The Secret to 4 a.m.

I remember the days when I’d wake up at 4 a.m. in the morning to conduct a national radio tour, talking to stations across the country about issues like retirement planning and financial security as I watched the sun rise.

“Good morning USA!” It was great fun.

This time, though, waking up at 4 a.m. was caused by something else — something with which I’m sure you’re familiar: that dreaded inability to sleep.

My mind was racing.

New opportunities and new ideas. Things to get done. A presentation to tweak. Articles to write. Invites for a dinner with a top ethical fashion entrepreneur. Computer fixes. You get the idea.

I could either try to get back to sleep (OK, I tried that for over an hour) or get up and make good use of the time.

A third option might be to pull out my note pad stashed in my night stand and jot down tasks and ideas that come to mind — something I’ve done many times before.

This time, though, I chose to get up and get going. Mind you, there are some “accidents” that can happen this time of day, as highlighted in this TED video.

But for me, getting up early and launching into the day is about using my time efficiently (something Sally Krawcheck shares in her own post on why this time of day can be so productive).

While I might relish a couple more hours of sleep, I know the sense of accomplishment — even confidence — I’ll feel as I embark on a new day will be worth the sleep deprivation I might experience later.

And I actually enjoy it. I make it fun. I get a pot of coffee going. I make sure I’m set-up in my home office with an organized desk. And then I make a list of tasks I hope to accomplish in the next couple hours, before hitting the gym.

For me, waking up and launching into the day can make a big difference in my ability to think clearly and creatively:
Your mind is fresh – Perhaps that’s why aspiring book authors often use the mornings to draft a chapter in hopes of getting published. Your mind hasn’t been cluttered with information accumulating from throughout the day.
No distractions or interruptions – No kids, no calls. This means you can get more things accomplished and devote the concentration needed. More done in less time means more time for other things that matter.
Tackling the unexpected – I’ve found that even time-consuming tasks can be handled simultaneously with other items in the early morning. While I'm a fan of focusing on the task at hand, sometimes a simple chore, like dialoguing with a company on a computer issue, can be handled almost “in the background.” If you’re lucky, you’ve not only checked off several to-do’s, but you’ve handled that one nagging and time-consuming item you’ve been aching to address.

Milk Does a Sleep — and Life — Good

If you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep and avoid that 4 a.m. wake-up altogether, there’s the obvious do’s and don’ts when bedtime rolls around – from avoiding electronics to engaging in an activity that winds your mind down, such as reading.

One more tip: My husband habitually drinks a glass of milk and some crackers after dinner.

I’m sure you’ve heard of those studies concluding that milk taken at night helps reduce the time to get to sleep and also facilitates a deeper sleep.

It’s true – and it might even lead to a longer life. As I was finishing this piece, my colleague Sherry Chen, raised in Taiwan, shared this:

“My grandpa also drinks a glass of milk and crackers every night before sleeping,” Sherry told me. “He is now 94… still very healthy and smart! Drinking milk is great advice.” 
Jennifer Openshaw

Consumer Financial Leader
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