Early to Rise, Schmerly to Rise

September 12, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 3:29 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

Mormons seem to love the idea of waking up early. It’s in our history. Heck, it’s even in our scriptures:

Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated. (D&C 88:124)

The story from President McKay in my last post illustrates this idea that is such a part of Mormon culture well:

[President McKay] had told [his secretary, Clare Middlemiss] that he would come over to the office very early in the morning, never much after 6:00 o’clock, and sometimes earlier than that. Five o’clock regularly. He would sit in his office and meditate… She said he thought it was best in the morning when he was not tired, but invigorated and quiet, and no phone ringing and no interruptions.

Now I don’t have any qualms with the ends that are being extolled here. I love the idea of meditating while not tired; of having an invigorated mind; of finding quiet places and times with no interruptions. I simply question a one-size-fits-all approach to the means to achieving those ends.

This subject always brings to mind that classic Nibley zinger:

We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at nine o’clock to write a good one (Essay: Zeal Without Knowledge)

Here is my problem. My mind is never alert or invigorated in the morning. I am groggy and often grouchy and foggy headed in the early hours. It takes me some time to clear the cobwebs and fully awake and clear my head. But once I’m going I am going and I don’t like to waste those quiet and peaceful hours after 10:00 PM on sleeping when I have a clear head and a quiet house in which to ponder and read and meditate. So I do all my best pondering and meditating between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM. God doesn’t seem to mind at all.

So what do you think? Is the means (getting up really early) as important as the end (having a clear mind and a quiet place to commune with God)? It seems to me that means that worked really well for the saints prior to electricity could be adjusted now that we have electricity — especially when the same ends are being met.

And if that doesn’t cut it for you (and you are not a morning person), maybe you could just conclude that your internal clock is set to Hawaii time – that way you too can say you are going to bed and rising really early if anyone harasses you about the subject. 8)


[Associated radio.blog song: Dusty Springfield – Angel of the Morning]


  1. I don’t really have much choice.

    Starting up your own business is rough and having cash flow from somewhere is vital. But it’s equally vital to not sabotage all the substantial work you need to do on the business during the day.

    For me, this pointed to early morning paper route. I get up at 2:15 AM every morning and deliver until about 5:00 AM, come home and get ready for the day, work on the business during the day, and go to bed between 9:00 and 10:00 PM (I also take a power-nap around 1:00 PM).

    Cash flow, I’m getting up the same time President Kimball did, I have plenty of time in the car to listen to BBC news and NPR’s Morning Edition, none of it conflicts with my career demands, and performing manual labor is actually a rather purifying experience for a bigheaded professional. Keeps your feet on the ground.

    Now, I’m genetically a night-owl (just like my mom). But I’ve actually found the dark and quiet of the mornings to be a blessing in several respects. My world is never fast-paced. I never feel hectic or overly stressed. This is because a big chunk of my waking hours are observed in darkness and silence with only a faint glow on the eastern horizon.

    Sure I’d like to sleep more. But I don’t think it would improve my overall quality of life much.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 12, 2006 @ 11:53 am

  2. Hmmm. 2:15 AM sounds like really late rather than really early to me Seth… I guess that goes to show the one-size-fits-all is not a good idea.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2006 @ 11:57 am

  3. I’m pretty much a morning person.

    I’ve known people who could sleep in for unusually long hours. I can’t.

    Comment by danithew — September 12, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  4. I don’t do well in the morning…The spirit goes to bed at midnight and needs AT LEAST 8 hours of sleep.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 12, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

  5. I am also a night owl. I get my best studying and work done after the wife and daughter have gone to bed and there are no distractions. Early mornings? Forget about it. I am pretty much useless before 8:00 AM. The only time you’ll find me awake at 5:00 AM is if I’ve been up all night.
    I haven’t concluded that my internal clock is set to Hawaii time, but I have concluded that my internal clock is not on a 24 hour per day schedule. It seems to be on a 25 or 26 hour per day schedule. I need about 7-8 hrs of sleep to be a functional person, but that sleep holds me for about 18-19 hours. As a result, I have extreme difficulty fitting into a normal sleeping schedule. I have to stay up late to get tired and get to sleep, but then I can’t get enough sleep to function the next day at work. Vicious cycle.

