Sunday, May 6, 2012

Night Life

So, I was reading this blog post the other day, and it was full of mostly good advice, but then I hit this statement:

Do the most important thing first in the morning, ...

And I thought: spoken like a true morning person.

If I tried to do my most important task of the day in the morning, every day would start disastrously.  Assuming I could manage to even remember what the most important task was.  Which, most likely, I couldn’t.

Because I’m a night person.

Now, for many many years, I’ve had a theory that the difference between a night person and a morning person is the ability to roll over and go back to sleep.  I think we all wake up at various and sundry ungodly hours of the morning.  It’s just that some of us have the good sense to look blearily at the alarm clock and say “fuck that shit!” and drift right back off.  Well, I say “good sense” with tongue planted firmly in cheek; the truth is, I’m lucky enough to have the physical ability to do that.  I’ve known people who simply cannot.  Once their eyes open for the first time in the morning, they’re done for.  May as well go ahead and get up, because there’s no way they’re going back to sleep.

I tend to sleep late.  Consequently, I stay up late.  My friends who are morning people all get up early.  By the time midnight rolls around, they’re exhausted.  And I’m just getting started.  So, there you have it: instant explanation of morning people vs night people, based on simple physiology.

Of course, we don’t have to trust my pet theories.  We have a whole Internet to consult.  Sure, I could point you at loads and loads of articles and blog posts.  I could tell you that your morning or night tendencies are called your “chronotype,” that it generally changes as you age (you’re most nocturnal during your teen years, and most diurnal starting somewhere in your 60’s), that some scientists say that instead of two types (morning people and night people), there are three: “larks” (from their habit of annoying chirpiness in the mornings), owls (obvious), and hummingbirds (somewhere in the middle / a little of each, from the practice of flitting from one end of the garden to the other).  I could tell you that, being a night person, I’m supposedly smarter, more creative, and that both my mood and my physical strength increase throughout the day ... and that I’m supposedly less reliable, less punctual, less proactive and therefore less likely to succeed in business, more emotionally unstable, and more prone to addictions.  At least compared to you morning people.

But screw all that (although most of that stuff is true, in my experience).  All it really means is that I’ve spent quite a bit of my life working out how to avoid having to be at work early in the mornings.  And, mostly, I’ve succeeded.

You see, us night people are hard to wake up early, and, even once we do wake up, we’re groggy, grumpy, and pretty well useless.  I’ve had to be at work early before, of course—I haven’t led a charmed life or anything—and I can tell you pretty much exactly how it goes.  I spend the first few hours concentrating on being physically present, staying awake, and responding in a more or less coherent fashion.  That literally consumes all my brainpower.  Then I eat lunch, then I fall asleep at my desk.  I generally wake up just in time to start wrapping up for the day.  When I have to be at work early, I basically accomplish nothing, except theoretically satisfying mid-level micromanagers who think that a body in a chair is the epitome of employee achievement.

This is not my fault, as near as I can tell.  It’s just the way I’m wired.

Of course, those articles will tell you that your chronotype, like so many aspects of your personhood when it comes to questions of nature or nurture, is a bit of both.  You have genetic tendency towards one or the other, as you may have a genetic tendency towards alcholism—but the latter doesn’t mean you’re doomed to become an alcholic, and the former doesn’t mean you’re stuck being awake at 4am (one way or the other).  But your genetic tendency toward alcoholism may very well be so strong that you’d better not ever start drinking, and your chronotype may be so firmly set that you’ll only ever have limited success changing it.  I know I certainly have.

I don’t think you “larks” (or even you “hummingbirds,” if such things truly exist) have any concept what it’s like to be an “owl.”  I get the impression that you think we’re just lazy.  We should just drag our sorry asses out of bed a little earlier and stop whining about it.  Ah, would that it were so easy.  Back in the days when I used an alarm clock, it was utterly ineffective.  I’ve tried multiple alarm clocks.  I’ve tried placing the alarm clock across the room.  I’ve tried using an radio alarm clock tuned to a type of music that I can’t stand (country, in my case).  Nothing works.  Yes: I can get up, cross the room, and turn off the alarm clock—in my sleep.  Once, I was crashing for a few weeks in the dorm room of two friends of mine (this was the college years, so we were all owls at that point).  One of my friends bought an alarm clock that was so loud and strident that it sounded like a fire alarm.  The first time it went off, we all lept out of bed, terrified—it was that bad.  After a week or so, though, we began to sleep through it, and eventually the real fire alarm went off in the dormitory ... and we slept through that too.

During the years when I ran my own consulting company and mostly worked off-site, I gave up on alarm clocks completely and just woke up whenever the hell I felt like it.  Generally, this was around noon.  Of course, I was also staying up till 3 or 4am, generally working.  I like to work at night.  I can think at night; my brain is firing on all cylinders.  I can think in the afternoon too ... but only if I slept late enough.  It’s not that I’m requiring more sleep than other people.  I generally sleep around 7 hours a night at this point.  But if that 7 hours ends at 7am, I’m useless for the majority of the day.

From the time I wake up until the time I get to work is about 3 hours.  45 minutes of that is the commute time, of course.  It takes me perhaps 30 minutes to attend to my daily hygiene—shower, teeth, hair, clothes, etc—sometimes longer if I’m particularly groggy, but I think we can safely say that no more than an hour and a half is spent actually getting ready and driving in.  So where does that other hour and a half go?  Well, there’s breakfast, which in the past few years I’ve been successful at forcing myself to eat (when you wake up around 10, it often makes more sense to just wait a couple hours and have lunch for breakfast, although it turns out this is a bad habit, for many medical reasons).  But mainly that extranneous hour and a half is spent just ... waking up.  Yes, it’s literally around 90 minutes—on average—just for me to get into a state where I can function as a normal human being.  I’d like to tell you I spend this time with my family, but the truth is my family knows better than to try to talk to me in the morning.  Fruitless, that is.  I generally get some work done during this time: I find that mindless tasks like answering emails are perfect for this period, when I’m pretty mindless anyway.  But mostly it’s just a really long, extended warm-up time.  Like, you know in the old days, when you’d turn on the television set and then you’d have to wait fifteen minutes before the picture would show up?  That’s my brain in the morning.

I’m actually very fortunate to be very good at what I do.  Even after I stopped working for myself, I managed to find two jobs in a row (8 years now, between the two of them) where people didn’t care that I don’t show up until lunch time.  And that’s mostly because I’m worth waiting for, if I do say so myself.  They’ve learned that the time they see me physically in the office is only part of the time they get out of me.  At night, when the rest of my family is off to bed, I kick back with my laptop, and I get some serious work done.

Right this second, in fact, it’s 10 minutes to 3.  AM, that would be.  Sometimes I write these blog posts during Sunday afternoons, but mostly I like to do them late Saturday night (hey, after midnight it’s technically Sunday, right?).  Unless I have some other work to do.  But I get to stay up late at night, despite having 3 children, because the mother takes the early shift and deals with them in the mornings.  That way, she can go to bed early and count on me to deal with whatever craziness is going on after 10pm.  So, right now I’m finishing up a blog post, true.  I’m also waiting on my daughter to wake up so I can deliver her to her mom.

So I’m lucky to have found a way to live and work much of my life at times when my brain functions best.  I know that many people aren’t so lucky, and I feel for them.  And, then, there’s you morning people.  You will always have an easier time than I do, because the corporate world is geared to your schedule.  As several of those articles point out, there aren’t any sayings about us night people getting the worm.

I suppose I’ll just have to content myself with being smarter than you.  It’s a burden, but I’ll manage somehow.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.