I am always amazed and -- yes, I admit it -- a tiny bit impressed when I meet someone who is way ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting a trend.

You've met them, too: the woman who invented the idea of wearing running shoes with a business suit. Or the man who realized that ponytails and earrings are not just for women only. Or the couple who got into Aromatherapy Counseling before anyone else even sniffed the scent of this trend in the air.

Free-lance trend spotters, you might call them -- these people who have a natural ability to sense a trend coming in and to ride it, like a wave from the ocean, long before it breaks and hits the beach.

And while I am not a person who falls into this category -- I still don't get, for instance, the torn-at-the-knees thing with jeans or why it's cool to say "OK?" at the end of every sentence -- I think I have spotted a real trend. Finally.

Ready? Here it is: Americans, I am convinced, are getting up earlier and earlier.

I got my first inkling of this when -- for reasons I'd rather not divulge except to say it's a wise person who never runs out of cat food when she's about to leave on a weekend trip without her cats -- I wound up at the neighborhood supermarket at 5 o'clock. In the morning!

There, where I expected to find empty aisles and lineless checkout counters, I was shocked to find instead many dozens of people shopping and milling about. I watched as in a dazed, Stepford-People kind of way, they threw groceries into their carts. Stunned, I asked several of them why they were shopping at 5 o'clock. In the morning!

The majority responded that it was part of their usual routine. That it was the only time they had available for grocery shopping. (A very small minority, incidentally, did cite "cat problems" as a contributing factor in their pre-dawn shopping.)

Driving home at about 5:45 a.m. I noticed small but significant numbers of people on the streets. Running. Jogging. Walking. Skipping. Others, carrying little duffel bags marked with such names as Nike and Adidas, were getting into their cars.

Later, at the workplace, I queried my colleagues about their morning schedule. Six out of six responded they arose before 7 a.m. Two of the men responded their working wives arose even earlier -- before 6 a.m. When asked why, the following reasons were cited: to swim, to do aerobics, to run, to read the newspapers, to get children ready for the day and, in the cases of the two working wives, to start their workday early so they could end it early.

Once aware of this trend, I began noticing articles and surveys that seemed to confirm this notion of a shift in our morning patterns. Then "CBS This Morning" weighed in with a report on the early-to-rise movement. A survey here, a poll there, and pretty soon from the bits and pieces a shape began to emerge of this eerie, early-morning world. This is what it looks like:

Day-care centers are opening earlier so that parents can drop off their children earlier. Traffic jams begin an hour earlier than they did a decade ago. Television news shows often start at 5:30 a.m., a full hour-and-a-half earlier than they did 10 years ago. Health clubs are opening earlier as more members demand earlier hours. A poll reports that 40 percent of Americans are up by 6:15 and 65 percent arise by 7 a.m. -- a significant rise from figures reported 15 years ago when 30 percent of Americans were up by 6:15 and 51 percent arose before 7 a.m.

There's more: People are dining out at an earlier hour with the result that some restaurants offer a discount after 10 p.m. Room service for breakfast in some hotels now begins an hour earlier, at 6 a.m instead of 7. And in 1991 at least one newspaper -- the Philadelphia Daily News -- began putting out its first edition an hour-and-a-half earlier, at 6 a.m -- just in time to reach those early morning train and bus riders.

So, you're probably wondering, why are we becoming a nation of early risers? Well, according to studies done -- and anecdotal material from anyone who was willing to talk to me -- here are the four major reasons: more babies, more working mothers, more people growing older and more people making longer commutes to work.

But -- you probably want to know -- isn't this up-at-dawn lifestyle making everyone sleepier? Are we as a nation in danger not only of a budget deficit but of a sleep deficit?

The answer is: No. See, what's happening is everybody's going to bed earlier. That's why you hear so many people calling in their dogs at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. And why so many TV stations are moving their news programs from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. And why restaurants . . .

But . . . ZZZZZ . . . that's . . . ZZZZZZ . . . another . . . ZZZZZZZZZZ . . . column.

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