My Grand "Morning Person" Experiment, But I'm a Night Owl

by Paul on October 13, 2019

I recently completed a grand personal experiment regarding sleep cycles, and I have the sneaking suspicion that most perpetual morning people truly don't understand why some of us feel the need to start the day a little later. I hope this blog post helps us early birds and night owls see what it's like to walk in each others' shoes.

You might've seen a boss or two counting employees in their seats when the day starts, or maybe you are that boss. Often times these leaders carry a possibly subconscious belief that warm seats at 9am means productivity. I don't blame them for wanting to make sure everyone is being productive and not slacking off. It would be infuriating if employees were intentionally taking advantage of workplace flexibility, but perhaps there is some misunderstanding. And perhaps the "warm seats" criteria is misguided.

Night Owl
Keeping an eye out for those early birds. — Image derived from photo by Philip Brown on Unsplash

If you're a bit more of a night owl like me, that means your sleep/wake cycle puts you to bed later. That's your circadian rhythm. So unless you're one of those superhumans that functions on less sleep, getting into your seat early means you're not getting enough sleep. And then you're probably not being as productive as you could be.

Here are some options I thought of to help sleeping while the sun is down:

  1. Move to Mars and get an extra 37 minutes each day.
  2. Hop on a cruise around the world sailing west to increase the day lengths.

These plans are a bit grandiose and unrealistic, so maybe we just need to understand our sleep pattern differences a little better instead. And I think my sleep cycle experiment sheds some light on this discussion.

My experiment involved massively disrupting my sleep cycle and living as a morning person. But let me preface with some background information first. As long as I can remember, I've been a night owl. I could temporarily adjust this, but I generally felt like a day should be 25 hours. So within a few days of starting my day early, I'd be back to night owl status. I'm fairly sure I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), which basically means my sleep period is delayed. And clearly I'm not the only one because according to Stanford Health Care, "the prevalence of DSPS among adolescents and young adults is approximately seven to 16 percent".

Recently I was falling asleep later and later until it all came to a head when I was still wide awake at sunrise for a few days.

So I take action! And action means staying up even longer where my new bedtime will be late afternoon. As this all begins, that means I'm now waking up not long after midnight. Aha! I've beaten all the morning people at their own game!

This heavily confused my body, but each day I was waking up ridiculously early. And I felt incredible as I got up, which was a foreign feeling to me. I was ready to conquer the world, so I'd get working, and when the gym opened up at 6am, I was pumped up!

I got a glimpse into the world of a morning person. If I felt that great every morning, of course I'd join their ranks. That's the part where I think there is a giant misunderstanding between morning people and night owls. Night owls usually surge at night rather than the morning, and it's hard to understand the other side if it's not your reality because you've never experienced it.

You might be wondering why my experiment ended if I felt so great. Well, I left out some information. Even though I felt great in the morning, my rapid sleep cycle change was giving me afternoon headaches probably similar to jet lag headaches. The headaches were mostly just for a week. Also, I tried to hold on to my new position as a morning person as long as I could, but my seemingly 25-hour sleep cycle meant I was going to bed later and later until I was just a normal person again.

Overall, the experiment lasted about a month. This helped reinforce my belief that we should all try to be productive during our own peak hours, which might not be the morning.

If you're beginning work at 10am, noon, or later, you might expect to see a disapproving glare or two from self-proclaimed early birds. There's nothing wrong with being an early bird, but that doesn't fit the bill for everyone. We don't all have that morning surge that I experienced, which was temporarily incredible. Starting late in itself doesn't mean you've already let the day escape, but maybe end your day a little later too. If your work is flexible, you don't have to work all your hours back to back either. Regardless, keep in mind everyone you work with, which means finding times to collaborate.

The largest bit of advice I could give to morning people is to remember that night owls don't feel as great as you do in the morning! But they'll be hitting their peak later in the day.

Got any advice to help us night owls?

Once I got back to my normal schedule, I wasn't amped to go sleepless until sunrise again, so I started looking for options. I didn't want to get hooked on any sleeping pills, so I avoided those.

I researched about melatonin, which is a hormone our bodies produce that regulates our sleep cycle. But this hormone is suppressed by blue light, which is now artificially prevalent at night as we all stare at our computers, phones, and tablets. There's a good chance you've heard of "blue light blocking glasses," which will limit the amount of blue light you are exposed to. Some lenses are clear and some look yellow. I've given those a shot, but not to great success. They may work for others though.

You can also take melatonin supplements, and that has been quite beneficial to me. The idea is that it is more natural than alternative sleep aids since your body already produces it, and it's not supposed to be addictive. I may not be getting to bed as early as some, but the sleepless nights seem to have ended.

I'm not saying we should consistently sleep in, but it is normal for different people to to sleep at different times. Remember that sleep is beneficial for your overall health.

So go be productive during your peak hours!

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