I Joined the 5 AM Club and Hated Life for a Bit
Why productivity doesn’t need to start early
Before this experiment, the title that had come to mind was: I joined the 5 AM Club and Changed My Life. I had a gut feeling that this would finally be the one simple habit to start turning my days into true wins, allowing for maximum productivity, creativity, and happiness.
This is not that story.
Never have I been inspired to take drastic and immediate action before reading Robin Sharma’s The 5 AM Club. Where other self-help books get bogged down in acronyms and action plans, Sharma weaves his lessons through a proper narrative — following two brave souls as they change their lives by waking up at 5 AM every day.
As novel as the story is, it isn’t something to write home about. The message, more of a prescription, is. Wake up at 5 AM. Have more hours in the day. Do more. Right?
Yes and no.
The 20/20/20 Formula, as outlined in the book
The power hour is the routine you follow during the first hour after waking up. Sharma splits this hour into thirds, pockets, focusing on moving, reflecting, and growing.
The first twenty minutes is composed of rigorous exercise, the sweating, panting type — meant to shock your system awake and alert. The second twenty minutes are meant for reflection, either in meditation or journaling. The final pocket is meant for personal development by way of reading, listening to podcasts, or consuming other beneficial material.
I planned to hop on my exercise bike for the first twenty minutes, followed by forty minutes of reading. I find reading as a means to meditate on my own ideas while I engage with the author. I figured a larger second block would be better for my own power hour.
Plan at the ready, I joined the 5 AM Club.
Phase 1 — The honeymoon phase
The first few days were effortless.
I’d wake up just before 5 AM, allowing enough time to brush my teeth before biking, followed by reading to close out my power hour. Then I’d make breakfast and get started with my day.
However, I’d only feel energized after finishing the exercise. Waking up wasn’t too tough off the rip, but over time it took more effort to get out of bed. Setting my alarm clock across my room¹ and having to get out of bed was an annoying but reliable way to get up on time. By the end of the first 20 minutes, I’d be wide awake.
The following forty-minute reading block served me well.
Not only were my actions inspiring me to make the most of each day, but engaging with the ideas from the slew of self-help books I was reading at the time only amplified my energy. I was excited to learn and expand my mind, opening each day with a customized power hour gave me a sense of accomplishment even before I had begun my day.
One distinct quirk I noticed was that I was hungrier than usual. A lot hungrier. By the time the clock struck 6 AM, I’d make a breakfast that was probably double what I’d normally eat had I woken up at a normal time. Eggs, sandwiches, quesadillas. Always savory things, I noticed. I figured this was just my body’s response to the intensity of my biking effort — I’d need more calories if I intended on keeping up my habit.
With this newfound time, I also took learning Japanese more seriously,² working on listening, reading, and writing for about 2 hours afterward. It felt so rewarding to have already started studying before the sun rose, only amplifying my willingness to continue this routine the next day.
For the better part of a week, I didn’t take any naps, compensating by going to bed earlier each day.
Very quickly I learned how unsustainable this model was.
Phase 2 — My disenchantment with The 5 AM Club
About the cravings
Out of curiosity, I looked into what might be causing my early morning cravings. It was strange enough for me to consult Dr. Internet — prior to joining the 5 AM Club I had skipped breakfast on most days. I wanted to know the truth about the break in my behavior.
Turns out it wasn’t the exercise that inspired my body to crave savory foods, it’s an evolutionary response to a sudden disruption to your sleep cycle.⁴ Instead of diving in and immediately waking up at 5 AM, I should’ve been more disciplined, gradually dialing back what time I woke up.
Shocking my system only robbed me of the last of 3 REM cycles your body needs to stay healthy. REM sleep is the most restorative part of the cycle. Waking up at 5 AM and immediately expending energy, only to follow it up with a complete day of work sends your body into a state of panic. It knows there is more uptime in your day and that it needs the energy to maintain itself, so you crave higher calorie food to compensate.
Even one night of sleep deprivation triggers this response.
Making a habit of your sleep deprivation only leads you to progressively poorer choices when it comes to food, making it difficult to “live better” when your body mistakes nutrition for extra calories.
After sourcing my cravings, I ended up either cutting breakfast out entirely (as I had been before the challenge) or reducing my breakfast to oatmeal and fruit, far better choices than before.
