Hey, leave us night owls alone!

I always enjoy Kyle Michel’s invitations to drop by his office for First Thursday, which is tonight:

I’m reading a book on the science of sleep – fascinating stuff. It seems 40% of people are early-birds, 30% are night owls and the rest are in between. The early birds start getting sleepy at 9:00, but are coming back to life by 6 or 6:30 a.m.. The night owls don’t start to yawn until 11:00 or 11:30 and aren’t really back in the game until 8:00 or 8:30 (or later). And here’s the kicker – it’s wired in your DNA, you can’t control or change how your 24 hour sleep clock is timed.kyle michel

A whole lotta things are starting to make a whole lotta sense. Now, I know why I am always tired when my alarm goes off *every* day and why I’m never really sleepy at bedtime. Now, I know why exercising early in the morning feels terrible before, during AND after the workout. Now, I know why I’m running like a super computer when I make myself leave the office at 6:45 or 7:00.

​Its becoming apparent that there’s a vast early-bird-wing conspiracy against us night owls that makes the world get going as early as it does. Hey! If you can hobble 30% of your competition right out of the starting gates, that’s more gravy on your train in the great capitalist footrace of life! And to heap on the pile, we get tagged with “lazy” and “slacker” because we wanna stay up late, then can’t get out of bed – like we’re all just goofing around all hours of the night and like they aren’t spending that same time drinking coffee, reading the funny pages, and watching the farm report.

First Thursday is kinda like that great capitalist footrace of life, but without the capitalism or the footrace. We start early enough for the conspirators to get back home in time to tuck in by 10, and keep going late enough to keep the owls from thinking the party was a bust.

If you’re out tonight, stop by…. no matter what time it is on your body clock.

Hooty Hoo

I’m more of a nightowl than he is. I discovered years ago that I tended to get my second wind, a new burst of energy, about 10 at night — something that came in handy all those years of working until 2 a.m. getting newspapers out.

I don’t know if that would still happen now. I haven’t tested it lately.

But I know that getting started in the morning is really hard — hard enough that I wonder if it’s healthy. I have a terrible time getting started on the elliptical, which I do for 50 minutes first thing upon rising. The first few minutes are tough. In fact, the first 30 minutes are. But the last 20 goes a lot quicker.

I can go much faster and longer if I work out later in the day. But I like to start out getting a jump on my steps for the day..

Anyway, Kyle is right that the people who are wired toward the morning tend to think they’re somehow morally superior to the rest of us. Which seems to be to be based on very little…

22 thoughts on “Hey, leave us night owls alone!

  1. Doug Ross

    My sleep schedule is normally 12-1 am to 6-7 am. I’m a morning person (thus vastly superior) — I am fully functioning without any caffeine when I roll out of bed…

    My DNA is wired in a way that I don’t ever need an alarm clock (like Jack Reacher in the Lee Child novels). If I know I have to get up at 6, my brain wakes me up at 5:45. And if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can usually guess what time it is within 15 minutes with pretty good accuracy.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My Dad was always that way when he was younger. I suppose it has to do with being a Navy line officer. You get used to rising at ungodly hours and having to go onto the bridge and make decisions.

      The fictional Jack Aubrey is described that way. But I am definitely like his friend Stephen Maturin. Without drugs (mainly antihistamines, but I take several each night, and occasionally an ambien) I don’t go to sleep, and when I’m awakened it’s a terrible struggle to get going.

      Just this morning, I almost let myself stop my morning workout on the elliptical, the first 30 minutes were so very hard. I only kept going because I couldn’t answer the question, “Then when will you make up the lost steps?” That would have started my day more than 6,000 steps in the hole.

      I don’t know if my mornings would be better without the drugs at night. There’s no way to know — if I try not taking them, I’ll be up all night with my nose running like Niagara Falls. But I don’t think it would be much better. Before I got into this particular drug routine — long ago, when drugs were taken only when you got sick, rather than prophylactically — I was never really a morning person.

      This is the body, and the immune system, and the internal clock, God issued me. I cope with it the best I can…

      I wonder: To what extent is there a correlation between people who are so blessed as to be ready to go in the morning, and people who tend to think success in life is totally a matter of one’s own doing and the “choices” one makes?

      I’m not trying to restart that argument, but I’ll bet those two sets of people overlap a good deal…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I often wonder if I’d be a morning person if afternoon newspapers had survived. When I worked at a p.m. paper the first decade of my career, my workday never started later than 7 a.m., and many times began at 5:30. And from the moment it started, I was revving at full speed, making what most people would see as a bewildering array of complicated decisions very rapidly.

        But those papers went away, and I started working at ones where the most intense time of the day was from about 6 p.m. to 10, and the day often stretched to 2 a.m. and even beyond. I don’t think I was ever going to be a morning person the way you are, but the loss of afternoon papers made sure I wouldn’t even get the chance to try…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Mornings are so hard that if I have to be somewhere at a particular time in the morning, I have to get up three hours before, minimum — my workout lasting more than an hour, then showering and shaving and getting dressed and driving downtown, then time for breakfast (the only time I have for reading newspapers).

        So if, God help me, I have to meet someone at 8, I need to get up at 5. Fortunately, I seldom have early-morning meetings…

      3. Doug Ross

        “To what extent is there a correlation between people who are so blessed as to be ready to go in the morning, and people who tend to think success in life is totally a matter of one’s own doing and the “choices” one makes?”

