"What hath night to do with sleep?"
Updated: May 22, 2019
This quote by John Milton is from a masque (a kind of entertainment, similar to a play, that was enjoyed by the courts of 16th and 17th century Europe). Comus, based on the god of revelry, states that the night is for living and not for sleeping. His nightly escapades, though, were not necessarily honourable.
While some research reveals that night owls do tend to be the evening revellers of society and may be more inclined to have the dark triad of personality (oh, you know, narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy... based on data from college students), my guess is that many of us are simply living out everyday lives at night.
We are your neighbours who sit down for dinner at 9:00 pm. We would be the ones doing chores, even gardening (true story!), in the evening. On the weekends, our homes may be bustling with activity in the wee hours.
However, we could also simply be working or studying throughout the night. It's a hallowed time of peace and quiet, especially when the rest of the family are morning larks. Evening is the time when night owls concentrate best. The usual recommendations, such as making sure to wake up at dawn to be productive, do not apply. Our memory, creativity, and intellect are sharpest after the sun goes down.
For many night owls, though, the nighttime is associated with worry as they wonder if they will ever fall asleep so that they can wake up in time for work.
This is the cross of the night owl (mixing those metaphors!). We are a minority in a world that does not recognise the fact that we do exist.
In terms of employment, things are not always so easy. Challenges exist. In many cases, night owls experience chronic sleep deprivation caused by social jet lag (imagine experiencing jet lag but without the benefits of having travelled... you get the picture).
Awareness needs to increase.
Things are beginning to change in a positive direction, though. Some schools are now starting later during the day because they realise that their students are more alert and healthy when they do not have to be at school too early.
Some universities are making changes to policy as well. Recently, I delivered professional training to university health and student support professionals to educate them on the fact that university-aged students tend to skew towards being night owls; these professionals are now aware of an issue that they had never thought existed.
Much work still needs to be done. However, we can make a difference by educating others.
So, let people know that night owls make up approximately 20% of the population. Let them know that being one is determined by a person's circadian rhythm; it's not a lifestyle choice. Let them know, too, that quality work can be done at night, especially by extreme night owls, whose health and well-being are dependent upon waking up later so that they can obtain the sleep they need.
I have learned to embrace those things about myself that are different, and I make sure that people know that those of us who live best at night can thrive, especially when our natural sleeping times are recognised.
Changes will come as people become more aware of sleep and what a quality sleep means for health and wellness. So, keep learning and keep sharing!