Phase 3 — Canceling my membership to The 5 AM Club
The challenge had begun to lose its spark when I started feeling more tired at earlier stages in the day. By week two, I had reintroduced the coffee nap³ back into my routine, something that I had sworn off as something to use only in dire circumstances. I could either stay awake and perform at sub-optimal levels, defeating the intention of getting up at 5 AM, or take a short nap to sustain my energy throughout the day.
I felt that napping was necessary to maintain the levels of productivity I had reached during this challenge. Sharma’s narrative convinced me that if I could just make it to the point where my body would adjust to my new sleep cycle, all the effort that was sapping my energy would become automatic.
But until then, I’d feel the effects. Rough.
When left to my own devices, my natural sleep habits fall perfectly into the night owl category. The schedule I had before was comfortable, I could get things done during the hours I felt worked best for me. But in my effort to adhere to The 5 AM Club’s tenets, I had locked myself in a loop of getting consistent low-quality sleep.
No matter what adjustments I’d make, my body wouldn’t let me fall asleep until around midnight. This is a recipe for disaster — we aren’t built to sustain ourselves on a measly 5 hours per night, even if we can catch a few more during the day.
I hadn’t experienced an insomnia kick this bad since high school.
The simple act of completely throwing off my sleep schedule affected every other hour of my day.
I canceled my membership to The 5 AM Club when I noticed two shifts in my behavior:
1. My focus had taken a significant nosedive when trying to complete tasks. It was a steady decline, but eventually, I had reached a point where I was completely unsatisfied with the quality of my output. I knew I needed to change. .
2. The sudden urge to sleep during the day became more burdensome than it was manageable. No matter how much liquid alertness I had flowing through my veins (which, I’m sure I had only topped out at three cups per day — around the maximum amount of caffeine you’d want in your system on a daily basis), I still found myself groggy after waking up and exhausted before midafternoon. When looking to optimize your routine for maximum productivity, this is a deadly combination. .
My final verdict, and how you can make the 5 AM club work for you
As far as self-help books go, The 5 AM Club is still one of my favorite reads, the story is a wonderful blend of compelling and informative, aside from a romance arc that felt a bit forced.
- If I had taken the time to gradually change my wake-up time, I might’ve been able to pull it off. In theory, getting the same amount of sleep as a regular night might not have produced such a drastic shift in my breakfast habits, and might’ve staved off the early afternoon crash most of us experience every day.
- After closing this experiment after about 2 weeks, I tested waking up at 6 AM, then 7 AM to see which better fit my schedule. I found 7 AM to be a realistic time to wake up — I have the tendency to stay on my phone a bit later than I would like to, so waking up at 7 allows me some room for the variability in the time I’ll actually fall asleep.
- To this day, I’ve continued to read as I wake up — stories, wisdom, and word-craft have only become more magnetic to me. At times, it has been difficult to stay disciplined and cut my daily reading off at the hour mark. My reading habit was the best thing to come out of this experiment.
So if you’re thinking about joining The 5 AM Club, I’d definitely give it a try. The first week for me was incredible, I felt completely revitalized and more productive than I had in a while. A great way to mentally refresh, so long as you pace yourself.
I haven’t read up on it too much yet, but there has to be some psychological reason why getting a head start on the day is such a rush.
If I feel I’ve stagnated for a bit with my work, I might try running the 5 AM gauntlet again. Until then, sweet dreams.
About the Creator
4x Top Writer on Medium. Telling interesting stories from life's ordinary moments.
Writing about learning, organization, and erudition.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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Thank you for the insight :)
I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thanks for the realistic take on something that so many people feel bad about not doing! Everyone has their perfect time! Glad you found yours! Great read :)
Thanks for sharing! I’m a relatively late riser and hate feeling so tired by the middle of the day if I wake up early. I think it’s a lot to say about our society that someone that’s awake from 5am-8pm is somehow more productive than someone awake from 8am-11pm
I'm used to getting up at 7 am
7AM is better for me too! Thanks for sharing your journey. I also need to try reading in the morning - I never do this.
Great piece! Over time, I became a "morning person" and found that 7am was also an optimal time to wake. I am inspired to read 5AM Club though in hopes of finding any nuggets of wisdom. I appreciate your advice and pursuit towards making yourself a more productive human.
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