Night owls’ blues

Photo courtesy of Clare Chung

From every motivational speaker to every successful CEO to childrens’ picture books and adult self-help novels, the phrase, “The early bird gets the worm” has been touted throughout all our lives as the decisive key to productivity and ultimately, success.

Inherently and rather severely, the analogy suggests that the birds who wake up late won’t be getting any “worms” of success — an implication that has long unnerved me and many other night owls alike.

The proverb itself dates back centuries but the notion that early risers are simply put, “better,” has always triumphed in popular culture and societal values.

Even Benjamin Franklin’s famous words, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” reflect this sentiment of attributing waking up early to morality and prosperity.

But I, and many other owls, remain unabashed about our 3 a.m. bedtimes. What is the point of waking up at 6a.m., knowing my work will be unproductive at that time of day anyway?

Is it really so terrible to do homework past midnight, when my energy levels are at their highest? When my internal clock seems as natural as breathing, how necessary can it really be to change it?

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to sleep, but scientists can generalize people’s sleeping patterns as a reflection of their inner circadian rhythm.

More recent research shows that this is largely genetically based. The factors determining someone waking up early, sleeping late and everything in between is heavily limited to the way we were born. One’s circadian rhythm manages sleep and waking times as well as different energy levels throughout the day.

This affects other aspects of well-being including mental alertness, stress and mood levels. Therefore, syncing a body’s circadian rhythm to its daily routine and schedule can be essential for motivation and productivity. With this understanding, managing a personal circadian rhythm is much more important than the general concept of “waking up early.”

While this may be helpful for people who naturally suit that lifestyle, it is not the ideal for most people. There has always been much discussion about whether being an early bird or a night owl provides more genuine health benefits. Some studies show that waking up early is better for metabolism and mental health. Others suggest that people who sleep later are smarter and more creative. No matter the supposed pros and cons of each, the more pressing issue of this everlasting debate is the perception of night owls in society as lazy or just ill-suit- ed for the early morning structure of capitalistic society.

From school start times to 9-5 jobs, early morning routines dominate the world in terms of school, the workplace and social events, all unavoidable. Night owls who are forced to fit within that structure rightfully struggle with this issue.

The associated laziness and passiveness of late risers are a product of exactly that and not a reflection of their personalities or intrinsic ambitions.

Whether a night owl or an early bird, people can agree that the most important thing is getting the right amount of sleep. Quality sleep is an essential part of one’s lifestyle, and also the one that is most often forsaken.

Doctors recommend at least 7-9 hours a night. Being consistent with a nightly routine is also important, as this can disrupt that natural mental and energy levels in the body.

As a night owl, I know that sleeping well, albeit late, is the way for me to be the most productive and healthy. After all, do owls even like to eat worms?