You’re usually the one up first; you’ve done a workout already, had some breakfast, showered, and are reading a book with a cup of coffee when your loved one stumbles down the stairs in their dressing gown, sleep in their eyes still, yawning like crazy from being up until 2am the night before.
Of course these are somewhat exaggerated versions of an early bird or night owl, but maybe we still recognise ourselves as mostly one of the two?
But what are these figures of speech? Simply put, ‘early birds’, or ‘morning people’ are people who rise easily and are more active in the morning hours, whereas ‘night owls’ seem to function best in the evening/early hours of the night. It all has to do with our natural 24 hour sleep wake cycle, which is dependent on many factors but particularly on dark/light cues from our environment.
For a long time now, I’ve heard mostly envy from those that just never can seem to get up in the morning; wishing they were up in those early hours of the morning, cashing in on those quiet hours of productivity before the rest of the world even begins to stir.
Early birds are praised for being more in tune with our natural sleep cycles and being more productive, whereas night owls are seen as lazy and unproductive. There seems to be some kind of binary in how we view our natural tendency to sleep… Early = good, late = bad.
There’s even research that suggests that students that are considered early birds get better GPAs overall!
In Defense of the Night Owl
However, when we look at how society is structured, we begin to see why early birds might be favoured in the first place.
If we think about it, most jobs are 9-5s; school starts even earlier. Society’s engrained routines/ cycles favour those up early rather than those up until late at night.
Now of course, there are plenty of reasons for why society is structured this way I’m sure, but I want to focus on how this means night owls have quite a disadvantage a lot of the time!
Take a group of notorious night owls = teenagers. With their brains being restructured, their bodies growing, going through all sorts of hormonal, interpersonal and social changes: teens are a sleepy bunch. Yet, most schools don’t accommodate this well recognised shift in student behaviour.
We can see this on a broad scale too, there’s not much room for variation in wider society either for those that don’t fit the mold.
Of course, we’re not talking about real discrimination here, but we can’t forget that sleep is vital – a basic human need. With less sleep, we see greater mental health issues as well as adverse health issues.
So whilst on a mass scale there may not be much we can do about this (there probably won’t be a shift of this kind any time soon…), maybe knowing that the clock that the world runs on is not designed with you in mind, can take away some of the guilt, shame and envy you feel about not being the early bird. Just a thought from a fellow night owl.