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — September 12, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

  6. Of course the quiet place and clear mind are the important thing. Try the temple, whenever it is you can get there.

    Comment by Doc — September 12, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  7. Geoff,
    Sounds like you need a Red Bull, mate.

    Comment by Ronan — September 12, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

  8. Dan – I’m not talking about sleeping long hours, I’m talking about beinga night person instead of a morning person. I don’t think one is better than th other despite the popular Mormon conceptions to the contrary.

    Stapley – Alright, I don enjoy an occasional 8+ hours of sleep…

    Capt. – That sounds like me. I go on 6+ hours for a few nights (inching later and later and then catch up on a weekend or something like a 8-9 hour sleep.

    Doc – Agreed. But not so much in the early morning sessions for me…

    Ronan – Hehe… So you think a Red Bull at 5 AM might help one commune with God?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2006 @ 3:34 pm

  9. Aloha

    Comment by Jacob — September 12, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  10. I’m a nothing-person. As in, I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night person. I’m not an afternoon person. There is no time of the day when I have extra energy.

    Seminary started this week. I’ve gotten up at 5:20 to get the kids there yesterday and today. And if we can’t find someone who’ll give them a ride within two weeks, they’re not going anymore. If I have to do two weeks of this I will seriously break down crying from exhaustion in the car in an Olive Garden parking lot. At least, that’s what happened last year when I tried it.

    Comment by Susan M — September 12, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  11. By the way, Geoff, you may be interested in this Wikipedia article on Delayed sleep phase syndrome. It actually describes my sleeping patterns pretty well.

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — September 12, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

  12. And if we can’t find someone who’ll give them a ride within two weeks, they’re not going anymore.

    Lol! I feel for ya Susan. I taught early morning seminary for a couple of years. That almost killed me. You can’t just ditch the class when you’re the teacher after all…

    (I tried to convince myself I was on Eastern Time to survive — but my falling asleep at 8-9 PM on a semi-regular basis was hard on Kristen in the young’n’s)

    Anyway, I recommend you work hard to find a couple of families to trade off with. (I wonder if seminary was one reason my parents were so supportive of me getting my license the day I turned 16…)

    Capt. – Thanks for the interesting link.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  13. I used to be a night person. After three kids and years of not being able to be a night OR a morning person, I feel more balanced.
    I think one of the key ideas of early to bed early to rise is that you should get up excited to go about the day. I think it is healthier to awake at the time you need to wake up to accomplish what you need to, rather than sleeping until the last minute and rushing around stressed all morning.
    And if you are having a hard time waking up when you need to, you perhaps need to go to bed earlier.
    I admit that I sometimes get things done after the kids are in bed. Great time that I have energy for now. But it is more important for the tone of the day to get up on time in the morning.
    So, I don’t think getting up an hour early to do extra stuff is better, but waking up on time is definitely better! And on time is always earlier than my fantasy time.

    Comment by JKS — September 12, 2006 @ 5:20 pm

  14. They’ll probably be able to get catch a ride with the same lady who drove them last year. Fortunately, my daughter is the type of student teachers LOVE, so when I explain to the Seminary President that if we don’t find them a ride, they won’t be coming, she starts calling people immediately. “Kids like your daughter are the reason teachers get up at 5am to do this!”

    My hat’s off to all early-morning seminary teachers everywhere.

    Comment by Susan M — September 12, 2006 @ 5:28 pm

  15. I usually hit the sack between 1-2AM, get up at 8AM. If there were a pill that would replace six hours of sleep I’d take it every day. Sleeping is a waste of time, something only to be enjoyed when you feel like it (naps).

    Comment by Rusty — September 12, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

  16. Geoff, I’m right there with you. Late night is where my best thoughts and spiritual insight happen. Hey, it’s 11:11 pm now!

    Comment by Jeff Day — September 12, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  17. Seminary started this week. I’ve gotten up at 5:20 to get the kids there yesterday and today. And if we can’t find someone who’ll give them a ride within two weeks, they’re not going anymore.

    Much sympathy, that really sounds gruesome.

    We do early morning seminary, but my alarm doesn’t go off until 6:36.

