The perks of being a night owl
For as long as I can remember, I've been a night owl. Even as a tiny kid, I can recall lying awake in bed listening to music on my headphones, making up elaborate cinematic stories in my head, or reading a book under the covers by flashlight. Not only was I not particularly sleepy, but the night always seemed like prime time to do so many of the things I loved the most without interruption (key when you have a little sister, and later a little brother, living in your house).
Later on, as a person heavily involved in theater and music while also studying literature, night time became essential for Getting Things Done. There's only so much daylight in a semester to read books for five lit classes, memorize music and assist with theatrical productions while also holding down two jobs, so most of my homework happened in the wee hours. That habit of staying up late was incredibly hard to break once I began working full-time, and it lingers to this day. Although at this point, I don't think it's so much a bad habit that I could unlearn as a cycle that's intrinsically part of me. I'm a night owl, and this is my rhythm.
I've always found my life to be kind of paradoxical in that I want to be very social and fill my schedule with lots of fun and nourishing activities, with and without other people, in addition to my work, but I also need a lot of down time by myself. As was the case in college, there would be very little chance of achieving the amount of stuff I want and need to do without my night owlery. I work a typical forty-ish hour a week job. I try to walk and exercise as much as possible, and most evenings after work are spent at the gym or my local yoga studio. By the time I work out, clean up and prepare a healthy dinner, it's usually 8 p.m. or later. And two hours of "down time" to myself before sleep just aren't enough to do all the things on my list: read books, write, spend time with other people, cuddle my dog, knit sweaters, play video games, watch movies and television shows...there's just not enough time.
So I stay up.
But being a night owl isn't just a choice. I think staying up late is the way my body is wired. I've tried several times to become a morning person, and it never works out, no matter what I do. It's very hard for me to get sleepy before midnight, despite how physically exhausted I am or how early I woke up. Recently I had to wake at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight, and despite being pretty tired, I didn't fall asleep till 1 a.m. the next morning. This is not to say that I'm a bad sleeper. Periodically my sleep has been iffy, but for the bulk of my life it's been the case that once I'm tired, I can sleep. I can also nap - oh, boy, can I nap, and I love to do so. My body just likes the nighttime. People tell me this will change if and when I have kids, to which I say, "We'll see about that."
A few years ago I went for about eight months without a job, and I found myself slowly but surely creeping into what I think is my body's ideal schedule: go to bed around 1:30 or 2 a.m. and then wake up naturally, without an alarm, about 9:00 in the morning. During that time, I found I was well-rested and my mood was generally a lot better than when I have to rise before I'm ready and force myself to try and go to bed early. Maybe not having to go to an office every day also had something to do with that, but I do think letting my body sleep and wake naturally was the main reason. If only that were more possible in Western culture - and don't even get me started on how much I wish we observed siesta in this country.
It gets really old to be told over and over that you can change, that you can and should go to bed earlier and become a morning person. I've tried it, several times, for long stretches. It doesn't work for me. I lie in bed awake, and then I am tired and cranky when I get up in the morning, and early morning workouts always feel sluggish and too-short to me. It also gets old to be told this is yet another selfish luxury of being childless that will eventually and inevitably come to an end if I make offspring. Years ago I read an article that was all about how being a night owl is a real thing and that it's much harder for a night owl to change to a morning person than vice versa. It was so vindicating, and it helped me to accept and embrace my natural rhythm and quit trying to change it. Because while it's definitely inconvenient being a night owl most of the time, there are also some perks.
Night owls can get reservations at that impossible-to-get-into restaurant, because they don't mind having dinner at 9 p.m. They also get to stay at the bar past closing and chat with the staff. Night owls don't hesitate to go to concerts, plays or movies on a school night, and they don't mind staying up to see the end of that baseball game or awards show. Night owls don't have to share their popcorn. Night owls get to eat the cookies the kids left out for Santa. They can finish the book they've been unable to put down instead of having to wait until the next day. Night owls have time to write in their journals or work on their secret novel. Night owls can go skinny dipping or make love in the middle of the night. Night owls get to see the moon rise and watch snow falling silently on quiet streets. They get to look at the stars and hear the crickets and be the first to touch their feet to dewy grass.
Summers in Seattle are special because it stays light outside for so long in the evenings; around the solstice, the day can stretch to 10 p.m. or even a little later, something people absolutely love about living here. A few summers ago, I had the chance to spend some time in Stockholm, Sweden, which is further north and has an even shorter summer night. It was really trippy to experience just four hours of darkness, and even though some things about it were kind of magical, I found that I missed the moon and the darkness the way most people miss the sun in the winter. I am not that person. I love winter, I love short days, and I love darkness, and no matter what anyone says, I don't think it'll ever change. I'm a night owl through and through, and I wouldn't want it any other way.