Ever since high school, I’ve known myself to be an night owl. I didn’t function well in the morning then, and forty-five years later, I don’t function in well in the morning, now. My mother, chipper than chipper in the morning would sing and greet us happily in our kitchen. I barely uttered a g’morning to her as I made my cinnamon toast. Her effusive joy at the start of the day was too much to bear.
On the bus, going to school, my head would bob and sway as I drifted back off into a light slumber. The sudden forward slump of my head would waken me and I would quickly look around to see if anyone saw me nod off. You know how easily teenagers become embarrassed.
Despite this, I was a very good student. I remained attentive and respectful the entire school day, soaking in the newly imparted knowledge my teachers dispensed. After school, I dutifully did homework and practiced my flute. So, what kept me up late?! A boyfriend, of course. I was usually home by an eleven o’clock curfew. But, on a school night, it was probably too late. And, I had trouble settling down to sleep. Mornings came too fast. If I had to be up by 6:15 a.m. to get the bus at 7, I was probably only getting six hours sleep.
In college, I found that I studied best between 10 p.m. and mid-night. I was not a huge partier in nursing school. I worked hard and again was near the top of my class – with a lot of paper writing, outlining, and studying for exams late at night. Without a car until senior year (yes, times have changed), I was stuck on a tiny campus for entertainment which usually meant going to one of two bars or the pub. There was a movie night and frat parties, as well. But, in general, there was a lot of time to study. And, I did – mostly at night. Getting up to make a 8 a.m. class was a luxury compared to 4:30 a.m. when we had to get up to go to clinical via bus, completely dressed in uniform whites and fed by the dining hall which opened early to serve us.
My first jobs required that I worked nights. I was an intensive care nursery nurse and worked 12 hour nights. Days were reserved for those who had become fixtures in the department. And, evening shifts didn’t ever appeal to me. This was fortunate because they were also hard to obtain if one was a new graduate. So, for five years, I worked nights in two different intensive care nurseries. The environment in the nursery was brighter than the most sunniest of days, so it never felt like night – until I went home and needed to sleep during the day.
Fast forward to becoming a mom. I breastfed all three of my boys and therefore slept lightly, awakening to feed them on demand. This usually meant that by morning I was dragging. Luckily, I could nap when they napped, and I often did so. Between the hormones and lack of sleep, I was an emotional mess.
Of course, during the school years, I was up with my boys to send them off in the morning, making lunches and filling backpacks to start their day right. My husband worked shifts so when he was off, he did do this duty so I could get a little extra sleep.
Over the years, I learned that I’m not a “fast” starter. Per diem nursing never worked for me, and neither did substitute teaching once we went to a third party system that would call each morning at 6:05 a.m. to see if I could take a job somewhere. I don’t change gears that fast. Subbing only worked well for me when the teacher and I could arrange it and “put it in the system.” Those days seemed to disappear once the district changed to the outside sub service.
Don’t get me wrong, if I need to be somewhere in the morning, I get up and get there. It is just not my preference and I am sure not part of my natural rhythm. Now days, I am still a “night owl.” My body has been allowed to regulate itself to fit my needs, which as it turns out, is about eight hours of sleep between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m..
If I have a bout of insomnia, I might sleep for an extra hour to make up for the lost time between two and four a.m..
But, the old saying, “the early bird gets the worm” bothers me. Am I not productive just because I work better at night? Am I getting more sleep that a person that rises at 5 am is asleep by 9 pm? No! We each have long days, just different times of productivity.
So, I really don’t think it matters whether one is an early bird or a night owl. What matters is that you get the sleep you need to be as productive and healthy as you can be.