Let’s say the average person wakes up at 7 am to start their day and goes to bed at 11 pm. You decide to wake up at 5:30 am and work for 1 hour every day for a year because that’s what some productivity guru told you to do. You go to bed at the same time. How much richer would you be?
If your time is worth $100 an hour, then you’d be $36,500 richer than the average person over a year. Assuming your hourly rate and bedtime stays the same, over a 10-year period, you will be worth $365,000 more than the average person. If you slap on a 7% compound annual return during the time period, you’ll be worth $540,000 more than the average person.
After three decades of working longer than the average person, you will most likely be millions of dollars richer without needing to be any smarter! Getting richer than average is that simple. Just work more. Working 40 hours a week or less and then complaining why you can’t get ahead makes no sense.
Unfortunately, working more and being richer won’t necessarily make you happier. Instead, I argue that those who work less and can afford the luxury of regularly sleeping in have a much better life. Let me explain.
Waking Up Early Out Of Necessity, Not Out Of Desire
From 1999 – 2012, the average time I got up was 5 am. I got up at 5 am, not because I wanted to, but because I had to for work. The stock market opened at 9:30 am EST / 6:30 am PST and I had to get a bunch of research prepared and read before it opened. If I didn’t get in by 5:30 am, I would have been fired early in my career or would have fallen seriously behind later in my career.
Once I left my market-driven banking job in 2012, I thought I’d start sleeping in more often.
After thirteen years, my body was already conditioned like Pavlov’s Dog and I continued to wake up at 5 am until mid-2017.
Waking up three hours before my wife did every morning, even after she retired in 2015, was one of the reasons why I started getting a little antsy in early retirement.
By the time she woke up, I had already written a post and worked out. I was ready to rock and roll! But I had to wait for her to go through her morning routine.
I got bored of waiting, so for a couple years, I decided to do some part-time consulting with a couple fintech companies in the Bay Area to help pass the time.
Waking Up Earlier And Earlier
Then in mid-2017, our son was born. Both my wife and I had our sleep disrupted every two hours for three months. After that, my wife took over night duty and hasn’t stopped since.
I am extremely thankful she has enabled me to sleep. It is impossible to write a post or record a podcast well with a foggy mind.
Unfortunately, starting in early 2018, after regularly going to bed about 11:30 pm, I’ve found myself waking up by 4 am on average.
When I wake up in the pitch black every morning, I always guess the time, hoping there’s at least a 5-handle in front of it. But there never is. Often, I look out into the ocean to find comfort that a lone fisherman has started his day even earlier.
Let me share why I’m now waking up an hour earlier than my already early morning. I’m not doing so on purpose because I don’t set my alarm. I’m doing so naturally out of circumstance and necessity.
1) Anxiety and excitement have increased. For a while, I was scheduling posts for publication at 2:30 am PST. I did this because I liked to wake up at 5 am after the post had marinated in the public for several hours. It was fun to wake up and read what people had to say in the comments section or in the forum.
But if I wrote more opinionated posts or if I spent a particularly long time crafting a post, I started to naturally wake up earlier during “post day.” The stakes were higher. For example, it would be common for me to wake up at 2 am on post day because I wanted to review the post one last time for any typos before 2:30 am publication.
The only way I can describe my state of mind on post day is the feeling you get Christmas morning as a kid. You either can’t sleep because you’re trying to catch Santa Claus or you’re waking up super earlier to rip open the presents you hinted at over the past six months.
But then some days I have a feeling of dread, like waiting in the lobby of the principal’s office. I think to myself, maybe I shouldn’t tell it like it is, to avoid offending some people. There are plenty of successful sites with no opinion or personality.
To lessen my excitement and anxiety, nowadays I sometimes post on Sunday mornings after I wake up because the weekends are quieter. Posting on Sundays also lets me get ahead of the inevitable Monday crush of requests. Although posting after I wake up results in a 1-2 hour feedback void, I’ve trained myself to not check my site for a couple hours and go do something else.
My post RSS e-mail distribution list is now also a summary, instead of an entire post. This has helped reduce anxiety because I can always correct the words in my post, but not the words in an e-mail after it’s been blasted out.
2) Getting older. They say you don’t need as much sleep as you get older. I say they are absolutely right. Older people wake up more often because they spend less time in a deep sleep.
Other causes include needing to get up and urinate (nocturia), anxiety, and discomfort or pain from long-term (chronic) illnesses. I find I need to go to the bathroom more often if I don’t cut out liquids two hours before I go to bed.
