I’ve always been a night owl. Since before I can remember, my time to shine has always been at two in the morning, when everyone is asleep and I am free to laugh at my own stupid jokes without judgement and expectation. Before I had a computer, I would lay in my bed under my covers and read books, or write in my diary, by the glow of little handheld lights. When I did finally get a computer, my dad learned to shut off the internet at a certain time, if he didn’t want to find me typing away at five in the morning, bathed in blue light.
And with my night owl-ness, of course, came an utter inability to wake up naturally at anything resembling an appropriate time. I hated waking up for school so much that I would resist at all costs — even when my parents splashed me with cold water, or took all my blankets downstairs. I once even slept on the terrace in freezing weather because I didn’t want to get up. My parents actually filmed that morning, and I’m pretty sure they still have the video somewhere. It wasn’t until 22 or so that I was able to start getting up for a 9-5 job, and even then, it was an enormous struggle every time.
If it were up to me, this wouldn’t be a problem. For a long time, I thought I had Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, and that it was just something I would always have to live with and adapt to. It didn’t feel, to me, like a moral indictment of any kind. But the morning people that surrounded me — from coworkers to friends to my family-in-love — were pretty clear in their judgment. I would go on vacation with someone and they would observe my cool 11:30 wakeup time with disdain, even though it took some actual effort on my part. They would passive aggressively offer me breakfast, glancing at the clock for dramatic effect. I would feel self-conscious about my sleep times, and try my very hardest to force myself to get up earlier to not seem so shitty to them. 10 o’clock was my limit, I thought, even if I didn’t always make it.
The truth is that morning people — and you must understand and admit that some of you guys are just born that way — have a certain degree of privilege. The world (particularly the professional one) is more or less cut out for you, and no matter how much a night owl accomplishes, something about your very existence (and the fact that it starts at 7 AM) seems more powerful, and more put-together. You are perceived as the accomplished people of the world, even if you don’t do anything particularly useful with your mornings. Work that I and people like me do in the middle of the night — even if it’s real, hard work — doesn’t seem to matter as much. We’re regarded as the chain-smoking, absinthe-drinking, chronically unserious ones, and unless we’re mad artists, it’s really not a good look.
So despite feeling personally comfortable in my night-ness, I have long wanted to become a morning person, because I’m a conformist and was tired of people judging me. I wanted to know the joy of waking up with the birds, and having a day in front of me that felt incredibly long, ready to be filled with productive things. I wanted to get all of my emails answered before 9 AM, for once in my life.
But after years of everything from melatonin to Ambien to exercise to no blue lights after 9 PM to blackout curtains, nothing was helping. I remained unable to get it done. I would be okay for a day or two, and then quickly fall back into old rhythms. It seemed like becoming a morning person would be an impossible feat for me, no matter how much it would help with my being freelance again, and having to keep my own schedule. (I feared slipping into a “wake up at noon” routine the way some people fear wrinkles.) I wanted desperately to sleep like a normal person, and nothing was working.
But when I came back from France this year, I decided to hop on the jet lag working in my favor with ruthless dedication. I put myself in bed, lights out, no exceptions, at 11 PM at the latest every night. I allowed myself one snooze button, and then out of bed, until now (a week later) I am no longer really using my alarm. I got up extra-early (7 AM) to make Marc’s birthday breakfast, and aside from a few moments of grogginess, it was fine. Right now my alarm is set for 8:45 on normal days, which probably feels incredibly late to some of you, but for me it’s a huge step in a good direction.
And the secret, I’ve found, is being as diligent about my sleep as I am about a job. I maintain rhythms, and if I get thrown off by something, I don’t let it last more than a day. (I had a few glasses of wine one night that led me to wake up just before 11 the next day, so I went to bed early to compensate.) To get ready for the week (and Marc’s birthday), I took an Ambien last night and was fast asleep by 8:30 PM. I’d love to not use it altogether, but for now, it provides a great solution for those days when getting myself back on a rigorous schedule is of the essence.
It’s only been a week, so it’s too early for this to be officially considered a new routine. And until I have a few good months of this under my belt, I’m not allowing myself any weekday sleep-ins, and I’m going to try to get up as early as possible on weekends. It feels right now like I caught a great wave in arriving back here, and now it’s my job to stay on my board and ride it out the rest of the way. If I allow myself to waver or fall off even once, I know that I’ll be back to where I was before, struggling to get things right.
Ultimately, I don’t think Morning Person Privilege is fair. And I don’t think that waking up early naturally will make me a better (or likely even more productive) person, in the long run. But it feels good to be making actual progress in something that has been a problem all my life, and to learn that I can master my body and my habits if I really try. I want this experiment in routine-forming to bleed over into other aspects of my life, to be as diligent and determined with my personal finances and my health as I have managed to be about my sleep cycle. And, though I hate to admit it, there is something very lovely and peaceful about the morning coffee by the window. If nothing else, I am glad to be seeing that every day.