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A Night Owl’s manifesto

(Another piece of my thoughts about health habits and creativity.)

Do you work late at night? Many creative people do their best work while everyone else sleeps. Swizec Teller, author of Why Programmers Work at Night, explains why some people focus better on “the maker’s schedule”:

Working on large abstract systems involves fitting the whole thing into your mind – somebody once likened this to constructing a house out of expensive crystal glass, and as soon as someone distracts you, it all comes barreling down and shatters into a thousand pieces.

This is why programmers are so annoyed when you distract them.

(It’s so true. DON’T INTERRUPT me while I’m working in my cave!)

Programmers, musicians, artists, animators… I know many who prefer working in the small hours. There’s many reasons why people go against the grain of usual business hours:

It’s much more than a lifestyle choice. In some ways, it’s a fundamental identity for people who have to fight for more respect.

(Denmark has a “B-Society” of night owls, who actively lobby for more workplace flexibility in the post-agricultural world!)

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I’m a night owl. I don’t rise with the sun. I’m not a farmer. I don’t work a 9-5 office job. I run my own business as a productive member of modern society, where I can work any of the 24 hours.

It’s not lazy to wake up after noon. I don’t sleep “too much”. 4AM-12PM is 8 hours of sleep. I work as much as anyone, and it’s OK to love night life. Different strokes for different folks. It’s MY life, MY schedule. Don’t ask me to change. “When are you going to get more regular hours?” Never. When are you going to get more late hours?

It’s not a “bad habit”. My body clock is naturally set this way since I was a kid. I can’t sleep early at night. My highest energy comes at midnight. When I get up early in the morning, it feels like I was hit by a train. That’s not a disorder, it’s socially-enforced jet lag.

Night owls are a minority. From the day we start kindergarten, society is prejudiced against late schedules. Early school hours were concieved to subjugate. Forcing kids to wake early is meant to break their wills, keep them compliant and too tired to rebel. When it causes trouble focusing, they suffer over-medication for ADHD. That’s why sleep experts have been calling for delayed school start times for adolescents. Research shows that night owls do worse in school, but have brighter minds.

We’re born this way. Our circadian rhythms are genetically hard-wired. Evolution has a purpose for it. Back when people lived in caves, we protected the tribe from wild animals while everyone else slept. Someone has to take the night shift. Don’t hate on our lifestyle.

We don’t eat worms. Early birds: I hate perkiness. Don’t wake me up with inconsiderate phone calls in the morning. Leave me alone.

Night owls: Quit your 9-5 job, unplug your alarm clock, and seize the night!

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I’ve often thought that someone should make a night owl app. Like Yelp, for things that are open when everything else closes. They can be hard to find!

Further reading, and quotes stolen from here:

I work late, I’m a Night Owl, and I’m SICK of people waking me up in the morning!
The Few, The Tired, The Proud; Night Owls
People Skills Decoded: Night Owl Lifestyle
DSPD: A Sleep Disorder Common to Plugged-In Teenage “Night Owls”
Natural night owls: Hormones keep teens awake
Night Owl And Early Bird Teens Think Differently
If you want to get ahead, be a night owl: Research suggests being early to rise won’t make you wealthy or wise

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