I have often heard, “Damnit Steve, quit living like you’re old”.
I will admit it – I keep a schedule that is much more typical of someone who is, shall we say, “advanced” in the years department. I am the kind of person whose body clock is well-honed to the patterns of the sun, and I’ve never really fought against that pattern.
Even as a child, my parents admitted to me one day that I never really had a bed time because they knew that I’d go to bed on my own once I felt tired. They had always set an arbitrary “bed time” of 10pm, but I was in bed a little after 9pm most nights. Contrary to how my brother operated, I never forced myself to stay up simply because it wasn’t my predetermined bed time.
Just like the majority of our ancient ancestors, I tend to rise with the sun in the morning and begin getting tired once the sun goes down. Typically, both my wife and I are in bed by around 9pm every night and we’re up by 5:30am during the week. Our idea of sleeping in on the weekends is maaayyyybe staying in bed until 6:30 or 7am, at the very latest.
And even then, I still find that I force myself to stay in bed under the guise of “extra sleep”. Naturally, I just want to get up and start my day.
I really began to see the benefits of this sleep scheduled after I graduated college. Commuting into an office for a living, the last thing that I wanted to do is drive home in the dark. When the sun goes down, my body clock is telling me that the day is almost over. But alas, I just got off of work! The day is almost over? What a waste.
And so, I have always gotten up early – at the butt crack of dawn, to get my day started and my job-related duties over with as early in the day as I possibly can, leaving a good majority of the day ready for the tackling…sun and all! Seriously, my body clock is damn accurate, and steadfastly determined to get my ass out of bed nearly at sunrise every day, whether weekday or weekend, and regardless of where I happen to be in the world. In a way, this is both good and bad, but I believe it’s more on the good side.
On our honeymoon in Hawaii, both my wife and I were ready to escape the sheets soon after sunrise each day – and not just because, well, we were in Hawaii and wanted to enjoy the beach. It was much more basic than that. Simply, we just were no longer tired. The sun was up, and so should we.
Is there any science behind this?
The more I looked into my sleeping patterns, the more interesting things became. What this whole topic comes down to is your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s tendencies to sleep, and how much rest and relaxation you truly need from day to day. Some people just don’t need the neatly-packaged 8 to 10 straight hours of sleep every night, a theory that has been drilled into us for decades. Some need less sleep, while others need more.
Research has found some interesting differences between early birds and night owls, though I don’t know how useful all this really is. For example, this study found that night owls, or those who hit the sheets much later at night, tend to report higher levels of stress. Or how about this one, which found that evening types tended to be more neurotic, while morning people tend to be more conscientious. This study claims that night owls appear to be more narcissistic and Machiavellianism than early birds.
This Forbes.com article talks about various studies that appear to suggest that early birds get better grades in school, are more proactive and optimistic and even enjoy less hectic commutes into (and away from) work, effectively beating the more heavily congested hours of the day.
Note: Try this Google search for “early bird vs. night owl” for some interesting reading.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how much of this that I truly believe. I certainly did not base my early birdness on any study. Instead, it is what worked for me over the course of many years. I never really felt the need to stay up until the wee hours of the morning.
Interestingly, a very small percentage of people are true early birds according to a LifeScience.com report. And granted, changes in people’s hormonal levels, and the need to fit into society, tend to have significant effects on people’s sleep patterns especially during high school and college. I suppose my refusal to let social norms get in the way of my preferred sleep pattern is why I did not have all that many friends when I was younger. They all wanted to go out and do stuff at 10pm. Screw that.
Which one is better?
Is it “better” to hit the sheets early and get up early? Hell no! Personally, I do not believe that there’s any right or wrong way to manage your sleep pattern. Everybody is different. We all maintain our own special little lives in this world, and what works for some may not work so well for others.
I would say it is better for me. I really enjoy getting my day started as early as I can and getting right to work. By noon, my work day is almost over and I have the entire afternoon to truly make the day my own. To me, there is something satisfying about putting in a good day’s work by 2pm. I feel like my productive working hours are far and away maximized to the fullest with this schedule.
The real problem is after the sun goes down, I am much too dependent on technology for my entertainment. I can’t go outside and frolic around in the street (or, rather, I “shouldn’t”) — though, the photography sure can be pretty darn cool. I tend not to swim in the pool due to both the quality of light and the temperature of the water at that point. I certainly won’t pick weeds, trim the hedges, clean the gutters either. At night, I feel like I am stuck inside, leaving me to depend on stuff like computers and the television for my entertainment.
That’s the last thing that I want.
Instead, I need to get as much as I possibly can done during the day when the sun is brightly shining. Then, once the sun goes down, I can truly wind down and relax knowing that my day has been productive and filling. Once the sun is gone, it’s my time to just chill. The day is done. Responsibilities are over. Now, let’s just enjoy some relaxation before bed.
What about you? Are you naturally an early bird or a night owl?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.