I’m a night owl who has been trying to kick against the goads. My goal was to get up early so I could walk. And it felt good to get so many steps in early in the day. But the problem was, I was falling asleep by 10:00 p.m. every night.
Switching back to my normal rhythms has made a huge difference. It does mean getting up later, walking later and responding to early texts later but I’m okay with that. With that said, a small part of me does struggle with the perception that early birds can have sometimes toward night owls.
Get up early, they say, so you can get things done!
As a night owl, what I hear them saying is, don’t be lazy!
Wake up and get to work!
Early birds are often exclamation mark people in the morning. They are excited about taking on the day! So they want me to be excited too!
If it were up to me, I’d disable their exclamation mark buttons and go back to sleep.
I don’t really understand the science behind all of this, but to early birds who might think night owls just need to get with the system, I’d offer this information from an article titled The Biology Behind Early Birds & Night Owls by Julia Ravey.
“We all have our own internal clock which generates a circadian rhythm; a reoccurring pattern running on an approximate 24 hour schedule, with periods of rest and rouse. This ticking of this clock is controlled by a ‘pacemaker’ in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus: a collection of neurons in the hypothalamus which are stimulated by the nerves from your eyes. The neurons in this region of the brain use stimuli like light to signal to the rest of your body what time it is; causing actions which drive our feelings of alertness and sleepiness. This includes the release of chemicals like melatonin, which peaks during the night time, and cortisol, peaking as you wake, as well as altering body temperature. Our circadian rhythm repeats like clockwork to make sure you get your 40 winks once a day.”
A WebMD article by Colleen Oakley says it much more succinctly: “If your circadian rhythm is on the long side, you’re more likely to be a night owl. If it runs short, you’re probably an early riser.”
The most important takeaway from all this is the notion that we all have our own internal clock.
Regardless of whether you are a night owl or early bird, as much as possible, listening to your own body, rather than someone who has a different internal clock, is probably the way to go. I especially find that to be true when it comes to slowing down and living deeper.
If I try to adapt to an early bird schedule, I’m groggy in the earliest part of the day and I’m tired in the evening when I’d normally be at my sharpest, so I lose two parts of my day by trying to conform, making my contemplative time in the mornings or evenings the least effective.
I have a friend, an early bird, who gets up at a ridiculous hour every morning. He goes for a run through his neighborhood, then heads to work before I’m even close to thinking about waking up. He says he can’t focus on reading his Bible that early because he’s already thinking about what he needs to do for the day, so he bucks the system and reads it before he falls asleep at night and it reorients him, setting himself up for the next day. That has worked for him for many years.
Let’s cut each other some slack. I’ll do better about kidding people who go to bed early and maybe you early birds can go easier on us night owls.