LindseyAranson, Staff Reporter
We’re all familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s rhyming advice, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But maybe if Ben had discovered electricity sooner, he would have spent his nights studying by electric light or playing Candy Crush on his iPhone instead of sleeping—exactly like a modern teenager.
Because of a hormonal shift in adolescents’ internal clock, teenagers like me are biologically programmed to fall asleep sometime after 11 p.m. and wake nine hours later. When these night owls have to rise before dawn for school, it becomes impossible to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
With this in mind, I thought about what Ben Franklin was promising me if I trained myself to wake up early. I was pretty sure he knew what he was talking about when it came to “healthy, wealthy and wise” since he lived into his eighties, was America’s first millionaire and invented everything from the lightning rod to the flexible urinary catheter. Even with the odds stacked against me, I decided to put Franklin’s advice to the test for one school week. Here’s how it went.
On Sunday night, I was ready to set my experiment in motion. The iPhone’s Bedtime feature says that “[going] to bed and waking up at the same times every day are keys to healthy sleep,” so I planned to wake up at 5 a.m. each day. With some sophisticated mental math, I calculated that I’d need to go to bed at 9 p.m. to get seven hours of sleep. I set an alarm on my phone and placed it on my bedside table.
“Healthy, wealthy and wise, here I come!” I thought as I jumped into bed at 9:00.
“I can’t wait to get an early start on my day tomorrow!” I mused at 9:08.
“I’m feeling tired already,” I reassured myself at 9:33.
“…sheep number seventy-four, sheep number seventy-five…” I counted at 9:54.
Minutes went by. Then hours. I drifted off eventually, but for some reason, my alarm sounded at 6:30 a.m. instead of five, only fifteen minutes earlier than usual! Although I didn’t remember it, I must have unlocked my phone, opened the clock app and changed the alarm sometime during the night, all while in a half-asleep fog. It seemed that my experiment would be met with some resistance from my adolescent brain. I had to take things up a notch.
After reading a few articles online, I learned that going to bed and waking up at the same time each night can actually make it harder to sleep, since various daily factors like exercise and diet can change the amount of sleep you need each night. It’s better to wake up at the same time each day, but go to bed whenever you feel tired. Your body will learn that your wakeup time is non-negotiable, and will adjust what time you get tired each night depending on how much sleep you need.
This time, I set up a brand new alarm clock on my desk across the room, so I’d have to get out of bed to turn it off. There would be no more sleep-shenanigans sabotaging my 5 a.m. wakeup time. I also put my phone on the other side of the room, because I’d read that the blue light from TV and phone screens can simulate daylight and delay feelings of sleepiness. I got in bed at nine again, but instead of staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep, I curled up with one of my brother’s books, “Ready Player One.” I knew I was ready to fall asleep when I couldn’t read a paragraph without closing my eyes.
My clock has one of those alarms that gets louder and louder when you don’t turn it off, so when it went off at five, it took me a minute to realize it wasn’t part of my dream. As the obnoxious beeping increased in volume, I remembered that I brought this upon myself. Reluctantly, I leapt out of bed and into the shower. After that, I tried to get ahead on some schoolwork, but was too tired to get anything done until I had consumed a healthy dose of caffeine.
So far, the only benefit that I could see of waking up early was being the first one to shower. While the rest of my family was still fast asleep, and would be for at least another ninety minutes, I had all the hot water to myself. On top of that, showering three hours before first period gave my hair time to dry before facing the cold winter commute to school, thereby reducing my risk of developing a head cold. Looks like I had the “healthy” part of Franklin’s saying down.
Surprisingly, two days of my experiment didn’t make me feel any more tired than usual throughout the school day. I even went out for a rare bike ride around my neighborhood when I got home on Tuesday. Intending to do my homework the next morning, I spent my evening watching “The Bachelor” with my family and got in bed at nine p.m. After reading for about thirty minutes, I was ready to fall asleep.
That morning, I actually woke up before my alarm. I spent the next hour drifting in and out of sleep, finally getting out of bed at 4:55 to preemptively silence the annoying alarm clock. I was more tired than I had been the day before, so I got back in bed to play on my phone for another hour. Considering that I’d hardly done any morning studying in my first days of this experiment, it seemed like the “wise” part of Ben Franklin’s saying might take longer than I thought.
I was so tired from waking up at four on Wednesday that I got in bed at 8:30 and fell asleep by nine. In the morning, I got out of bed and showered at five, but fell back asleep with my overhead light on around six. At this point, I felt like the worm the early bird ate for breakfast—dead.
After a long day of nearly dozing off in class, I came home extremely frustrated and cranky. I was irritable and dreading my next early morning, especially since there was no school on Friday. I even felt like lashing out at a certain Founding Father for deceiving me about the consequences of waking up early.
“Do you call this healthy?!” I imagined myself questioning Franklin as I deleted my nutrition app in a stress-induced carb frenzy. Now that I thought about it, waking up early to become “wealthy” seemed hypocritical coming from a guy whose nickname is Poor Richard, even if he is on the $100 bill. Not to mention, Franklin’s Daylight Savings Time still costs America $434 million a year due to lost sleep and decreased productivity. And how can anyone be “wise” when they’re too tired to form a complete sentence?!
Fed up with Ben’s lies, I defiantly cancelled my alarm for Friday morning. I wouldn’t take any more advice from a three-hundred-year-old wannabe president dumb enough to fly a kite in a lightning storm.
When I opened my eyes on Friday morning, it was 4:58. It seemed my body had finally accustomed to waking up at the same early time each day.
“Does this make me a morning person?” I wondered, realizing that if I could train myself to wake up every day at five, early risers aren’t born—they’re made. I lay in bed for a few moments, debating whether I should get out of bed or not.
I had the whole day ahead of me, and I could spend this early morning time however I wanted. I could study, read, take a walk, do an art project, surf the web, or roll over and go back to sleep. Maybe Franklin had a point—waking up early gives you time to focus on improving yourself and do what you want to do before the obligations of the day begin.
From this experiment, I learned that waking up at 5 a.m. is not necessarily the best way for a teenager to be productive. As for my bedtime routine, I’m going to keep limiting late-night screen time to get quality sleep so that I can get up even just a little bit earlier. Still, “early” is relative. Rolling over and closing my eyes, I decided that I could get things done by starting my day at seven instead of rising before the sun or sleeping in until noon.