    Our high school start time has been changed to an hour later from when my older kids started. There is a movement nationwide to acknowledge teenager’s biorhythms tend to follow a nightowl pattern and that ideally high school should not start until 9 a.m. There is a bunch of evidence about more traffic accidents and school violent incidents when teens are forced to start school at 7:30ish. There was even legislation introduced in the US Congress.

    I was one of those who testified to the school board about the scientific literature, which really is impressive because it is the same pattern around the world, suggesting a biological basis not cultural condiitoning. But I was stunned at some of the other information, such as a non-LDS psychiatrist who noted that when kids are forced to work against their natural sleep patterns, they resort to drugs–caffeine to wake up, tobacco to unwind.

    As it happened, when we lived in another state, high school started at 9 a.m. But seminary still started at 6 a.m. This was partly due to the seminary teacher needing to get to work, and partly due to an attitude that early morning seminary is a “rite of passage” or somesuch. The result was to have teens driving around during rush hour when they otherwise needn’t.

    Comment by Naismith — September 13, 2006 @ 5:06 am

  18. Ours starts so early because a lot of the kids have zero-hour classes. Drives me crazy. Especially since I don’t leave for work until 9am and get home between 7 and 8pm.

    Comment by Susan M — September 13, 2006 @ 6:56 am

  19. That is really fascinating stuff Naismith. The “rite of passage” issue sort of gets to the heart of my concern with this post.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2006 @ 8:31 am

  20. JKS: “And if you are having a hard time waking up when you need to, you perhaps need to go to bed earlier.”

    It’s not that simple for some people. From the article I linked above:

    Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a disorder of the body’s timing system – the biological clock. It is believed to be caused by a reduced ability to reset the body’s daily sleep/wake clock. Individuals with DSPS might have an unusually long circadian cycle, or might have a reduced response to the re-setting effect of light on the body clock.

    People with normal circadian systems can generally fall asleep quickly at night if they did not have enough sleep the night before. Falling asleep earlier will in turn automatically advance their circadian clocks. In contrast, people with DSPS are unable to fall asleep before their usual sleep time, even if they are sleep-deprived. Research has shown that sleep deprivation does not reset the circadian clock of DSPS patients, as it does with normal people.

    I don’t get tired before 1:00 or 2:00 AM, even if I got up early that morning. If I go to bed earlier, I will simply lie awake in bed. Sleep deprivation doesn’t affect my sleeping pattern. I may feel tired and be unable to function well during the day, but by evening, I am fine and will not be able to sleep before my usual time.

    As you can imagine, early-morning meetings on Sundays are extremely difficult for me.

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — September 13, 2006 @ 9:00 am

  21. Geoff, I understand the impulse behind this post but must inform you of some bad news for late risers.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2006 @ 9:21 am

  22. Hehe. Thanks for the link John. That’s actually not bad news for late-ish risers — just bad news for long sleepers. Most of the night owls who have commented here (including me) are fine with 6-7 hours of sleep most of the time. We just like it to happen from 1:00-7:30 instead of from 10:00-4:30. It’s the people sleeping 9:00-6:00 on a regular basis that are in trouble based on that study.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  23. Or 12:00 to 9:00 or 10:00, or even 2:00 to 10:00 or 11:00.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2006 @ 10:17 am

  24. Right John — any 9+ hour block of time is the problem based on that study. So early to bed and early to rise is not the issue at all in that study (sorry Ben Franklin). Someone consistently going to bed at 8:00 pm and getting up at 5:00 am is in just as much trouble as someone consistently going to bed at 1:00 am and getting up at 10:00 am.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  25. And the question becomes, how common, really, are the type who stay up really late and then limit themselves to six or seven hours? My own anecdotal observations say that they are fewer in number. In many cases, staying up until the early hours of the morning forms part of a larger lifestyle that does not include the limitation of sleep to under 9 hours. But of course, that is purely anecdotal and you all are anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2006 @ 11:16 am

  26. Well it seems to me that most people who have commented here are evidence against the notion that staying up late(ish) is the result of a wild and loose lifestyle John. Most functioning adults have day jobs and that usually means that sleeping past 7:30-8:00 is usally not an option for those who wish to keep those day jobs. Or those of us with kids in school need to wake up to help them get off, etc.

