The Plight of the Night Owl

morningThis just in: I am not a morning person. Apparently, I never have been. My parents tell stories about me even as a toddler, being notoriously slow to get moving in the morning. It would take me forever to eat breakfast, to get dressed, to be really awake and alert. As a baby, I famously slept through a tornado. In elementary school I remember my mom or dad coming to wake me up in the mornings by tickling my feet, turning on lights, even throwing the covers off of me, and in high school, I remember running out the door, hair sopping wet, pulling my coat on to jump in my dad’s already-backing-out-of-the-driveway car. In University, I didn’t dare enroll in a class that started before 11:30 am. True story.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve had 4 or 10 hours of sleep, I have a hard time waking up early. I’m definitely a snoozer, meaning I set my alarm deliberately about 45 minutes before I need to get out of bed knowing that I will hit snooze several times. I know this seems redundant, and I should just set my alarm for when I need to wake up and simply get out of bed when it sounds in the morning. That seems really logical. Do you think I don’t know that hitting snooze 3 or 4 times in the morning does not result in feeling more rested, and in fact only results in sharpening my subtraction skills? Of course I know that. And I chastise myself for it every day.

Don’t get me wrong, when there’s something important/exciting going on, or I have somewhere important to be like an early meeting, or an event, or there’s someone depending on me, I jump out of bed in the wee hours with something resembling vigor. But, in terms of the everyday, getting out of bed and getting my butt to work waking up, I have a hard time. Like, such a hard time.

I am not a person who has a “morning routine” – you know the people I’m talking about. Maybe you’re one of them. They wake at a time which allows them, like 2-plus hours in which to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, have some coffee, even read a paper or browse through their social media feeds, or even have a conversation with a person. This idea is completely foreign to me. I wake up with exactly (and often not quite enough) time to get myself clothed, apply some amount of make-up to make me look less frightening, varying from a wisp of powder and a few dabs of mascara to a full face depending on time restraints, partially blow-dry my hair (on a hair washing day), grab my lunch (if I’ve been organized enough to prepare it the night before, and even then, I’ve been known to forget it), and get out the door running to the streetcar stop, praying to all that’s holy that there are no transit delays today because I’m already running about 10-15 minutes late.

I think the inclination, in this 9-5 workforce, is to reward the larks (early risers) and punish the owls (those who stay up later and wake later). There is a tremendous amount of guilt and sometimes even shame associated with waking up later. Why is that? I think owls are constantly operating under the (false) impression that we’re lazy. To some people (larks), sleeping “in” until 8:00 or 9:00 is equated to laziness. To me, this is absurd! But, because I work in a corporate office environment Monday to Friday, part of what contributes to my “normal” workday is the expectation that I am in the office to start working by 9:00. I get it, those are the rules, the agreement I entered into when I joined this workforce. All I’m saying is that that idea of what “the workday” looks like, and the (in my opinion) arbitrary assignment of that particular start time doesn’t really work for a lot of us. In fact, there is evidence that the North American standard of the 9-5, eight-hour workday as we understand it is actually torture.

Having said that, I’m lucky (and have been lucky thus far) to work for managers who are pretty flexible about my start time. And on a higher level, the organization I work for values a “flexible work arrangement” culture in general, so it’s not like I’m getting in trouble for rolling in around 9:30-ish every day. But, I have been spoken to about it on several occasions.

Listen, I’m a good employee. I work hard. I’m productive when I’m at work; I’m always willing to put in the hours, and extra hours when necessary. And no one has ever accused me of being dull or dim-witted. It all just boils down to optics, doesn’t it? When I come into the office at 9:30 and join my colleagues who have been there since 7:30 or 8:00, it may seem like (or look like, to those who are watching) I’m “late” or dare I say, lazy or even irresponsible!!! But, I would argue that just because you’re physically in the office at 7:30 am doesn’t mean that you’re working or working any harder (or longer) than me. I’ve worked with a few colleagues who come in that early, and I guarantee you that they’re not so much working and getting ahead in those wee hours as they are having breakfast or coffee with their friends, talking on the phone, or otherwise dicking around on the internet. Just sayin’.

However, I do know a lot of people who say they love getting into the office early because it’s so quiet, and that hour or hour and a half of quiet, when they don’t have to answer to people, when their phone doesn’t ring, when they aren’t receiving emails is golden for them. And I believe them, they’re larks. It’s when they get a tonne of work done, when they can level set for the day, catch up on things, have the time and quiet they need to respond to emails or finish things up from the day(s) before. It’s when they are most productive. I can appreciate that. I have the same moments, but mine are between the hours of 5:00 and 6:30. It’s exactly the same thing, just at the end of my day as opposed to the beginning. But, of the two scenarios, from the outside, which employee looks like the harder worker?

15-daily-struggles-when-youre-not-a-morning-person-2-6048-1398789751-23_bigI would ask you larks who look down on us owls and dismiss us as lazy, unmotivated sloths, what if the “norm” were reversed? What if you were expected to be productive, alert and work hard until 8:00 or 9:00 pm? What if the traditional workday started later and ended later? How would you fare? Probably not very well, because you’re naturally wired to wake (and be alert and productive and are at your sharpest) early in the day and then shut down and get progressively less productive as the day goes on. Just as I’m wired to do the opposite. The science backs it up, guys. And while the lark vs. owl chronotype is actually more of a spectrum than a true dichotomy (like most things in life) it is a real thing, with real consequences.

I like to say that I need to ease into my day. This is true. Again, don’t misunderstand, I’m good under pressure, and I can pull it together when I need to – I’m good at that – so when I run into work with 3 minutes to spare before I need to call into a meeting, I can do it, and I can do it well. It’s just not my preference, or my natural inclination. I have a lot of stamina and energy. I may wake up later than you, but I can work and be productive and sharp all day long and into the night. I think this is why I have the energy to be involved in the many volunteer activities that I am, and to have the abundant social life I have. I have weeks where I have something going on every evening (after a full day of work), and don’t get home until 10 or 11 or even midnight! And I’m totally fine!

I’m sure my energy level and productivity, and to an extent, my sleeping patterns themselves are influenced just as much by my natural circadian rhythm as it is the fact that I am single and childless. Of course there are other, more circumstantial factors when we consider our chronotype and how it may fluctuate over our lifetime. And it is important to understand and consider those factors in order to grasp the bigger picture of what it actually means to be a lark or an owl. But this, just like understanding our personality, is all a part of the never-ending journey to self-awareness. And I happen to think it’s an important milestone on that particular journey.

As much as I understand what it means to be an owl, and the impact this has on my life, and my working life in particular, I kind of resent that “wake up earlier” is a thing that I aspire to. I resent that I have internalized that waking up earlier will make me a better person. It won’t, it doesn’t. But unfortunately for me, the world operates more on the rhythms of larks than owls. It’s just something I have to accept and live with. And I do, obviously. I’m not interested in working a night shift, and I certainly don’t aspire to be nocturnal by any meansI quite like the kind of work I do and I like working for the organization that I do, and I like the general routine and structure of a 9-5, Monday-Friday work week.

Sometimes, I just wish it was more of a 10-6, that’s all.

I’m sure I’ll be giving myself yet another pep talk tonight at bedtime about waking up and getting out of bed when the alarm actually goes off. I’m sure I will feel really good about going to bed at a “decent” time, ready to embrace my inner lark and wake up earlier tomorrow and be grateful for the sense of accomplishment I will feel getting to work earlier and ditching the shame. I’m equally sure, however, that when that alarm goes off tomorrow, I will hit snooze and mutter to myself just 15 more minutes, and then I’m getting up. For real. 

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