The Night Owl’s Plight

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Being a night owl in an early bird’s world is no easy task. With the traditional nine-to-five work schedule remaining dominant in the United States, all work and school activities seem to be based around an early riser’s schedule. For a not-so-small portion of the population, this societal truth proves difficult in the day-to-day and harmful in the long term.

The Downfalls of Being a Night Owl

All of us who thrive at night have experienced the downfalls of being a night owl firsthand. The nights spent tossing and turning, the mornings spent hitting snooze. The days spent exhausted, the evenings spent energized. The constant struggle to adhere to a sleep schedule that contradicts your body’s natural rhythm is exhausting.

A tiresome life, however, is seemingly the least of a night owl’s concerns. From health issues to poor work performance, a penchant for staying up late has some more serious cause for concern.

According to a study published in Chronobiology International, people who identified as “definite evening types” had a 10% greater risk of all-cause mortality than those who identified as “definite morning types.” Night owls are more likely to experience a plethora of health issues, including diabetes, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders and, most commonly, psychological disorders.

A different study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, concluded that the chances of underperformance at work were twice as high among the night owl population than among early birds.

A Natural Disadvantage?

Despite a night owl’s life seeming to come with countless inherent consequences, these consequences aren’t the direct result of being a late riser. Rather, they are the result of living in a world that is misaligned with their circadian rhythm.

The nine-to-five lifestyle is designed around morning larks. They rise early, work early and sleep early. However, it neglects the significant amount of people who are genetically predisposed to function at night. In an imaginary world, where work begins at 3 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m., morning lovers would suffer in the same way that night lovers do now.

Sleep schedules are more than preference, they are “biological and innate.” According to the sentinel theory, the individual differences seen in circadian rhythms may have advantaged our ancestors, allowing for natural shifts in sleep cycles. This would have minimized the time when all members of a tribe were asleep, providing greater protection from potential threat and increasing the chance of survival.

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What’s a Night Owl to Do?

In an ideal world, people are happiest and healthiest when they live in sync with their natural circadian rhythm. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world and, oftentimes, work schedules make honoring your body’s needs difficult. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t steps that can be taken to survive as a night owl in a morning lark’s world.

Establishing a sleep schedule is essential to survival for a night owl. When doing this, it’s important to be strict with yourself — create a routine and follow it. This routine can be personalized, but it should include a few staples. Avoid caffeine after 4 p.m., put down your screens an hour before bed, read a book or take some time to journal to help you relax. You might also want to wind down with a cup of tea or some bedtime yoga. Most importantly, set a bedtime and stick to it.

While a healthy sleep schedule can help to minimize the consequences of being a night owl, it is also important to honor the times you feel most productive. If this time is 7 p.m., take this hour to finish up some work or be creative. You can relax in the morning or afternoon. By doing this, you will be respecting your body’s natural rhythm — at least to some extent.

Remember to be gentle with yourself. It’s hard to live in a world whose schedule seems to work against you.

Tweet us, @VALLEYmag, with your best strategies for surviving college as a night owl.


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