One night last week, I got home around 9 p.m., quickly grabbed a bite to eat, and started to feel very sleepy. It was around 10 p.m. when I decided to go to bed, an unusually early time for me. I couldn’t even keep my eyes open to read a book before dozing off. I had a good sleep — REM sleep with dreams and all — before waking up pretty energized.
There was just one glitch: It was only a little after midnight when I woke up! I got out of bed, knowing I wasn’t about to fall asleep again any time soon. I attended to some work before hitting the hay at around 3:30 a.m.
I have been a night owl for as long as I can remember. By this I mean going back into my early childhood. I loved being up late at night when everyone else was asleep. Very early in life, I began thinking, the night is mine!
Throughout my childhood, I associated a later bedtime with independence. Being able to stay up to watch late night TV was especially fun. When a local Chicago station began running Creature Features, a weekly classic horror movie on late Saturday nights, I’d huddle under a blanket in the TV room while the rest of the family slept, hoping that mummies and werewolves would not jump out of the screen.
As adolescence kicked in, my night owl rhythms felt more like insomnia. On school nights, I tried to get to sleep before midnight, but usually I’d fail, and get anxious about it in the process. I’d then listen to the radio, either a music station or overnight talk shows, the latter, I would learn, were the province of other night owls. It made for some tired mornings at school.
In college and law school, my nocturnal schedule actually fit in well with the overall student lifestyle. In fact, during those years I came to understand that I was quite productive during the late night hours. While the proverbial “all nighter” was more an act of desperation (as it is for most students), a steady stream of late night work was well within my productivity zone.
Heh, I’m only somewhat joking when I say that I became a professor so that I could revert back to the schedules of my student days! I am grateful to have such flexibility.
Fortunately, unlike my younger days, I’m able to adapt my schedule much easier than before; when I need to be up earlier, I can do so without much difficulty. But when given a choice, I tend to default back into burning the midnight oil, and then some.
Over the years I’ve read various, conflicting studies over the supposed strengths and weaknesses of “morning people” versus “night people,” but even if they hold some truths, they are aggregates, not determinants of individual traits and behaviors. As I see it, it’s a combination of personal proclivities, wiring, and circumstances, that’s all.
Will I ever flip over and become a “morning person”? I know many people who like to get up early for a head start on their day. I am much more productive during mornings than I used to be, so I can sort of understand. Sort of. Maybe this older dog will learn some new tricks, but for now, it’s likely to be late at night rather than early in the morning.