Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lazy night owls vs. industrious morning larks

yawning catIn honor of the sluggishness I feel today, I thought I'd tackle the myth of the idle night owl.

Today's lethargy is part springing ahead à la Daylight Saving Time and part a deliberate change in our schedule to move us up from vampirism to normalcy.

Sam and I have struggled with being awake during sunny hours throughout the decade of our marriage. Before that, school and parents demanded that we rise and sleep at times that were relatively consistent with the rest of the culture, although weekends and vacations always found us sleeping in and staying up late. When we graduated and started working from home, we could set our own schedules, and the schedules our bodies came up with involved staying up further and further into the wee sma's and getting up correspondingly later into the afternoons. Eventually, we would end up catching the sunrise as we irritably closed the curtains on that infernal sun so we could get some sleep.

Good thing we don't suffer from SAD, right?

The only thing that would break our ever-meandering sleep shifts was an event or appointment that forced us to be up during business hours. We would jerk ourselves into normalcy. We'd blink outside and grouse and swig caffeine and joke about what that flaming ball of gas in the sky could possibly be. Then we'd vow that we would use the opportunity to be awake during the day once again — but inevitably we would push our bedtime a little later, or we would be so tired we'd take just a little nap and then not be able to get to sleep till late, and the cycle would begin again. I even started to wonder if perhaps our internal clocks were not 24 hours long but some other variant, because we were never consistent, our bedtime always moving a little later and so our waking time as well.

Then we had a baby. And everyone told us — babies need routine!

I didn't quite believe them. First of all, newborns need nothing like routine. They live by the moment, not the clock. They don't use day planners or schedule out when next to eat or sleep.

Wait for it, the advice-givers told me — older babies, at least, need a set schedule.

I tried. Sam tried. Heaven knows we've tried. But we're not routine types.

This January, one of our New Year's hopes (I won't even bother to call it a resolution at this point) was to Get On A Schedule. We blocked it out in an Excel file in bright colors coded to each member of the family. We followed it for, days. I didn't even get it printed out to hang up, because that required plugging in our old inkjet color printer, rather than the black laser we use for business, and I never got around to it. I guess I should have put that on the schedule.

Well, we're once again trying our hand at waking with the sun's rise instead of with its set, and this time we have motivation.

We're thinking of enrolling Mikko in a German-immersion preschool twice a week for half a day each. I'm still not certain, but I'm excited about the possibility, and that's a blog post or several in itself, so I won't go into it here. I'll just say that I was happy that the German half-day was in the afternoon, because I thought that would fit with our schedule better than the morning Spanish option. Then Sam and I blocked out when his naps would have to go to allow for our evening commitments three times a week, and leaving room for at least one of the three services on Sundays, and we realized — oh, horror, we'd have to get up at 7:30. As in, ante meridiem. I don't like o'clocks that start with seven if they don't accompany dinner.

It also means going to sleep by midnight-ish. Which means no saying, "Just a half-hour more..." to finishing up an email, or a DVD, or a blog post. And it means the time we've carved out for Mikko's nap and bedtimes will have to be sacrosanct. No errands that would encroach on that time, and we'll have to rush back from our evening appointments rather than linger to talk.

We're going to become those parents. The parents whose kids go to bed frick-all early, and who can't do anything fun at night.

We're going to be the type of parents who have a routine. (Well, maybe — you've heard enough now to be skeptical, I hope.)

So, today we started. We went to bed last night at a decent hour, even with the leap ahead. (We were tired anyway, because we'd had to shortchange our sleep Saturday morning to get to the preschool's open house.) We got up today in the dawn light and struggled our way to the early service at church. We drove right home, stopping off at only four quick places (that's good for us) so that Mikko could get back to sleep.

We're all groggy. Mikko was alternately screaming and frenetic all morning and was booted from the nursery (again, another post), and Sam and I feel like we could drop off at any moment. I know it's just the first day, but here's where I'll make my argument:

     Being a night owl does not make you lazy.

