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Confessions of a Former San Diego Night Owl

How James Brennan went from being a nightlife magnate to waking up at 5 a.m. without an alarm


The clubbing days

Sidebar opened in 2003. I was newly married, didn’t have kids, and I was much younger. I ran the operations during the day, but Thursday through Saturday, I wouldn’t be done until the place closed at 2. On those days, I wouldn’t get out of bed until noon. In 2005, Stingaree opened and I had my first child.

I never thought I’d be this hospitality/nightlife guy; I studied real estate at USD and stumbled into it. I was torn—I’m a family guy (I have four kids now). I never imagined I’d be the dad who would get home at 3 a.m. I never envisioned back then where I am today—not drinking at all [laughs].

Becoming a morning person came in two phases

The first phase came in 2008. I stopped drinking and made significant life changes. I transitioned into restaurants with Enlightened Hospitality [alongside Brian Malarkey] and out of nightlife. I was getting up earlier—7 a.m.

The second phase happened in 2014, when I completely got out of hospitality and focused on investing in Suja, Kopari, Original Grain, and Liveli. Trying to operate four companies is really taxing. To be honest, I really didn’t have a choice to become a morning person. I had to.

What his day is like now

I wake up without an alarm at 5 a.m. during the week. I’m home around 6 at night and have dinner with the kids. I have to be in bed and asleep around 9 p.m. Sometimes I’m in bed at 8:30, before my nine-year-old even goes to sleep.

On the importance of sleep

I laugh at entrepreneurs who say they only need five hours of sleep. That’s total BS. They’re not maximizing their capacity. If it doesn’t catch up with you now, it will later.

How to become an early bird in 30 days


Simplify your alarm clocks:

“Stop setting so many alarms and hitting snooze.” If you get used to not being able to ignore your one alarm, soon that one alarm will be enough—and once you adjust to a set time, you’ll be able to wake up without it.


Evaluate your coffee consumption:

Are you drinking coffee late in the afternoon? Stop. “No more caffeine after 3 p.m. You don’t need coffee when you first wake up, either.”


Commit to a bedtime:

Sleep is a habit. Change the time you get to bed. “If you need assistance, find a healthy, natural sleep aid.”

Confessions of a Former San Diego Night Owl

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