Getting Up Early

I’m one of those odd people who gets up early and enjoys it. Why is my brain wired like that? I don’t know, but 5am is entirely normal for me – and sometimes even earlier, if my mind is active.

Talking to a friend of mine this weekend, he related this was quite early for him at about nine in the morning. I was genuinely surprised, as it’s all too easy to forget that not everyone is awake at the same time as me; when six o’clock is a lay-in, I am always fascinated when I meet people who see it as an early start.

My pal told me that a Saturday for him – when he had no other responsibilities – might see him waking up at 11am or so, and then pottering around until he actually got up at around four or so in the afternoon. He really brightened when he told me about this, and it seemed to really cheer him up at the mere thought of a relaxed, laid-back day. If we’d have had time, I would have quizzed him about it much more, because he and I could not be more different than we tried.

As a child, even, I was always up early, even before my parents a lot of the time. I can remember my weekends after I got a TV in my room – when I was about 11 or 12 – getting up at about four or five to watch American programmes on Channel 4. This was in the days when there were only four channels, and 4 was switched on the earliest, at least on a Sunday.

At least part of my early rising inevitably comes from my family; my mum was always awake early (as was my dad, but my mum was always up and active first), and I remember staying with my paternal grandparents and occasionally suspecting that they didn’t ever sleep. They went to bed – or were at least awake – until midnight, and were up even before dawn every morning. For my granddad, this had to be heavily influenced by his military and police careers, which he never fully surrendered even after he retired – and I never remember him being anything other than retired in all my life.

On one particular occasion, I recall Granddad Munson (I never really went in for very imaginative titles for my grandparents; I was much more of a traditionalist) walking into the middle bedroom, where I was sleeping, at 4.30 in the morning. On that particular day, that was early even for me; I was stirring, but that was as far as I had got. But my granddad came in to get his coat from the hook on the back of the door, glanced over at me, and walked out again – and I heard him say to my name, “He’s still asleep in there, Kath.” Funny the things that stick with you.

But I adored my grandparents – I still do, even though they’ve both passed – and I remember feeling at some deep level that I would never lay in after my granddad again. Certainly whenever I went round there to stay, I never did, and that clearly stuck in my head.

It’s clearly passed down through the family in some genetic way, given my family history. But why do I enjoy it so much, getting up early? I’ve had to try and put it in words, but it’s hard to always describe what I feel instinctively.

I can certainly say that it feels entirely natural to do it; I don’t feel forced or annoyed at having to get up before the sun’s over the horizon. I just do, and I like it. The day hasn’t yet begun, the world is quiet, and there’s no pressure yet to do anything in particular; I’ve got some time to do whatever it is I want to do (read, writer, do a crossword puzzle) before I have to start preparing for the day.

Being awake and quiet means I can decide what I want to achieve for the day. That might sound odd, but I like to feel like I’ve been productive in something each day – but how will I know what I want that to be unless I’ve actually thought it through. So often, we’re distracted by noise; questions being asked, traffic roaring past, music blaring out, and so on. I don’t know about you, but I struggle to think with all that busy life roaring past.

I also like to savour the time this gives me; I can read, I can catch with things, and I can think. This lets me prepare for the day, and then gives me free time in the evenings – I can do more of the same if I wish, or something new if I prefer without feeling guilty.

Some people who get up early like to do exercise or meditation at some godforsaken time of the day, and I am very content for them to do that themselves. I prefer a slower, gentler space in the dark of the morning; forcing myself to work hard just exhausts me, and having quiet time is just as meditative as actually sitting there and listening to a guiding voice.

But because I’ve been able to do something in the morning, that gives me the rest of the day to keep fit in whatever way I want. I love walking, so still do a lot of that, and I can go out for an hour or two without feeling guilty because I’ve already taken time to do some things in the morning – and less is weighing on my mind to do after the exercise.

Getting up early is a pleasure, not a chore. Sure, it’s not for everyone, that much is certain, but each to their own; I find this way makes me more productive, but it’s certainly not the only way. That should always be your guiding principle; how can I be the most productive today that I am able to be? Then everything goes from there; how you decide to do it is entirely down to you, but for me – I intend to keep getting up early in the morning. It really does relax me.

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