3) Regular afternoon siesta. Napping can ruin evening sleep, but I just can’t help taking a siesta after lunch 95% of the time. The nap ranges from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours. I’ve always experienced food coma after lunch, which is why I tried to eat light lunches when I had a day job. When I could, I would sneak down to the parking lot and nap in my car for 15-30 minutes.
Because I know I can nap any time before 5 pm, it’s much easier for me to wake up early. If I knew I had to be awake 12-14 hours the next day, I’m sure I’d go to bed earlier and sleep more soundly.
Being able to nap every day is a good example of how an easy life can ruin your work ethic. Being able to nap whenever I want is kind of like having your parents buy you a house and a fancy car after graduation. With housing and transportation out of the way, why bother trying hard at being independent? I’ve been very careful not to take my freedom for granted.
4) The pressure to provide has increased. As a stay at home father with a stay at home wife, the pressure on me to provide for my family has grown. We can only count on ourselves, which is sadly the way things are for most families nowadays.
Retiring without little ones is one thing, but retiring and staying retired with kids is nearly impossible if you desire to remain in an expensive city like San Francisco. Expenses keep on increasing faster than inflation. After building a life here since 2001, it’s hard to leave.
With the increased pressure to provide for my family, I’ve also become more sensitive about investment swings. As a result, I have a more conservative asset allocation to help manage the stress of volatility. But as the absolute dollar amounts keep rising along with the bull market, it gets incrementally harder to stomach paper losses. Now I wonder how poorly I’ll sleep when a bear market arrives.
Finally, I also have self-imposed pressure to consistently publish on Financial Samurai 3X a week while also doing my best to be a good husband a father. The only way to write a post or record a podcast is in absolute silence. As a result, I started naturally getting up during the witching hour when the house is totally quiet. Emotionally, it’s very hard to reject a toddler who’s banging on your door wanting to play, especially when you have the option to always play.
5) My friend died young. Because one of my friends died in a car accident at age 15, I feel guilty for not being as productive as possible. My friend never got the chance. If he had, he would have done amazing things for the world.
Every time I feel like slacking off, I think of my friend or the time I was swarmed by beggars in Agra or my neighbor who has severe cerebral palsy. My mind is constantly being reminded of the billions of people who do not have my same opportunities. To not give 100% would be like insulting them all because I know they would give 110% if they were me.
Enjoy Your Sleep You Lucky Duck
If you conquer the morning, you will conquer the day. Getting one important thing done before the day starts is like paying yourself first. No matter what happens during the day, at least you did something productive.
Being able to function regularly on just 5 – 6 hours of sleep a day is both a blessing and a curse. I’m definitely able to get a lot more done without having to be smarter than average. However, sometimes I sure would love to be able to sleep in for 7 – 9 hours straight.
If you are able to sleep in every day, feel blessed! It may mean that you are not suffering the same amount of guilt, anxiety, or pressure as many other early risers do.
There’s also a good chance you may also feel more financially secure because of your own doing or because someone is providing for you. If you have no financial worries, your mind will surely allow you to relax more often.
What a blessing to be so carefree.
Tips To Get Better Sleep
If you’re trying to sleep better, here are some things sleep experts recommend:
- A light bedtime snack may be helpful. Many people find that warm milk increases sleepiness because it contains a natural, sedative-like amino acid. Just make sure you’re not lactose intolerant like I am.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate) for at least 3 or 4 hours before bed.
- Do not take naps during the day like I do.
- Exercise (moderately) in the afternoon.
- Avoid too much stimulation, such as violent TV shows or computer games before sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques at bedtime, such as meditation.
- Do not drink lots of water within two hours of going to bed.
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time each morning.
- Use the bed only for sleep and sex, not for work.
- Avoid tobacco products, especially before bedtime.
- Get a blue light screen for your phone and laptop.
- Don’t use your phone or laptop within an hour of going to bed.
- Use a sound machine. Check out the Relax Melodies app.
- Get blackout curtains or shades.
- Look into doctor-recommended medication.
If you cannot fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet activity, such as reading or listening to music. Getting on your phone or laptop is probably a bad idea.
There’s a lot of hype about getting eight hours of quality sleep or more nowadays. Ironically, this hype probably creates anxiety for those who get nowhere near eight hours of sleep. If you’re one of them, know that not everybody needs eight hours of sleep because our natural chronotype is different. See the chart below.
Just be honest with your own nighttime routine. If you are struggling throughout the day due to a lack of sleep, changes are in order.
If you are a great sleeper, what are some other tips you have for sleeping soundly for eight hours a night? Do you think people who sleep well have less worries and are more financially secure than those who do not?