We live in a world that worships the early riser. Think of everything we’re told on the virtues of waking up early.
“The early bird catches the worm.”
“Early-to-bed, early to rise, makes a man… ” (Ben Franklin’s most famous saying)
“Nice of you to join us today” (snarky dictum of teachers and bosses everywhere)
The message is clear: Starting early is the way to get ahead; lateness is ugly as sin.
A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the science of chronobiology, which finds we all have an internal clock that keeps us on a consistent sleep and wake cycle. But the key finding is that everyone’s clock is not the same. Most people fall in the middle, preferring to sleep around 11 pm to 7 am. But many — perhaps 40 percent of the population — don’t naturally fit in this schedule.
There are night owls among us — whose whole circadian schedules are shifted later — and morning larks, who are shifted earlier. (If you’re curious, you can assess your chronotype with this quiz here.) These traits are determined by genetics and are extremely hard to change. What’s more, the research is finding that if we fight our chronotypes, our health may suffer.
But most striking to me wasn’t the health implications of messing with your clock. It was the stigma late sleepers feel in a society ruled by early risers. Simply put: These late sleepers are tired of being judged for a behavior they cannot easily control. If they can’t change their sleep patterns, maybe society should become more accepting of them.
Late sleepers are made to feel like losers
I spoke to several people with delayed sleep phase, a condition that puts people on the extreme end of the night-owl chronotype. These people have a hard time falling asleep before 2 or 3 am, and prefer to sleep until around noon. There’s nothing wrong with their sleep other than that their schedules for it are shifted.