Changing your sleeping habits isn’t as simple as setting your alarm before sunrise and heading to bed at a responsible hour. (Photo: Sofie Delauw/Stocksy)

In Defense of Your Regular Morning Routine

Depending on your sleep habits, waking up early in the name of productivity may not be beneficial for your physical or mental health

Ellen O'Brien

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My morning routine looks a little like this: wake up, hit snooze ten times, roll out of bed, head out on a half-conscious jog wearing a mismatched outfit. When I reenter my apartment, it’s a mad scramble to down coffee, shower, and open my laptop. (I forget about breakfast until roughly 10 A.M.) Despite the chaos, I usually feel proud of myself for making it out the door and onto the pavement before work. That is, until I go on TikTok.

In a recent trend, dubbed the “5-9 before my 9-5,” users stitch together clips of their aesthetically pleasing morning ritual. While every routine is slightly different, it typically involves a long workout, a chef-worthy breakfast, and an extended journaling session. (They’re probably wearing makeup to work, too.) The proliferation of these videos recently fueled my inner critic, eventually nudging me to wake up earlier in an attempt to recreate their serenity. But instead of giving me a new sense of self or a boost of energy, I’d later slug through my day, downing more than a healthy amount of caffeine. So much for a happy morning.

“Everyone’s routine is super unique, and it’s supposed to be,”says Kristen Casey, a licensed clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist. “So, if you’re trying to mimic someone else’s routine to a tee, it’s likely that you’ll run into some problems, because you’re not that person.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a night owl—or an early riser. However, if you attempt to switch up your body’s natural tendencies, like waking up early if you’re not falling asleep until midnight, you’ll likely experience symptoms of sleep deprivation, Casey says. Over an extended period of time, repeated short sleep can be correlated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and, in some rare instances, heart attacks, she says.

Changing your sleeping habits isn’t as simple as setting your alarm before sunrise and heading to bed at a responsible hour. Vanessa Hill, a behavioral scientist and science communicator, says your early bird or night owl status is determined by your chronotype, the term for your natural tendency to be more awake or sleepier at different points of the day. This is different from your circadian rhythm, a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle that could change depending on your daily schedule or what time zone you’re in. When your chronotype and circadian rhythm aren’t synchronized, you may feel drowsy or groggy, Hill says.

But attempting to shift your routine because of a TikTok trend—guilty—hurts more than your body’s natural sleeping patterns. It also feeds into the comparison trap surrounding #ProductivityTok. While these carefully planned, aesthetically pleasing videos may feel motivating to some, they induce guilt in others. If you fall in the latter camp, it’s important to have self-compassion, Hill says. “Personally, I would never get up at 5 A.M. and do a 5-to-9 because I’m a night owl myself,” she says. Instead, she tries to schedule her days to begin later, to accommodate her sleeping habits.

Some night owls on TikTok are reclaiming their routines. In a video titled “a ✨realistic ✨look at my 5-9 before my 9-5,” creator Victoria Rudy shows herself waking up at 8:20 A.M., quickly getting ready, and throwing coffee in a cup before rushing out the door. It’s the anti-aesthetic morning ritual. “We shouldn’t be basing our productivity or our lives off of those videos,” Rudy says.

There’s also a privilege associated with creating aesthetic routines, Casey, the insomnia specialist, says. Some may not have a quiet space around them or an abundance of candles. “You’re seeing a highlight reel of that person’s sleep routine, or their bedtime routine, but that’s not how it goes every night, I can almost guarantee that,” she says. You’re missing out on the behind-the-scenes look of the routine. Thanks to that sunrise alarm, they may be eating dinner early, skipping out on a night out with friends, and climbing into bed at 8 P.M.

Others may be optimizing their post-work time. “I get home from work at 5 P.M. and then go do tasks then,” Rudy says. “I live a more lively 5-to-9 P.M. life.” Me too. After just a few days of my failed experiment, I returned to my old routine, ditching my temporary dream of an early wakeup. I still squeeze in that 7:30 A.M. run—yawning most of the way—but credit to my snoozes, I’m able to make it to happy hour.