Night Owls Unite!

I've had dysfunctional sleeping patterns for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was always one of the last ones to fall asleep in my family and would be wide awake as late as 10 or 11 at night. In high school, I took 2-hour naps after school and did homework until 2 or 3 in the morning. Then in university I developed a nasty habit of konking out in a near-comatose sleep for 3-4 hours, waking up around 3 in the morning and staying fully awake for a good hour or so, and then going back to sleep but dozing lightly. I've always been a night owl, and any prolonged efforts to change that have resulted in spaced out mornings or prolonged sickness. During high school, I had to get up for extra credit classes that started at 7:30 in the morning, something I've never had to do since. Is it a coincidence, then, that that was the same year I experienced the worst health of my life, including chronic colds that resulted in a burst blood vessel in my nose and the most horrible nosebleeds for about an hour a day for a month straight?

It was thus with great interest that I read a recent Globe and Mail article that claims night owl behaviour is genetic. Variations in a particular gene that regulates circadian rhythms cause some people to have internal clocks with wake-up times as much as two hours behind those of early birds. (Or in my case, the internal clock seems all over the place.) The article also pointed out a recent workplace trend to accomodate night owls and eliminate some of the office environment prejudice exhibited towards night owls with more flexible hours, etc. Some of this prejudice includes commonly held stereotypes about night owls being lazier or not as productive.

To this I say, "Hurrah! It's about damn time." I've never been able to adjust to the 9 to 5 schedule (which with the crazy Vancouver commutes would require that I get up at 7 for work), and I thank the powers that be every day for my current job and its flexible schedule, which lets me come in as late as 10 am. Nonetheless, I definitely agree with the article in that I still feel as though it's an early bird's world in the workplace and old stereotypes die hard. Regardless of how much work you get done at the end of the day, people are still impressed quite easily by the fact that a person gets up at 5 and is at their desk by 7 in the morning. It lends an image of productivity and keenness that people are reluctant to extend to night owls.

I have met people who even consider being an early bird a bragging right in and of itself. I personally couldn't care less if a person is a morning person or not as long as that person is competent and gets their work done. I'm not an early riser by nature, so I choose to stay in bed a little later, come in a little later (and avoid rush hour traffic--yay!), and just stay later; because I'm not a zombie by 3 in the afternoon I feel I can get more done. If someone else feels that 7 in the morning is their most productive time of the day, kudos to them. However, I do not appreciate proud declarations of what time a person gets to work by, nor do I appreciate the subtle smugness of comments like "You're here early today--for you" when I do make it in at 8 or 9 on those days that I have early meetings I just can't miss.

All in all, I give credit to employers for recognizing that employees are individuals with different schedules, but there's a long way to go before night owl prejudice disappears completely.

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