Monday, July 26, 2010

Night Moves

Small plaque on my desk:  “’Not a morning person’ doesn’t begin to describe me.”

I have always been inclined to sleep late in the morning and stay awake late in the evening.  As a child that meant that I was dragged out of bed for school and went through the first part of the day in a fog, then read beneath my covers with a flashlight long after my parents had called lights out.  As a college student, I scheduled my classes around the hour of the day, ideally nothing earlier than an 11 o’clock; then I could be found at 3 or 4 a.m. in the study lounge working on a reading assignment or paper.  Once I entered the workplace, of course in some cases I had to force myself to adapt to my employers’ schedules.  The result was either that I napped after I got home before resuming my evening, and/or that my mental health suffered from lack of sleep.   One of the most challenging periods was when I worked as a temp at NBC, for a while at the Today show’s Washington, D.C. studio, where I had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. in time to welcome dignitaries to the studio.   This unfortunately coincided with a period I was dating a guy who didn’t get off work till 10 or so, so we’d head out to disco at 11 after I had my aptly named disco nap.  Talk about burning the candle at both ends!

Having to get up early never made my body clock shift to falling asleep earlier.  The only exception was when I had an infant, and I was so profoundly exhausted all the time that I could barely wait for him to nod off at night before I followed suit.  The sleep deprivation then was, I am sure, a major cause of my postpartum depression.  Now, when I’m forced to get up very early for a flight or something, I actually feel nauseous and jittery, just plain bad. 

Our schedules are artificial now, rooted in a time when we woke with the sun to work the fields.   Even telework and flextime still revolve in an orbit around the “norm” of 9-5.

I firmly believe in following my own biorhythms, and doing so puts me at my best both for work and for life in general.   Working from home now for 13 years, the last few with no child to get up and get off to school, I’ve been better able to do that, and have been extremely productive that entire time.  Yes, I might still be working when other people were having their dinner and settling in front of the TV for the night.  I’m also able to do business after hours with professionals and small business owners who can’t come to the phone or check their emails during their own peak customer hours.  And I’m still at my desk during the middle of the day with plenty of hours matching up with those who put in 9-5. 

Friends and acquaintances either make fun of my schedule or they secretly or not-so-secretly judge me for it. They call me at 9 or 10 a.m. even though I’ve asked them not to, but why can’t they remember this if I can remember that they, for example, don’t want to be called after 9 on a weekday, or don’t want to be called while putting a child or grandchild to bed.    But 9 or 10 a.m. is normal business hours, they exclaim!  Well, how would they like it if I called them when I’m wide awake at 1 a.m.?  And yes, if you are a friend who calls me at 7 a.m. I might entirely obliterate that call from my memory and question any commitment I made during that call. 

Who is to judge that being a morning person is better somehow than a night owl, that the quality of the early morning hours is somehow inherently better than the quality of the middle of the night? I love the sun, I just love it more in the afternoon and as it sets than as it rises.

Other countries are more civilized, institutionalizing napping, the siesta.  I seem to remember five or ten years back a flurry of scientific, media and corporate interest in napping being a desirable addition to worker productivity, but alas, that has long since been buried.  A human being’s sleep, after all, is not the concern of an institution, a company whose only goal even before the economy tanked was to do more with fewer people and in less time.  I’ve always been a maverick, bridling at the idea that the hours you put in were more important than the results you achieve.

Creative people are often at far ends of the spectrum, rising early to work before their kids wake up, for example, or like myself having second winds long after dark and creative bursts of energy into the hours where if we all lived together we would meet our morning person counterparts in the hallway, we falling into our beds as they bounced out of theirs. 

Though I had in the past year or so largely switched to using my cell phone except for business, I am now questioning that.  I have come to rely far too much on caller I.D. to protect my privacy, and hate being wakened before my alarm goes off by some doctor’s office confirming an appointment 2 days from now or something equally annoying.  I try to remember to stick to my own rule of not picking up my cell unless it shows a name, meaning someone in my address book, but I forget far too often and always regret it.  So I give more and more people my work number, where I can screen away distractions coming at the wrong time.  (And don’t have an extension in my bedroom!)  I just don’t like being accessible 24/7, is what it comes down to.  Especially on the early side of that 24.  


  1. Well, I can see by the time that you posted this, you are indeed on your late-body-clock routine. I too am struggling with a body that insists on being a night owl, but needs to conform to people who insist on 9-5. Having just returned from Europe, I'm even more screwed up with a 6 hour time now being breakfast in Belgium ...I'm wanting cereal! :) I think we need to make some sort of device that lets us know when friends are awake and receptive to chatting in the wee hours of the night. This post really resonated with me. After Midnight in Mississauga.

  2. I used to be a night person, totally, but something happened. Not sure what, but now I'm up early trying to write (yes, I said trying) before work. I love the morning now. Does this mean my standards have slipped? That I'm ambivalent about my internal clock? or maybe just that I'm getting old? Can eating dinner at 4 p.m. be far off???

  3. I'm all for introducing the siesta........come 6pm I'm a dead woman walking these days.....then I sort of surge during the evening and don't want to go to bed.....