Are Night Owls Lazy and Unambitious?
Updated: May 9
I think it's time to put to rest a stereotype, the one of the lazy night owl. In fact, in comparison to morning larks, night owls tend to have greater stamina for work. Obviously, night owls can also be extremely productive, and successful night owls entrepreneurs, like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, exist . In fact, some of our greatest leaders have been night owls. Think Sir Winston Churchill.
Personal experience counts, as well. Are you lazy, unmotivated, and unambitious? I believe that you aren't if you are reading this. In fact, I wager that you are incensed by the stereotype.
I, myself, am an extreme night owl. I put myself through graduate school and made it through. I am an entrepreneur... as are my business partners, who are also night owls. Moreover, each of us has more than one business or career. Lazy, unmotivated, and unambitious? I think not.
So, frankly, I'm tired of having my fellow night owls say that they feel guilty because people have labelled them as "lazy".
The Morning Routine Myths
I have observed these negative attitudes about night owls in Facebook groups for entrepreneurs and at more and more business conferences and corporate trainings. It has become worse over the past few years.
This myth is being perpetuated by productivity books, such as The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs. Life coaches, business coaches... and even health coaches have been spreading this myth. I know because I have read or received this training or coaching advice before. I once even ran a poll in an online group and was dismayed by our being viewed as unmotivated and unhealthy.... I mean, I am a sleep wellness, health, and performance coach. Right?
Here's an example of the kind of situation that night owls are facing:
One day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I came across a post from a Facebook group for entrepreneurs. Someone had posted to encourage people to commit to getting up at dawn for a morning routine. It was a statement, rather than a question. The writer assumed that optimising health, wellness, and productivity involves waking up at 5:30 am. One night owl responded to the post, stating that she always feels guilty because she can't wake up that early in the morning... and that it's because she can't fall asleep early enough. I replied to her to say that she should not feel guilty about it, and I also explained to her about night owls and how they work best at night.
Another time and in another Facebook group for entrepreneurs, I saw a similar discussion. I had pretty much reached my boiling point on this matter by that time. Given that I knew the truth, I posted to find out if there were fellow night owls in the group who would give morning routines a big "no way".
Well, guess what? They came out of the woodwork.
They stated similar things. Some had tried morning routines and failed. They would be running on only a few hours of sleep, just to maintain one. Others agreed with my post, stating that they would never have a morning routine. They expressed frustration and resentment for being made to feel guilty and ashamed about supposedly being unmotivated, unambitious, lazy, or unhealthy because they did not have a morning routine and were not becoming morning people.
This horrible stereotype of the lazy night owl is not new. It existed way before the morning routine people picked up on it and repackaged it as wisdom to be delivered through coaching programmes. I mean, have you ever heard this?
The early bird catches the worm.
Oh, and how about this one?
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
These are oft-repeated sayings in our society and are ones that many night owls have internalised. Heck, these attitudes even played a number on me for decades... my whole life, really. I had even berated myself about not being able to sleep and wake up earlier until, that is, I got wise... ..until I learned about my chronotype and circadian rhythm. (Curious about my story? Have a listen to my "origins" on the My Sleep Journey podcast)
Knowledge is power. So, I began to educate others that being a night owl is not about lifestyle preference but that it is related to chronotype. Of course, I could only do so in a very limited way because these were posts and discussions in Facebook groups that I had joined, after all.
The fact is that your circadian rhythm plays a huge role in determining your sleeping patterns as well as the timing of other bodily and metabolic functions. This is not something you choose. While you can wake up earlier, you do so at the risk of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment, both things that you truly should avoid for night owl health, wellness, and productivity. While you may be able to shift your sleep and wake times, you will find yourself battling against your natural inclination to sleep later, because that is how you were made.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not know much about circadian rhythms. Further, society has adopted a very toxic attitude towards sleep, one which equates performance and success with getting as little sleep as possible. I have heard entrepreneurs, professionals, academics, and leaders talk about sleep as being a hindrance to productivity. Night owls who sleep in and have a hard time making it to an 8:30 am meeting are negatively labelled. Right? You know of what I speak.
Change is Coming
However, times are a-changing. Night owls don't have to be a slave to the 9-to-5. I certainly am not one anymore, especially as a night owl entrepreneur... and perhaps that is why I am so irked by how these myths are being perpetuated among a group who do not have to be tied down to the 9-to-5 and who can actually make changes towards what I call circadian and sleep equity in the future. This is something that I'll be discussing in a future blog entry.
So, no, my night owl friends. You are not inherently lazy. Don't believe the hype. There is no reason to believe that the morning person is inherently a more productive person. Na-hah... and -- for those who say that they're lazy and proud... yes, I see what they mean. They're lazy and looking for shortcuts to achieve efficiency. However, we know that this is not what most people are thinking when a night owl is labelled as such.
On the other hand, fellow night owls, let's keep in mind the positive metaphor of the wise owl. In fact, you have real advantages as a night owl that you can harness, especially as an entrepreneur.
How? Well, right now, we're actually building an Instagram community for night owls (@nightowladvantage), and we'll be coaching people on this exact subject.
See you there. Until then, sleep well and take care.