There, I said it. No one believes it, though. You don't, I can tell by the way you're reading this. (Do you feel spooked now? I'm right behiiiind you...) I don't even believe it, really.

It's so ingrained in our culture. Industrious people — early birds, if you will — get up and get going. They're up at the crack of dawn and they have the whole day ahead of them, not the whole night.

Night owls are sleepyheads, slow to get moving, bleary-eyed instead of bushy-tailed.

But what the morning larks don't see, after they've toddled off to bed at 8 p.m., is me working my tail off at 3 in the morning. Somehow it doesn't count, though, if you're industrious at 3 in the morning. It smacks of procrastination, as if you really should have done that earlier, but nice try catching up.

Consider this situation and see what your first uncensored thoughts are.

     Person A goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. and gets up at 6:30 a.m.
     Person B goes to bed at 4 a.m. and gets up at 11 a.m.

Which person is lazier? You want to say Person B, don't you? It's there; it's in our culture. People who get up at 11 a.m. are layabouts. People who stay up till 4 a.m. are not to be trusted. They couldn't be up to any good at that hour. Never mind that Person A got nine hours of sleep, and Person B only seven, because it doesn't matter. It's not how much sleep you get that makes you perceived as lazy — it's when you get that sleep.

(For what it's worth, for American up-and-at- 'em-ness, I blame Benjamin Franklin, the Puritans, and Thomas Edison.)

I happened to get seven hours of sleep last night, from 12:30 to 7:30, and it was not enough. Now, 4 to 11 would have been just about right.

If I ever have something to accomplish, I'm much better able to do it if I stay up, even pulling an all-nighter if necessary. If I try to get up early, it doesn't work. First of all, I just goof off for awhile instead of going to bed right away anyhow. Then I can't wake up in the morning and I keep snoozing the alarm. (Note that we can get up sans alarm at 11.) And then I'm not fully conscious for hours after waking. Sometime I'd like to force a morning lark to stay up to finish something just so we can all admit that we have different styles and abilities when it comes to sleeping and waking, and that that's OK.

Funnily enough, my mom realized this even when I was a preschooler myself, because she deliberately chose the afternoon half-day of kindergarten for me instead of the morning, so that I could take my time getting ready, eat a leisurely lunch while watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and then be fully conscious when it was time to interact with people.

All right, that was my insightful rant on night owls vs. morning larks (I'm loopy enough that every thought seems insightful), and a plea for good wishes as we head into becoming normal. Perhaps. Sorta. It would help if we'd maybe given birth to a morning lark, but it's all night owls in this house!

If I were any other animal, I'd probably be a nap-happy cat. Photo courtesy of Andrew Langham.


Arwyn said...

You hardly need to convince ME. We were night owls whenever neither of us had morning commitments. I can't say it was good for my mental health overall, but it hardly made us lazy. (And getting up too early after too little sleep is at least as bad for me, anyway! I guess that'd make my motto neither a night owl nor a morning lark be?)

I also think there are two different issues at play; there are those who wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed whenever they awake, and those who take hours (and cups of caffeine) before they get anything more than muttery and bleary. But that's true no matter the time of day one tends to wake up, it seems to me. I, as far as I can tell, am one who mostly wakes up fast and cheerful, as long as I've gotten my 8-10 hours (and preferably under my own steam -- fat chance with a toddler in the house!), although I prefer that time to be 9 or 10ish in the morning. So what does that make me? A bit of both, I guess, as usual. ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

Well, it seems to me that no matter how much sleep I get, I'm groggier at 7 a.m. than 11 a.m. Maybe there are normal people, sleep-wise (which sounds like lucky you and maybe, you know, most everyone else who manages to function on the day shift), then a minority of distinct morning people and night people. I can get up without an alarm at 11 a.m. even if I went to bed at 5 a.m. I can't get up without an alarm at 7 a.m. even if I went to bed at 9 p.m. It might be psychological, though — I might have trained myself that early morning is sleepytime. Or I might have internalized the cultural pressures that 11 a.m. is very late to be getting up so I'd best get going right away.

