I am not a morning person. I never have been, and I don’t think it’s a changeable attribute. I have been this way since I was a youngster, prone to staying up later and then sleeping later. I have tried doing otherwise, but I suppose it’s almost impossible to shift one’s Circadian Rhythm.
Dr. Doya Ayish, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, aptly described the antithesis of my perspective in an in-house publication on the hospital’s website in an article titled “So, You're A Morning Person: Is That Good? He said, “Morning people are those who rise from sleep fairly easily and are most productive and/or active in the mornings. If you're a morning person, your brain is most alert in the morning, and you're generally very good at harnessing this energy and focus to get tasks, work and chores done."
Ayish’s description definitely does not describe me. Outside of the time constraints of most avenues of gainful employment that require a regular agrarian schedule, I will stay up until midnight or later and then sleep until 9:00 a.m. or later. Of course, most recommendations also suggest seven to nine hours of sleep regularly per night. Left to my own whims on that matter, I easily sleep nine or ten hours a night—without waking.
On that latter issue, I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, as you get older, that will change. You won’t be able to sleep as well—or as late.” Not so. I think that as I get older, I am able to sleep even more than when I was younger. On those rare occasions that I do go to sleep earlier, which might be 11:00 p.m. for me, I can easily sleep until 9:00 a.m. without ever waking up or sometimes even turning over much in the bed at night. And I sleep deeply because I dream vividly and sometimes wake up with a line on my cheek where my face has been buried into the linens.
Sometimes I wonder if I might have hypersomnia, a condition that affects about two percent of people. According to an article on the medical website Health Line, “People with hypersomnia might require as many as 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night to feel their best. Since day-to-day life might include responsibilities that don't allow for this much rest, long sleepers may feel excessively tired during the day and catch up on off days, sleeping as much as 15 hours at a time.” I know that there are times that I sleep 10 or so hours on weekend nights and STILL manage to sleep another hour or two those same weekends in the afternoons during naps.
I do find it interesting that, historically, people slept differently than the night-long pattern in which most of us presently engage. According to a BBC News article titled “The Myth of the Eight-Hour Sleep,” in 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published in 2001 “a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.” Four years later, he wrote a book titled At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, detailing 500 references in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, and African and South American tribal documents to the segmented sleep patterns of people in past times, as they slept for four hours, got up for an hour or two, and then finished out the night by returning to sleep for another four hours.
There were common references in the documents to “first and second sleep.” As Charles Dickens writes in Barnaby Rudge in 1840, “He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream." Bimodal sleeping was considered the norm in pre-industrial Europe.
Moreover, the events in which people in those times engaged for the waking hour or two were active and interesting, as the article writer Stephanie Hegarty acknowledges: “They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.”
Returning, though, to the topic of a general sleep schedule based on present conditions, I do wonder sometimes how all of us night owls allowed all of those insidious morning people to co-op our schedule. Yes, of course, we are rooted in an agrarian culture that took its light/dark cues from the environment, but we live in the 21st century, and we’ve had the benefit of electricity now for about a hundred years. I advocate that it’s time that we night owls demand change!