        Well, I think it offers someone more hours in the day to be productive if they choose to. I have always spent a lot of my late evening hours on career related training/exploration.

        And then I read the stories about people who sleep longer also living longer… yeah, so? Would I rather spend more time being productive and enjoying myself when I am 55 or 85? Two extra hours awake every day between the ages of 25-65 is equal to 3 extra years of living in the prime of your life. I’ll take it now instead of in the nursing home.

      4. Brad Warthen Post author

        That question, “Then when will you make up the lost steps?” is a huge driver for me.

        My wife doesn’t understand. She thinks it’s ridiculous that I won’t go anywhere without my phone, and that I want to walk certain courses through our neighborhood because I know how many steps it will give me. She thinks I’m obsessive. But I NEED the motivation of racking up steps on my phone. Otherwise I wouldn’t get the exercise at all.

        And I have a horror of doing a bunch of walking without my phone. You may say, “Well, at least you’re getting the exercise.” But that doesn’t do me a bit of good at the end of the day when those steps haven’t been counted, or in terms of my daily average for the month. The phone won’t let me add those 5,000 steps I missed — even though I DID earn them…

        1. Doug Ross

          My phone app lets me add activities for those times I don’t have it – or if I ride a bike and it doesn’t count steps.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author


            What app is that? Will it work on an iPhone? I’m using the “Health” app that came with my iPhone 5, but if it lets me do that I don’t know about it…

        2. Claus2

          And I have a horror of doing a bunch of walking without my phone.

          Which clip is of you?

    2. Scout

      Oooh, like perfect pitch, for time. That’s kind of cool. I wonder if that is a form of synesthesia? I have number form synesthesia, which is odd and not terribly useful. I do not have anything like your time sense. And I’m not much of a morning person, though I’ve adapted to being better at it through the years.

      1. Norm Ivey

        I had to ask Google about synethesia. Interesting. How does that work for numbers?

        I experimented years ago with tellng myself to wake up at a certain time without an alarm with some success. I couldn’t bring myself to rely on it, though.

        1. Scout

          I have very distinct spatial mental images of number and time sequences. It’s hard to explain. This is how wikipedia describes it “A number form is a mental map of numbers, which automatically and involuntarily appears whenever someone who experiences number-forms thinks of numbers. Numbers are mapped into distinct spatial locations and the mapping may be different across individuals. Number forms were first documented and named by Sir Francis Galton in his The Visions of Sane Persons (Galton 1881a). Later research has identified them as a type of synesthesia (Seron, Pesenti & Noël 1992; Sagiv et al. 2006).”

          For me, the days of the week have a certain shape, and the months of the year, and the number line for plain numbers, and the number line for years, and the number line for ages. They all are very distinct and spatial and 3D. Most of them go up like stairs and often change direction at decades. Kind of like Escher stairs. Except the year and the week are more circular/oval. If you google images for number form synesthesia you can see the crazy shapes that people can have when they have tried to draw theirs. They are all idiosyncratic apparently.

          1. Norm Ivey

            How interesting! Have you ever found any advantage to it? Even a trivial one?

            The closest I have to something like that is a sense of direction. It’s like I have a map in my head and always have a pretty good idea where I’m at. Except in beach towns. For some reason, it gets wonky when I’m in a beach town. I don’t think that’s very unusual, though.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              My sense of direction gets screwed up whenever I’m in a town where I travel primarily by subway. Consequently, I’m all turned around in New York. I stayed in a hotel on Central Park for a week when I was at the Republican Convention in 2004 — the longest I’ve ever been in the city — and for some reason formed the erroneous idea that when I looked at the park from the hotel, I was looking south, and that all the downtown places I’d visited by subway were on the other side of the park. But instead, they were behind me, and I was looking north. Now, any time I’m in that same part of the city, I remain confused.

              Anyplace where I’ve walked or traveled by car, however, I have a good sense of where I’m going. If I’ve been there once, I’ll find it again…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            For me, the months of the year form a sort of irregular oval, viewed from above and from the rough direction of October whenever I’m thinking of the year as a whole.

            For reasons I can’t explain, January-September, or at least August, are jammed together in about half the oval, with the latter part of September, October, November and December having loads of room to spread out across the rest of the circuit…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I have accomplished something remarkable, for me, by getting up every morning since last summer and working out. It’s quite an achievement.

        But it hasn’t made me a morning person. It remains VERY hard. After I screwed up the beginning of my workout this morning — I had failed to hit “start” on the elliptical, so the timer and counter of Calories wasn’t working for several minutes — I almost quit. After starting over, I had to push myself, and push some more, and keep pushing for about 30 minutes before the urge to quit went away.

        I try to maintain a pace that causes me to burn at least 10 Calories a minute — so that, in a 50-minute workout, I burn at least 500 calories (according to the machine’s calculation based on speed, level, and weight).

        That takes practically everything I’ve got to accomplish in the early morning. I’m always behind the pace for the first 20 minutes at least, and pushing to catch up.

        But if I work out later in the day on the same machine, as I sometimes do on weekends, it’s a breeze. I was working out later in the day on a weekend that time I did 671 Calories in an hour….

  2. bud

    I have an iPhone 7. It allows adding exercise activities from a variety of apps. You can even add them on your own independent of the iPhone count. So if you run 2 miles on a known course but don’t want to carry your phone just add it manually.

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