitely a thing of the past. (They are doing me a favor, as wee one wakes with the first birdsong. She is instructed to come and wake me at sunrise, not before.)

    SKL  |  July 16th, 2009 at 11:33 am

  • I do both. I go to bed around 11pm or midnight and get up at 4 or 4:30 am every day. I used to be a night owl like you and if I don’t have an alarm, I’ve been known to stay awake until sunrise and catch a few hours before Ami wakes up. Before her, we never went to bed before the birds (so it seemed) and I remember countless nights in training where I got, literally, zero hours of sleep for days in a row (not because we were being deprived either - I just used that time to write, read or text message!).

    But now, yeah. I’m cooked most days. Still, I have to do what I have to do to get everything done, right?

    Phe  |  July 16th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

  • Sigh. It’s hard that we have to choose. One day you’re going to bed whenever - knowing you need to be up by xx time to get to work. The next day your life totally changes and you don’t know WHEN you’re waking up. It’s determined by someone else (for, what seems like, the rest of my life). I call it “giving up control”. Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do!

    So I try my best to get to sleep at a decent hour. And every morning when I hear the rude-awakening cry of my little one who’s upset that he’s had to sit in his crib for 2 minutes with no mommy entertainment, I just start my affirmations “I am a happy, excited mommy today - full of energy and vigor”. Does it always work? no. But when it does work, it changes my day and I’m grateful for it!

    Lovina Worick  |  July 16th, 2009 at 4:13 pm

  • Few months back I decided to move my waking time to 5 am from my 6-6.30 am. If I have had a good night rest, the early waking up gives me enough time to relax with coffee and morning shower and even some time to cook before my kids are up. However on days I do not feel like getting up early, I snooze off for an hour more.

    I think anything that I can do by choice works for me. If the situation was that I HAD to be up early EVERYDAY, that will make me feel bad about it.

    Lakshmi  |  July 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

  • I keep wanting to try early mornings - I just can’t do it. If I set an early alarm, chances are my daughter hears it so she wants to get up too, thus defeating the purpose.
    But she’s dead to the world by 8:30pm at the latest so I do stay up ’til 1am most nights to cram it all in.

    Mich  |  July 17th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

  • I’m a night owl too, and thanks to my loose work schedule, waking up “early” usually means “before 9 a.m.” I generally get to bed around midnight, but I never spend those last few hours doing anything productive because I’m too tired for anything but sitting on the couch watching a movie. I’ve been contemplating getting up early (like 7 a.m.?) but, like you, am afraid for my sanity.

    Leah  |  July 17th, 2009 at 1:59 pm

  • During the summer the kids are allowed to stay up (in their rooms) as long as they want provided we don’t hear them.. Of course with no school to deal with they can sleep later in the AM. We both have a 70 mile commute to work each morning, throw in traffic and we have to leave 90 minutes before work to make it on time. We go to bed earlier than the kids but we also get out of bed by 5:00. Even on weekends. During the school year, the kids’ sleep schedules are closer to ours, even on weekends.

    Becky  |  July 18th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  • You have made me feel so much better about staying up later! I keep wanting to be that mom who gets up early and gets in a workout before the kids wake up but, in reality, I can’t do it. I’d much rather be exhausted at night and complete a task/work out then try to do it in the AM. I figure the snuggle time I get with the girls in the morning is worth it since it won’t last forever.

    Mandy Nelson  |  July 20th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

  • I find it easier to get up early. I prefer it that way, although some mornings it is hard to drag myself out of bed…getting up early is much better for me than staying up late. I like to get up before the kids, have my coffee, shower and watch the news. Because once the kids get up, it is non-stop until I drop them off at daycare. The kids normally go to bed at 8:00pm and I am off to bed at 9:00pm.

    Holly  |  July 20th, 2009 at 2:14 pm

  • OMG, you people are crazy! LOL. If I don’t get 8 hours of sleep, I cannot function. I get up at 5:30 am to be at work by 7. Which means, I am asleep at 9:30pm. Stay up late a couple of nights in a row, and I am toast. But then, I don’t bring work home with me and my house is often messy.

    I am truly jealous of those of you who can get by on less sleep.

    Robyn  |  July 21st, 2009 at 12:20 pm

  • Robyn - As someone who consistently operates on 3 - 4 hours of sleep a night, I can tell you right now that I am reading with toothpicks propping my eyelids open. I think my body may actually be napping and my brain’s just been programmed to keep going. It’s not healthy, I do know that. And it’s funny that I was just sitting here wondering how to change this for the better when I read your comment. : D

    Phe  |  July 21st, 2009 at 1:23 pm

  • I wake every morning @ 5:00 — earlier during the school year - and head to the gym. I’m home by 6:15 / 6:30. By 2:00 in the afternoon I am toast. I have been known to fall asleep calling out spelling words to my boys in the afternoon. If I am active thru out my day, I find I am much better. If I sit down @ all …. I am asleep within 10 minutes. I usually go to bed @ 10:30. I love the mornings when I can have coffee on the back porch and read a little in whatever book I’m trying to get thru @ the time. I am a morning girl.

    Laura  |  July 22nd, 2009 at 10:04 am

  • Lylah,

    I can relate to you! I stay up late every night to work on my many different work projects. I have had those nights were it is easier to stay up all night versus sleeping for a few hours and feeling groggy. I have tried to go to sleep early and wake up early to work, but it does not work out for me. I am tired and cannot think straight in the morning, no matter what time I go to sleep. I work much better at night!


    Maria@SavingQueen  |  July 26th, 2009 at 4:25 am

  • All week I’ve set the alarm early, hoping to get in routine again for writing, for decent walks again for too much neglected Scout the Dog (, but little guy keeps waking up early. So, I get company on the walks, which I love, though no progress on the to do’s. Maybe try another hour earlier? probably not sustainable.

    Stefan  |  August 12th, 2009 at 11:03 pm