Early Birds and Late Worms
2012.10.04 | #productivity #sleep
I am not a morning person. I have never been one, but I’ve been forced into becoming one because of my day job. Convincing my body that it needs to be awake and moving before 10 am has not been an easy task, especially considering that my prime productivity hours have always been between 10 pm and 2 am. Despite needing to be quasi-functional at 7 am, I regularly stay up night after night until at least 1 am working on art, comics, or coding. This creates a sleep deficit by the end of the week which ends up resetting my body clock to the schedule it wants to be on: bed by 3 am, up at 10 am.
I’ve read some claims that early-birds are more productive than night-owls, and other claims that say night-owls are more creative than early-birds, as if there was some sort of contest to determine which time of day was superior. How ridiculous. Honestly, who cares whether the crisp, cool calm of the early morning or the starlit stillness of the middle of the night is better. The important thing is what works best for each of us individually. There was a time last year when I switched up my sleep schedule so that I could make my day job the last thing I did before going to bed. That meant going to sleep at 6 pm and getting up at 2 am. Then between 2 am and 7 am, five solid hours, I would have completely to myself fully refreshed from eight hours of sleep. While this experiment successfully put my work ahead of the day job, eliminating my mental fatigue acquired from the day job that so often kills my creativity and motivation, it really didn’t work all that well for getting things done out in the world (such as grocery shopping or hanging out with friends). I quit the experiment after a week, going back to being a sleep-deprived night owl.
Experimenting with sleep schedules has always intrigued me. The first time I went freelance, I tested out Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion sleep schedule. It’s a polyphasic sleep schedule designed to reduce the number of hours of daily sleep in order to make room for more productivity, by staggering sleep throughout the day in a series of naps at regular intervals. I never made it out of the transition period, so I can’t say whether the Dymaxion sleep schedule would actually work for me or not. One thing that doesn’t work for it, however, is a full-time day job. Eight consecutive hours of work doesn’t fit in to a sleep schedule with a maximum waking period of six hours.
Polyphasic sleep did get me to start considering what constitutes “enough” sleep. It also got me to consider if time of day is really a factor in productivity or creativity or intelligence or whatever. We accomplish things when our minds have gotten enough rest. Science has shown that cognitive ability diminishes with sleep deprivation, and it’s also shown that frequent decision making fatigues the mind as well. So perhaps one advantage for being an early bird is that the mind has had a chance to rest, and the only major decisions it has made at that point in the day is what clothes to wear and whether to have tea or coffee at breakfast. (Tea for me, thanks.)
I am a night-owl and I have no problems with that. It’s as though I stay up late in order to squeeze every last drop of the day that I can before going to bed. But whether you’re a morning person, day person, or night person, as long as you’re making time to do what you want to do, then roll with it.
Early Bird by Shel Silverstein
Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early bird—
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.