Today I woke up at 8, snoozed the alarm till 8:35, then was awake but still didn't manage to get out of bed till 9:30. Yes, almost an hour of being awake but unable to push the covers off. I've had caffeine, a rare treat, and I'm still barely functioning now at 10:30. That doesn't happen if I get up at 11 a.m. Maybe it's partly biological, and maybe it's partly learned, but I hope it's not set in stone, or I'm going to be miserable from now on. Tell me it gets better.

This is off topic, but I can't resist adding — people who pressure us into getting up early for some special thing can't understand that we refuse because we are (or have been) on a schedule where we get up at 11. To go to something that starts at, say, 10, we have to get up at 8. For someone who gets up regularly at 7, that's like saying, well, just get up at 4 a.m. today, which they would rightly find unpalatable. But no one thinks it's an imposition on us to get up at a crazy-early time (for us). Again, it seems culturally imposed as to what times are normal to be awake.

I had a copy-editing internship at a newspaper one summer. Because it was a daily afternoon paper, my shift was 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., which meant getting up at 4 in the morning. It felt wrong to get up so far before the sun. I had the clever idea to just stay up all night and then sleep when I got home from work, which sounded more natural to me, but my mom put the kibosh on that plan. So I went to bed at 8 p.m. every night. You can imagine my social life that summer.

The nice part was being able to see my dad off to work every morning. He's a true morning person, an Indiana farm boy. He willingly and cheerfully gets up before 5 in the morning to putter around doing the dishes and eating breakfast, then takes off for work early. And then he can fall asleep in mid-sentence at 9:30 p.m.

Lisa C said...

I feel like I get more done when I get up early, but I hardly ever do. If the sun is not up, then neither am I. Maybe it is just the discipline it takes to get up early that makes people feel good. Many people prefer the evenings for relaxing and family-time. But then, I often get motivated to be productive in the evenings. What's my point? I have no point. I have no schedule either. I'm just totally random.

Lauren Wayne said...

I agree with that, too. Morning feels like a time you should be productive, and evenings feel like a time to settle down — although usually I get around either!

Up till now, we've had no schedule, and I've really liked it. I mean, sometimes I've felt bad about it and have tried to become normal, but mostly...I've just taken it as it is. I don't know if I can do this routine thing. So far, it's really not working. People do manage it, though, and survive — right? Maybe just not us people.

Kate Wicker said...

I'm a weirdo early bird, but my oldest is a night owl who did not thrive on a routine until just recently. As a baby, I made both of us crazy whenever I'd try to get her on some sort of sleep routine (I never breastfed by the clock, just on demand). However, my second loves her naptime routine. In fact, if we miss it, she comes up to me and says, "Night, night." Who knows what our third will be like?

I think this is one challenge of having a family with several kids (and different parents; my husband is a night owl like our oldest). We all have different body clocks, innate desire for routines, etc. Finding something that works for everyone is a constant challenge.

I just try to be flexible and do my best to meet each of my kids' needs most of the time. Not always an easy undertaking, but I feel like we've fallen into a schedule that works for us...just when Baby #3 is about to arrive!

Oh well. I enjoy how motherhood always keeps me on my toes!

This is a rambling, preggo comment. Sorry!

Lauren Wayne said...

kate: You're right, I didn't even consider what to do if everyone in a family is on a different internal schedule — yipes! In my family o' birth, my dad was the morning lark but the rest of us (mom and three kids) were night owls, to the point that my parents would get bored and finally wake us up late on Christmas morning to open our presents!

Best wishes with Baby #3 and the changes that will bring! I'm sure for awhile, it will just be catching sleep when you can. Here's hoping that Babies #1 & #2 will cooperate in that!

Just as an update, we're still not on our schedule, and today Mikko starts school. Hmm, trial by fire. He'll have to miss his nap today, so it could be interesting. (Sorry you have such lame parents, Mikko!)

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