On not being a morning person

There are certain things that I do each day, part of the semi-routine I have going. Reading is a habit of mine, and I read everything from online op-eds to large historical accounts. Recently my online reading has been overrun by individuals telling me to be successful, I have to wake up at 5 a.m.

Articles, full of information on what I must do to craft the perfect morning routine for my success. But how do they know that this is the only path to success? They will point to the well-known millionaires and billionaires who are early risers. But they only share the ones who wake up to greet the dawn, and who swear that is their secret to success!

This is all complete rubbish if you ask me. There are scores of successful individuals who don’t wake up early. Self-proclaimed night owls that are more productive with more “Aha!” moments in the quiet hours of the night.

  • Cynthia Ozick (novelist)
  • James Joyce (novelist, poet, teacher, and literary critic)
  • Simone de Beauvoir (writer, philosopher)
  • Fran Lebowitz (author, speaker, actor) – Told Vulture that she is a night owl by disposition.
  • Winston Churchill (politician, writer, Prime Minister)

Just to name a few. This list of both famous and successful night owls could go on…

So, why the overwhelming fascination and constant pressure to be an early bird? Why must we all believe that to be successful we must conform and build a morning routine starting at 5 a.m.? While this might be the populist opinion that the path to success is to be a morning person, I disagree.


“I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one.”

Simone de Beauvoir

I am not alone in my biological clock being topsy-turvy.

From the time I was 3-4 years old I was more comfortable and alive at night. I can recall many nights after my parents put me to bed, I would lie there waiting for them to go to bed. I was one of those kids hiding with a flashlight under the covers reading. But I wanted to be up, out of bed, doing things. So, once my parents were fast asleep I would crawl out of bed, collect a few books and some toys, and head off to a corner of the house where I wouldn’t wake anyone else.

Often I would fall asleep in whatever location I had spent my evening. My parents would find me in a nest of blankets, toys and books, in the morning. Now they love to tell stories of finding me in the kitchen, the bathtub, in a closet. It is humorous to them. I’m not sure why I chose the different areas of the house, moving about, a different spot every night. I grew out of the nesting as I got older. I was always the misfit, the black sheep of the family.

Before I started elementary school, I would also fill my nights with various shows I had my Mom help me record to VHS during the day. I preferred to spend my days outside playing. My Mother was a saint. I don’t know how she put up with me and all my demands. Not only did she have to assist me in recording my shows, but I was somewhat of a picky eater. She also spent much of her time doing laundry, mostly mine. This was because I hated being dirty or sticky. I would play outside, get dirty, come in crying until she bathed me and put me into clean clothes. This happened multiple times a day. But on that another time, perhaps.

My point is, I have never been a morning person. Like Fran Lebowitz, I am a night owl by disposition, since birth. Over the years I tried to be, and when necessary, I have been able to adjust when I wake up. Every winter for three years I had to wake up at 4am to be to work by 5am. But this is not something I prefer to do, it simply doesn’t come natural to me. And you can forget seeing a smile on my face that early in the morning, even if I am in a good mood. My face muscles don’t operate correctly until after 8 a.m.

Now that I no longer need to wake up early I have gravitated back to my natural sleeping habits. Finally accepting and embracing my internal clock. I now go to bed between 2-3 a.m., emerging after, hopefully, seven hours of sleep, stumbling around, trying to make my way to coffee. Normally I don’t eat breakfast.

It’s not when, but how long, and the quality of sleep that matters.

The recommended sleep time for adults is 7-9 hours. Personally, I need 7 hours of sleep in order to function like a normal human being. Any less than that and I am worse than a walking zombie. My thoughts, scrambled, and forming coherent sentences, challenging. Over 8 hours of sleep and I turn into a cranky beast with the worst headache that no amount of coffee or Tylenol will cure.

We spend around one-third of our lives sleeping, and quality sleep is necessary for our survival. Understanding how sleep affects our brains, and the rest of our bodies is important.

Today it is acceptable, expected, and praised for “successful” individuals to operate on little sleep. Getting as much work done as they can. Being available 24/7 is commonplace. For me this didn’t work out well. Lack of sleep led to stress which had a negative outcome on my work performance and productivity, but also on my health.

Setting boundaries and reverting to sleep habits that feel natural has lessened my stress and my workload. As someone who works remotely I have found that I am more productive when I work during my peak hours, which typically starts after 1 p.m. My “morning” belongs to me, as do the hours before bed. That is when I feel most creative. It’s when I read, write, paint…

What makes one person prefer the morning and others prefer the night?

Humans are unique, unlike many other mammals we can ignore our biological clock if we want. We can consciously decide if we want to be a morning lark or a night owl. We are not constrained by our circadian rhythm, and our genetics when it comes to our sleep patterns. I have always been a bit curious and have found the science behind this interesting.

My husband is an early bird. He is up at 5 a.m., and by the time I am up, he is taking a break, having crossed off most of his to-do’s for the day. It is common for him to tease me when I finally roll out of bed around 8/9 am bee-lining directly for the latte he is holding that he kindly makes me every morning.

By 10 or 11 p.m. he is usually in bed, or falling asleep in a chair next to me. Which I than tease him about while sending him off to bed and I continue about my night until 2 or 3 in the morning, occasionally staying up until 4 a.m.

My firm belief is that there is beauty, creativity, deep thoughts and ideas that can only be unleashed by those whose minds are restless at night. And  there is so much you can accomplish in those quiet hours when the rest of the world is dreaming. Not that it isn’t true for all you early risers, but I think there is a difference and we need night owls just as much as we need morning larks.

In the end I don’t really think it matters if you are an early bird or a night owl, what is important is to do what comes naturally. You will be more productive, and happier, if you are in your element, your comfort zone.

Whatever your sleep pattern, don’t believe, or promote, that there is only one single path to success. You can be successful regardless of when you get some shuteye.

For me I wouldn’t trade my schedule for the world. I choose to remain eternally a night owl.

2 Responses to On not being a morning person

  1. Louise

    I love this! I’m also a night owl. I’ve tried everything in the book to be more of a ‘morning person,’ and for most of my life just had to be. But it never stuck. In high school I took afternoon naps to make it through. As an adult I would just try to catch up on the weekends. When I just let my natural sleep cycle do its thing, I’m on the same schedule as you (although I think I need a little more sleep than you overall, still trying to figure that out..).

    I think these are just biological differences between people and get frustrated when morning people make it some sort of holier-than-thou thing. Like calm down, this is just a natural disposition difference. Why are you taking credit for something you can’t control and judging others for something they can’t control? Some people were born with the circadian rhythm society applauds and rewards. But there are plenty of professions where being a night owl is actually really helpful, and anyone who isn’t one is going to be as miserable as I was trying to be a morning person. Like the service industry, many creative fields like entertainment, writing, etc. When you go to a concert, usually the performers have to be at their best at times when 5am risers are usually already asleep, like 11pm, midnight…sometimes even later. So they probably can’t be early birds and do their jobs well. Just sayin!

    • Candace Woodbury

      Thank you, Louise! Interesting that when you are on your natural sleep cycle we are the same. A few nights ago I was exhausted from the day, I didn’t feel like I was tired yet, but I told myself to just go to bed and that by going to bed earlier I would get up earlier… but that is not what happened. Interestingly, I slept longer and had a pretty rough day from getting too much sleep.

      I agree that those morning larks are going to be miserable trying to be night owls, especially if they do so for work. It is important for us to embrace our natural sleep patterns. To seek out careers that fit us, as much as we can. I know this doesn’t always work out and we have to do what we can and stop judging each other for it.

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