18 April 2008

Early to bed and early to rise

Dominant western culture sees early rising as a virtue and staying up late as a vice. This seems to have strongly agricultural roots. Back when we lived in a predominantly agrarian society, work was mostly farmwork. A number of important farm animals are early risers, and so farmwork is best done early in the day and during daylight hours.

This, unfortunately, has led to a misconception that the best (and in some people's eyes, only) way to have a healthy, successful life is to get up in the morning, work during daylight hours, and go to bed in the evening. Modern society still expects everyone to do exactly that, even though many of us no longer live and work on farms. Standard school/work hours are between 8-9am and 4-5pm; standard mealtimes are 6-8am, noon, and 6-8pm. Society frowns upon those of us who deviate wildly from that schedule, and deems it acceptable to mock us.

But it wasn't always that way. There's a theory that people in different stages of the human life cycle are adapted to sleep during different parts of the day, such that someone in any group of humans will be awake and alert to surrounding dangers at all times. Teenagers and young adults, for example, tend to be awake all night and sleep all day, while older adults are awake during most of the day and evenings and sleep at night, and our wisest are most often awake in the early mornings with short naps during the day and much sleeping in the evenings. In my opinion it would be much healthier if we stopped insisting that everyone adhere to the exact same schedule - from very young to very old - and let people pick their own optimal cycles for productivity and sleep.

Early to bed and early to rise will make some people healthy, wealthy and wise. Early to bed and early to rise will make others merely sleepy, grumpy and hungry. As a friend said to me earlier today, the truly healthiest way to live is to be happy. Really happy. To do everything in your life the way you want it (provided your chosen life patterns aren't self-destructive).


Janiece Murphy said...


I was a rotating shift worker for years, and as such I could sleep anytime, day or night.

Now that I'm older and on a more "traditional" schedule, I suffer from chronic insomnia.

I think the only blanket statement you could make is going chronically short of sleep isn't good for you.

vince said...

I'm a night owl. Love the night, love the semi-quiet, and usually am more productive then. Because I have clients that do the "easrly to rise" thing, it means I still must get up reasonably early most days. But I generally get a nap in, sometimes two, which really helps.

When I was in the Air Force, I loved the 3-midnight shift. It wasn't unusual for me and friends of mine to head out to New Orleans around work, 'cause New Orleans never truly sleeps.

Brianna said...

Ner knows I, like him, prefer to stay up late and sleep in the morning. And I agree that there is too much assumption that there is something wrong with that. *sigh* I went many years on the 'normal' schedule, school and early working life, and I pretty much slept for three months when I had the chance to try and 'catch up'.

kimby said...

I was on rotating shifts for 13 yrs, but our shifts were days, afternoons and midnights ALL in the SAME WEEK.

I tried working at a job where I started at 4am-12pm. It killed me. What is the big deal about this daylight thing?

I now work strictly midnights..but cram my work week into 4 nights. The rest of the week i am expected to function like a "real" person.

No wonder I am cranky most of the time. (that and i almost NEVER know what day it is)

Michelle K said...

As someone who has, excluding her teenage and college years, always gotten up early, I'd just like to point out that in many ways modern culture is now much more directed towards night owls.

Live music staring starting at 10PM? I'm already in my PJs and yawning. All the really exciting stuff happens around midnight, when I'm already sleep.

Sleep in? Unlikely. Even dark shades let in enough light to wake me up, whether I want to be or not.

When I worked food service I was always tired, because I inevitably had to work at least two night shifts during the week, and that left me short on sleep for the rest of the week. Working a midnight shift was my idea of hell, and I never felt right physically when I had to do it.

So it seems to me that the best thing is to allow people to work shifts that fit them.

Nathan said...

This may inspire a complete post on my own blog, but suffice it to say that when scheduling a feature film, you assume that each day will take longer than planned, so as the week goes by, you'll start each day later and end it later. You may start at 6:00am on Monday, but by Friday, you're starting at 4:00pm and ending at 6:00am.

Start again next Monday. Not conducive to living creatures of any nature.

Janiece Murphy said...

Kimby, I hear you. My "rotating shifts" were the same way.

MWT said...

I've been thinking of moving to a 4-day workweek with 10 hours per day, just to save on gas for one day and also get myself a day off. (At the moment I have two jobs, one M-F and one on weekends, which means no days off.) So far I'm thinking 2pm to midnight on M, T, Th, and F. It remains to be seen how well that works for me...

I've heard of rotating shifts that are in three-week blocks before you move to a later one. Those probably work well, because they take into account that the average human day is slightly longer than the actual length of a day.

I find it easiest to fall asleep with the light of oncoming dawn. It's not time to sleep yet if it's still dark out. ;)

Also, I agree that the standardization of schedule has problems both ways - but with the way things are at present, who'd attend a 2pm concert? They can't because they're all stuck at work...

Megadeus said...

Well, at least you work at a place with flexible hours. Think about how terrible it would be if you didn't.

MWT said...

Yep. I like how I can basically just decide what my hours are going to be. "I think I'll change them to such-n-such for a while" = boom, done. I also think that everyone else should have that much freedom too though, so that it's the norm instead of the exception.

Tania said...

Coming in days late (still catching up with everyone).

I've been a night-owl forever, and I have problems sleeping. John is an early-bird that can sleep while standing in line.

But something I think is neat is that some school districts are changing their schedules so that elementary school starts earlier and high school starts later so that the "normal" circadian rhythms of the age groups are accommodated. Finally, someone is doing some thinking!

MWT said...

About time! I remember when they instituted the opposite change while I was still in grade school - the elementary kids started at 9am instead of 8am, while the high school kids still had to go in at 8am. I think it was to make more efficient use of schoolbusses. Since I was entering high school at the time, I totally, utterly hated that. Glad someone somewhere has finally noticed it might work better the other way around.