Being a Night Owl in an Early Bird World

By Steve Ingham

Edited by Katy Randolph

The world is not made for me.

The world is made for “the early bird [who] gets the worm.” And, unfortunately, I’m a night owl. That means I am most active starting in the late afternoon and into the wee hours of the morning. I have struggled for years, trying to adjust. I figure, “if I can force myself to get up early and go to bed at a ‘reasonable’ time, I can break out of this sleeping pattern.” WRONG! A common thought is that electricity ruined the human circadian rhythm. Humans were built to toil in the sunlight and go to sleep when the sun set. We are meant to work longer in the summer and sleep longer in the winter. However, Thomas Edison saved my life. If I were alive before man-made light allowed me to write this post at 3am, I would surely die at the hands of my community members due to my lack of energy in the fields… and late night cave painting.

According to WebMD, a condition exists called Circadian Sleep Disorder. The disorder occurs when someone is unable to sleep on a “regular” schedule and includes Jet Lag and Work Shift Disorder.  Basically, this means someone has a disorder when they work at night (try telling that to a 3rd shifter) (2016). A disorder is described as “a mental or physical condition that is not normal or healthy” (Webster’s Dictionary, 2016). According to THE dictionary, working at night is abnormal and unhealthy. The lack of respect nightowls receive is uncanny. Being represented as “abnormal,” “uhealthy,” and “disordered” is a complete stretch of the imagination.

In a study conducted by Dr. Richard Coleman, roughly 10% of people were found to be extreme night owls (NightOwlNetwork.com, 2008). Another 10% were extreme early birds. The other 80% are called intermediaries, who have no preference and/or can function during the day. For those who do not define themselves as night owls specifically, some intermediaries are forced to become night owls due to their commitments during the day. Many people have long to-do lists during the day (school, work, children, friends, family, and any other commitments I am sure to have missed). Those folks are forced to take care of their responsibilities during daytime hours only to have to work at night in order to finish what their commitments require them to. Luckily, I am not a lone nightowl. Not-so-luckily, however, we haven’t banded together to stand up for our rights as equal citizens!

Now I know what most of you are thinking (roughly 80-90% of you): “who cares? Shut up night owls and get over yourself. If there are only 10% of you, then why should the rest of us care?” You should care because America was based on equal voices for everyone, not just the majority (‘Murica!). Everyone has an equal share in the decisions of this nation. I’m not asking to reinvent the business world to revolve around my sleep schedule. All I’m asking is for respect for my creative and intellectual timing.

There is legitimate need for a new thought on how we schedule our days. Stay-at-home employees, self-starters, and international business directly impact the shift in how we schedule our business dealings. However, we still believe that a 9-5 day is the ideal. We want to start our day with a fresh cup of (insert coffee brand here), have lunch at 1 with (or without) our coworkers, and be home to catch the 6 o’clock news. Well, coffee shops are open 24/7, we have switched dinner for lunch, and news is available at our fingertips at any time, day or night.

There has been a shift over the last 40 years where people can work more from home and work at night. Many large businesses such as Apple and Google allow for their employees to work at their own pace and schedule. Their philosophy is that if the employees are contributing consistently, it doesn’t matter when they work, however, small businesses do not have that luxury. They must maintain daily business hours to reach the majority of their clientele

If there are so many of us night owls (10% is a lot), then why do we bother trying to be “regular” people? Are we afraid of our night owlness? More than likely, we’re so damn poor that we look for any job we can take, and most of them are set on a 9-5/8-4 schedule, so we shift. However, our productivity is noticeably less than what it could be. All of us night owls have tried to negotiate our sleeping rhythm into our jobs. We ask our boss to spend a half-day at work and do the rest from home. We set up late-night meetings. We sleep in our offices/cubicles for the first hour we’re there. We fund the energy drink business. We do what we can. It’s not enough. We have to take advantage of our productive times and get things done. Almost all of our careers/jobs can be done at our own pace. I guarantee, if your place of business or work has more than 20 people, then someone else is most likely a night owl. You might be able to team up to keep the office open a little later.

It’s time for us to band together to fight for our right to be productive when we are productive. Now we just need to find someone who is willing to fight for us during the day….