In Praise of Night Owls

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I am a pariah, a malcontent, lazy, unproductive.

I am a night owl.

If I had my way (and I don’t) nothing would start before 10 am, except maybe a good cup of coffee and some toast. To me, there’s nothing worse than an 8 am meeting. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I don’t write first thing in the morning, when my mind is clear. I prefer to do my writing at night, when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed (I’m writing this at 10 pm).

Yet for some reason, these habits are considered less desirable than those of morning people. We have adages like, “The early bird gets the worm,” and Benjamin Franklin’s famous, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” We have no such praise for night owls. No, “Stay up late and you’ll do great,” or “Sleep well after dawn, and your troubles will be gone.”

We even speak of our sleeping habits differently. Morning people talk with pride about getting up early. “I woke up at 5 am, cleaned the house, made breakfast and finsihed a grant proposal to fund a homeless shelter, all before anyone else is even awake!”

Meanwhile, night owls say things like, “I just don’t do mornings.” It’s more of an apology than a boast.

Yet we need night owls. Without them, who would keep our streets safe at night or tend our emergency rooms or make sure our streets our plowed in time for the morning rush?

It’s hard to say why some people are night people, and some are day people. Research has shown that it a compbination of our biology and our environment, and that it may change over our lifetime. I have two brothers. One is a construction manager. For all his adult life, he has had to get up early to begin his day. For him, sleeping in is 7:30. My other brother is a musician. He has jobs that go into the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, he doesn’t get to bed until 4 am. But while their jobs help dictate when they get out of bed, ever since they were boys, I can remember the one being a morning person while the other being a night owl.

They also both happen to be highly successful in their fields. So much for one sleep pattern being better than another.

Still, the notion persists that it is better to be a morning person. Some studies even show that night owls are more likely to depressed and abuse caffiene. At work, managers tend to see people who come in later as less committed to their jobs.

Finally, however, a study has shown the merits of sleeping later. For years we’ve known that American adults don’t get enough sleep, and this lack of sleep has effects our health and our productivity. Research published in the Journal Sleep (yes, there is a journal about nothing but sleeping) has found that if people get on average of 20 minutes more sleep for every hour later they work. So if someone starts work at 9 am instead of 6 am, that’s an extra hour of sleep each day. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, for some, this also means getting home later. But is that such a bad thing? What’s going on at home at 3 pm that’s so important? Afraid you might miss Dr. Phil?

Yes, the early bird might catch the worm, but who wants a worm anyway?


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