Life in the 4am Club


By Shanuka Kadupitiyage

There I was, scrolling through my Instagram feed once again in the middle of the night. Getting my night time dose of dopamine through memes and digital art before going to bed had become a daily ritual of mine.

Did I have plenty of work to do the next day? Of course I did. Should I be more focused on recovering my cognitive strength? That would be the smart thing to do. But I wasn’t. Memes don’t watch themselves, and I don’t want all the hard work put in by those artists to go to waste.

The next day, I woke up groggy and unmotivated. Maybe I don’t need to work as hard today. That exam prep question can wait another day right? It’s just one day.

I realised that I had a problem, and like anyone who wanted to improve something about their lives, I turned to the place I knew a solution would exist; Medium.

Not medium at all

Medium must have been reading my mind because almost every other article was something about increasing my productivity or becoming a more effective individual. Were all of them actually giving good advice? You might ask. I would say the better question would be whether any one was giving original advice.

Among the many cookie-cutter articles, I found a subgroup of productivity elitists proclaiming a ‘miracle productivity’ hack, guaranteed to give you great results. I’m talking about the 4am club.

Interested in this elusive community, I looked elsewhere to find that it wasn’t only Medium where this elte club has made its presence known. Multiple self-made millionaire CEOs on YouTube have posted their morning or daily routines, of which many claim they get up at 4am everyday. Every. Single. Day.

Before coming to any judgement, I experience it for myself. For a short period of time, I would become a trial member of the 4am club.

Every. Single. Day

I learnt for myself that there’s nothing as annoying as an alarm tone ringing at four in the morning. It goes without saying, my first morning was rough. A tug-of-war raged inside of me as I fought for consciousness whilst I climbed out of my bed to get to work. The water was extra cold in the shower and mosquitoes kept me company. Their incessant buzzing kept me awake, but I couldn’t get any work done. Some adjustment was necessary if I were to succeed in my trial.

Things were easier as the days passed. Dragging myself out of bed wasn’t as hard anymore. Some precautions needed to be taken to chase mosquitoes away. The cold water never got easier though it does help shock you awake.

Is it worth it?

Waking up is an unpleasant process. But once I sit myself down in front of my textbooks and computer, things are different. Knowing that you’re ‘getting stuff done’ while everyone is yet to even begin the day is rewarding. Maybe this is where the elitist aura of the 4am productivity club starts from.

The usual sounds of engines, people and animals are nowhere to be heard. Only the rustling of leaves on the gentle breeze. The cool night air is refreshing, a stark contrast to the hot and humid air when the sun is out. The ‘flow’ state of mind was easy to tap into, and it wasn’t long before I was deep into my work. Not a notification or email to distract me. Yes. I was productive and yes, it indeed is effective. But being in the 4am club comes with a hefty price.

The small print

Sleep is essential to the proper functioning of the human body and mind. Setting time aside to arise at 4am meant time had to be found for sleep elsewhere. Evenings out with friends have to be carefully planned, and late afternoons are a constant battle for staying conscious.

Is sacrificing your social life and lifestyle worth it for a little extra productivity? We all have 24 hours to manage ourselves around in a day. If you have the discipline to wake at 4am everyday to be productive, managing yourself with a normal sleep schedule shouldn’t be a problem. I realised that what really needed to change was my own habits. All I really needed was to put my phone away. Not wake up at 4am everyday.

I ended the experiment a long time ago. But I’ve had to begrudgingly become a member of the 4am club once again, mainly out of necessity. It is a functional choice for my life. Am I less distracted? My phone isn’t buzzing all the time, but I still have to battle with the sandman each morning.

Being in the 4am club is similar to owning a very expensive bicycle. You’re still going to have to put the same effort to get where you want to go. But it’s also very likely that you were that annoying kid in your class who liked to show it off to everyone who gave you the time of the day.