TikTok: Why content creators are obsessed with the '5 to 9' hours before the workday

TikTok app on phone, stock image
TikTok's "5 to 9 before the 9 to 5" trend has users waking up at 5 a.m. to exercise and make healthy breakfasts before work. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Scottie Andrew of CNN

Every weekday, Maddi Todd wakes up at 4:30am and is out the door by 5am to start her day.

She's at the gym before the sun rises, starting on the treadmill before lifting weights. She goes home to make breakfast, feed her pets, tidy up her apartment and settle in for the day ahead.

It's not always glamorous, but for Todd, her early morning routine makes all the difference.

"I was not an early riser whatsoever," Todd told CNN. But in 2022, stuck in a stifling job and seeking a challenge, she dragged herself out of bed and into the weightroom four hours before she was due at work. As a form of creative accountability, she started vlogging her daily routine - and her take on "the '5 to 9 before the 9 to 5' was born."

TikTok's "5 to 9 before the 9 to 5" obsession kicked off in 2022 thanks to users like Todd. The trend describes the early morning hours before a workday that TikTokers fill with exercise, errands and healthy habits like reading and cooking. It's "me time" for users whose jobs might suck up the rest of their days and leave little room for fitness or self-reflection, and an example to would-be morning people looking to seize the day.

'5 to 9 before 9 to 5,' explained

It's as simple as it sounds: "5 to 9" refers to the morning hours before work. Though TikTok users typically share their schedules between the hours of 5am and 9am, there are some who change it up (one popular poster has a 3:30am wake-up call).

Many of Todd's TikTok contemporaries have attracted followings for their romanticised versions of their 5 to 9 morning routines, which take place largely in spacious apartments and pristine gyms and on cosy couches. Todd's videos have racked up millions of views because she keeps it real. She doesn't pretend it's always easy to roll out of bed at 4:30am every weekday. She pokes fun at her weightlifting form in videos and even discloses when she forgets to swipe on deodorant in the morning. (It's early - can you blame her?)

"This lifestyle doesn't have to be this glamorised, 'tough girl' experience and I wanted to make that known to my viewers," she said.

Candid "days in the life" on TikTok are already a mainstay, and putting a humorous spin on the usual formula has worked for Todd: Her 5 to 9 videos have accrued tens of millions of views. The hashtag itself has been viewed more than 70 million times on the app.

For those more inclined to save the action for the evening, there's a sister trend that focuses on the other end of the workday - "the 5 to 9 after the 9 to 5," a more laid-back stretch during which users share themselves hitting up happy hours with coworkers, sweating in fitness classes or cooking dinner and settling in with a Netflix binge.

Influencers say '5 to 9' is much-needed self-care

Veronique Davidson, a TikToker in Toronto, spends her 5 to 9 exercising, meditating and reading before she gets ready for work. Those early morning hours are the "only time during my day that I have for myself," she told CNN: She works a 9am to 5pm job with the Canadian government and then a 5pm to 9pm part-time gig with pro sports teams in player relations. Her morning routine helps her manage her immense workload, she said.

"I love waking up early, at a relaxed pace, and accomplishing things for myself long before the work day has started," she said. "Taking that dedicated time to myself, and to be mindful about my needs keeps me grounded."

Davidson has been waking up at 5am for two years, a tactic to make sure she was catering to her own needs during the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and her two careers. She credits the habit with improving her "mental clarity and overall joy."

And it's brought Todd a similar joy, too, to document her morning routines and her highs and lows. She found most fitness content that popped up on her FYP (that's "For You page" in TikTok-speak) discouraged her, so she made her own. Now, she looks forward to her early morning wake-up call.

"I began to find consistency to be easy because I started to love what I was doing," she said.

A sleep expert warns it's not for everyone

Waking up extra early can work for some who are naturally early risers, but it's not a cure-all, said Vanessa Hill, a sleep scientist and TikToker who often weighs the pros and cons of TikTok's trends of the moment (bed rotting, anyone?).

"Morning people may feel energised and motivated by having a solid morning routine at 5 a.m., and that's great," she told CNN. "But … trying to shift your routine earlier when that's not your natural predisposition may lead to feelings of grogginess, productivity losses and even poor decision-making."

If you're not already a morning person, leaning into a TikTok trend that has you waking up hours before you typically would might stress you out more than it helps you get stuff done, Hill said. It makes sense that a trend that promotes "business and productivity" would resonate with so many people, she said. So if night owls find themselves most productive and alert later in the day, they can still fit healthy habits into their schedule after 5pm.

"It's best not to force it, and prioritise being well-rested," she said of those who've tried and failed to stick to the "5 to 9" schedule.

How to start a '5 to 9,' per those who practise it

But for those who are inspired by Todd and Davidson's commitment to early workouts, there are ways to get into a morning groove.

Todd and Davidson both said their 5 to 9 routines actually start the night before. Todd said locking in a nighttime regimen - cutting off TV at a certain time, abstaining from drinking on weeknights and picking out an outfit for the next day - made waking up early (her "pain point") much more feasible.

And if waking up early and working out isn't fun anymore, then allow yourself some grace, Todd said.

"Don't turn it into a 'do or die' experience," she said.

Even Todd, with over 167,000 followers tuning in, has off-days - and when she struggles to get out of bed, she said, she listens to her body, lets herself sleep in and doesn't beat herself up about catching up on the necessary rest.