My Strained Relationship with Being a Morning Person
It hasn't always been a happy marriage of habits.
I have an interesting relationship with being a morning person. Some people will tell you that echoing the habits of a CEO and being a morning person will instantly make your life more satisfying.
While I agree with such articles on at least half of their points, I think the reason these this of advice thrives is that most of us are operating on the 9–5 watch and we need to find time somewhere.
If you aren’t doing 9–5, if your schedule varies for any other work or school-related reason, then it doesn’t really matter when you’re productive as long as you’re productive at some point.
Night owls are a thing, after all. Some people do their best work after midnight and if you do, then fantastic, do it.
With that said, let’s get into this convoluted story of how a morning person had a dark affair with being a night owl then repentantly came crawling back to mornings.
When I was growing up, I was naturally a morning person.
My favorite thing in the world when I was a wee preteen and teenager was to wake up early enough for school that I could write for an hour when my mind was at its most fresh and clear, unfettered by youthful stressors. It was the easiest time to be creative and imaginative as I worked ceaselessly on fantasy and sci-fi stories.
It was easy and it came naturally.
I wasn’t forcing myself out of bed to write. I just woke up, eager to rock and roll literarily.
As an adult, morning is still a pretty great time to write before all those fun responsibilities start to cloud my mind too heavily. The inspiration isn’t there like it used to be, but the time is, and that’s what matters when it comes to productivity.
My dark, dirty love affair with being a night owl started innocently.
I was in high school and made a few college friends. I know that’s usually how a story of how a misguided youth starts, but my group didn’t do what you’re expecting in the late hours of the night. We didn’t sneak out and drink or anything like that.
We got on MSN Messenger (that’s right, not Skype, not Discord), and we… Wrote stories and drew pictures until the wee hours of dawn.
It was fun and it was great to become friends with other creatives, but the timing could have been better. I just happened to befriend a few night owls and became one myself.
However, I always had a tremendously difficult time staying up past about midnight. I’d get horrendously tired, sometimes fall asleep at my desk, wake up after a cat nap, and write like crazy until dawn.
My morning fire was soon doused and replaced with all the midnight oil I was burning.
My silly stories aside, there are some interesting facts about being a night owl. BBC analyzes why you shouldn’t try to force yourself to be a morning person and shares that roughly 50% of people are more evening or nighttime-inclined.
If you’re a night owl, more power to you, there’s nothing wrong with that. I was forcing myself because I naturally am a morning person. So why did I ever force myself to change?
I reached a point where those hours in the morning weren’t enough to accomplish everything.
All that was fine. It may not have been the healthiest sleeping schedule to have on weekends, but it didn’t severely impact me until later in life when I realized that I could burn the candle at both ends.
In my later high school and college years, I ended up taking on so much work that I had to stay up late into the night. At one point, I worked three jobs while I was in high school. At another point, while working on my bachelor’s I was working 50 hours per week at two part-time jobs, had no health insurance, and I was taking 20 credits per semester.
It’s always hard for creatives and writers to achieve work-life balance, but this was a particularly bad case.
I can’t tell you how many nights I’d be up until two or three in the morning working on academic papers or freelance writing jobs, pass out on my desk, then get up five hours later to get to my day jobs.
It was a crazy time and I started to hate those mornings.
You need to be well-rested to be truly productive.
When you chronically only sleep for four to five hours per night, getting up in the morning is the most massive battle of motivation versus exhaustion. There’s no room for creativity. I don’t recommend putting your health aside to this extent at all.
Worst of all, my special clear-minded time when I could best write was simply gone. Everything was just slowly and reluctantly happening when I forced it to.
Things settled down for me somewhat when I got a single full-time job instead of juggling the two part-time appointments, but this job was a night position, which was helpful for surviving but further discombobulated my natural sleeping cycle.
We all encounter circumstances in life where we can’t maintain the cycle we want to. However, if you have the choice, stick with what works best for you, and don’t worry about trying to change it.
Both early birds and night owls can be productive.
This is the big one. Morning people might find it a bit easier to find time around the 9–5 than a night owl will, but frankly, it doesn’t matter when you’re productive. It matters what works for you.
In a study published by Biological Rhythm Research, Konrad S. Jankowski from the University of Warsaw determined that if night owls try to convert themselves into morning people, it doesn’t really help.
You’d be forcing yourself to go against the grain. That’s not going to make you feel amazing or make you more productive. Dr. Jankowski describes night owl tendencies as “intrinsic components of the late chronotype.”
So there you go, night owls. Science has got your back.
However, being a morning person or a night owl shouldn’t mean that you’re sleep-deprived.
In either scenario, the real key to getting things done is having a time when you can be productive and consistently make time to be productive.
It could be in the middle of the day on your lunch break, if that’s how you roll, though many of us don’t have long enough lunch breaks to make that time useful.
In the last few years since I graduated, I’ve been finding a happy medium between working hard, getting a lot done, but still taking care of myself. After all, workaholics still need to take care of themselves, and that’s something I constantly remind myself of when balancing work, writing, friends, and family.
In that time, I’ve learned to enjoy mornings again. I love to get up early, wander around in the hours of dawn when the city still sleeps, and find a quietly beautiful place to write.
If you’re like me and do your best work in the morning, great. If you’re not like me and do your best work late at night, that’s just as great. The end result is the same.