    The issue I am addressing is whether there is some inherent virtue in waking up at the crack of dawn or before (say 5:30 or earlier) as opposed to waking up at say 7:30 or 8:00 in order to make it to work on time. I don’t believe there is at all. (And the corollary to that is that since 6-8 hours of sleep is sufficient a bed time past midnight seems perfectly healthy for an adult who consistently wakes up at around 7:00-8:00 am)

    I suppose the definition of “early” varies widely though. I don’t think of 7:30 or 8:00 as an especially early time to wake up in the morning (especially on a weekday) but I’m sure there are some adults who would disagree. (But I do think that for many of us it is early enough to meet the requirements of D&C 88.) My beef is with the attitude that some people hold that says consistenly waking up at 5:00 AM is somehow morally superior to consistently waking up 2-3 hours later. I think that attitude is misguided.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2006 @ 11:31 am

  27. Your post reminds me of a missionary experience. While at the LTM in Hawaii learning Japanese, some missionaries would wake up a 3am to study. It felt like it was their way of proving their dedication. I tried it once, but not twice. I felt dedicated and focused and serious without needing this sort of over much zeal. I do think that misguided zeal does apply to a number of our church experiences.

    Comment by Hal H. — September 13, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

  28. I almost never go to sleep before 1 or 2 AM, in part because this often feels like the only time I can really get much done in the day if I want to accomplish anything outside of my job. It’s not because of a wild lifestyle–recently, in fact, I’ve been staying up later than I should reading church history-related books.

    I think that part of it is the feeling that I have a cushion at night that I don’t have in the morning, and this probably comes from writing papers and things in college. I can always get less sleep, but in the morning, I just have to go to school (or these days, work) whether or not I’m done with what I’m working on, at a good stopping point in a book, etc.

    I imagine that on a site like this, the number of people who sleep less than average would be higher. I don’t know how else people with normal jobs, families, church activity, and any significant hobbies would be able to keep up with Web logs and things.

    Comment by worm — September 13, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

  29. Good comments Hal and worm (and welcome to the Thang, worm)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  30. john f.: And the question becomes, how common, really, are the type who stay up really late and then limit themselves to six or seven hours?

    From the Wikipedia article linked above (#11):

    “Using the strict ICSD diagnostic criteria, a random study of 10,000 adults in Norway estimated the prevalence of DSPS at 0.17%. A similar study with 1525 adults in Japan estimated its prevalence at 0.13%. Other studies have indicated that the prevalence of DSPS among adolescents is as high as 7%.”

    That would seem to indicate to me that about 0.15% of adults are affected by the disorder. (Which is to say that these people would be unable to adjust to a “normal” sleeping schedule.) Though there may be others who sleep on that schedule (i.e., 1:00 AM to 8:00 AM) by choice, habit, etc.

    Personally, I see no inherent benefit to early mornings. Many people may have a clearer mind when they first wake up, but not me. If I’m concentrating on just staying awake, I find it very difficult to learn or feel the Spirit.

    Comment by Capt. Obsidian — September 13, 2006 @ 6:14 pm

  31. I have heard that Pres. Woodruff would stay up past 1:00 AM writing in his journal the words spoken by Joseph Smith. When I heard that I wondered how he could stay up so late and still obey that commandment, “retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated”. Maybe that revelation wasn’t given until later. I can’t say he was obedient or disobedient, but I can say that if he didn’t write in his journal like he did we wouldn’t have as much of the church history. Maybe he was like Geoff J and felt invigorated at night.

    Comment by Spencer J — September 13, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

  32. All I can say is that I can relate to the night owls. I have always been one. Someone said all you need to do is go to bed earlier. Doesn’t always work for someone whose circadian rhythms are truly whacked.

    (As a side note, for whoever has a rhythm that is off the 24-hour cycle somehow, you might want to look into something called a GoLite (I got mine from ebay). They claim it can help one overcome such problems…even have a personalized assessment at mygolite.com. I have major insomnia issues for years, and am hoping it might help me get my body out of the middle of the Pacific Ocean….)

    Comment by mullingandmusing (m&m) — September 13, 2006 @ 10:55 pm

  33. i go to bed at 11:00 and i like it

    Comment by Brad — January 23, 2007 @ 10:35 am