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phaedryx's avatar

Why are early birds praised and night owls condemned in our culture?

Asked by phaedryx (6107 points ) January 31st, 2013

As someone who is most productive between 8:00 and midnight, that has been my experience.

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35 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Sez who? By whom? Where’s your data?

phaedryx's avatar

@gailcalled sez me. I am a point of data who’s assuming that my experience isn’t unique. If your experience is different please share.

Just today, at work, I overheard them talking about our accountant who “gets up at 5:00 each morning” with great respect and awe.

Bellatrix's avatar

Really? Damn. I am more of a night owl forced to be an early bird. However, I have never felt condemned for my owlish behaviour. I have been frustrated by it because scheduling tends to happen around the business day.

I notice a number of my colleagues working at 10 pm and the like. Now you explain your point further I understand more clearly. Still, I have heard people say ‘they answered their email at 10.30 pm!’ I have heard the same about people who answer their email at 4 am. In both cases I think rather than awe it’s more ‘don’t they have a life’ or ‘it’s ridiculous we have to work these hours’. Personally, I work at both ends of the day.

answerjill's avatar

Maybe it hearkens back to when it was an agrarian society and people would get up and work as soon as the sun came up and then were unproductive once it got dark out? I don’t know, I just made this up.

gailcalled's avatar

Who are “them”?

I know lots of people who are night owls and are very productive and successful. And in my experience, which has been primarily in the academic communities, I have never heard diurnal rhythms used as a criterion for anything.

My first job out of college was as a researcher at an academic think tank. After several
years of working a conventional work day, I had a baby and took a year off. When I was rehired, there was a new criterion called”...When Actually Employed.” I and many others could work when we felt like it and submit our hours.

Of course they were all mad astronomers and astrophysicists, many of them grad. students. But there were lights on in the facility no matter when I popped in.

My two kids were early birds, but two of my step-children always did their best work late in the day and often pulled what we used to call “all-nighters.”

phaedryx's avatar

@gailcalled my coworkers

“The early bird catches the worm” vs. “The night owl… um.. catches the mouse?”

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” says Poor Richard.

gailcalled's avatar

In my own family, my brother had to work a conventional day usually as a college professor, but on week-ends he liked to sleep until 1:00 and frolic until the wee hours.

My sister turns her light out at 9:00 and starts her day at 5:00 AM, which she hates.

I, OTOH. am fresh as a daisy at 10 minutes after midnight.

Ben Franklin had an almost endless supply of aphorisms. No one said that they were gospel.

Unbroken's avatar

I agree @phaedryx. I work an early morning shit and my coworkers assume I am an irresponsible party girl or something that I am typically tired and sleep deprived. As I work in a 24 hour facility I hear comments about how strange or somewhat suspicious the night or grave shift is.

There are supposedly studies that suggest there are benefits of waking earlier more productive, healthier, etc.

When I have worked nights or graves in the past I find I enjoy stopping by grocery stores before or after shift or what have you and notice that people are generally friendlier. That much more often then not you see the same people.

There is mutual respect a silent recognition if no words are passed that we have the world to ourselves for a few hours. We don’t have to share.

We aren’t in a rush. Things unfold as they will. And that it is a little miracle that happens each day.

It’s magic. And when the sunsets or sinks low enough that it is dusk it is a scene that signifies a moment of quiet appreciation. Or in the winter when the Northern Lights dance the sky is a canvas just for you, because so many others don’t look. Whistling they move at command.

Meh if people thought differently of the night, they might ruin it. Let them be fearful and anxious. Eagerly, greedily gathering and scurrying.

Actually for some it probably is that they are infused by some sort of daybreak energy. That they experience the other end of spectrum.

Unbroken's avatar

But really it probably started as a practicality. We’re not well equipped for night vision and businesses started before electricity and kerosene and candles are poor substitutes.

By the time electricity was part of our infrastructure the habit was ingrained and remained that way so businesses could do businesses with themselves and avoid less confusion.

Of course as humans are competitive the earlier you get up and the more you do before 9 o’clock as the military saying goes (then most of you do all day) one must be living the poster of success, for how could a person not work diligently every day and not be a success? (paraphrased from some one)

Then there is the discomfort of the unknown and nonconformity.

Sunny2's avatar

I never considered the terms either as particularly positive or negative. Early bird certainly began when there was no artificial light and early birds got the worms that surface with the morning dew. Night owls were called that even though there were no day owls. I’ve never heard of day owls, have you? I think the night owl is assumed to have the wisdom of owls.

zenvelo's avatar

I think it is a regional custom.

I am on the west coast but work in an Eastern Time based industry. So while I am in at 6, the home office in New York seems to have people straggle in at 9:30 or so. I see the morning train into San Francisco full at 5:05 and 5:20.

On the other hand, when I get home at 3 or 3:30, I am getting emails from back east until 4:30 or 5 Pacific Time. Many people in the NY office are working until 7:30 or 8 before they head home. That’s nuts to me. But then again New Yorkers eat dinner at ten at night.

So a West Coast condemnation is an East Coast virtue.

Unbroken's avatar

@gailcalled That is wonderful that you have a place to work that is open to divirsity.

I noticed this to be much more common in the world of academia as well as pretty unique to it. The environs of each are night and day.

The working class, white and blue collar are not so liberated.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t feel condemned as a night owl, exactly. Some people think it’s weird, abnormal, but not necessarily bad. But people do sometimes make a negative judgment about me if I’m sleeping at say, two in the afternoon. What they don’t seem to understand is that I just went to bed at 10AM.

shniernan's avatar

I would say it is based partly on history, partly on the implications it carries.

Waking up early tends to be associated with hard-workers and daily routines, while working at night tends to be associated with procrastination or last-minute-work-ethics. I say it doesn’t matter outside of scheduling conflicts.

Shippy's avatar

@rosehips I work an early morning shit and my coworkers .. The imagery was just too much!

I do feel condemned for being a late owl and later riser. I almost get sneered at for not answering my phone as early as 7.30pm. I live in a City and for some strange reason most are in bed by 9pm. I know as I see all the lights go out in the windows. Then hear people walking about as early as 6am. (fully dressed and off to wherever).

In my jobs I was quite lucky as I worked my own hours. Plus I was quite successful, so not sure if the early riser does catch more worms. Having said that, I did for a year go through a radical gym stage (not too long ago). Where I was in bed by say 7pm and up around 3.30am or 4am and my life did run more smoothly. However I had a serious tired lag at around 3pm.

I feel there is a lot of admiration for a person who seemingly has their life in control. You know, wakes at 4am hits gym by 5am. Is making business calls by 8am and already had planned their day in the gap in between. There is some good reasoning in eating the frog before it has a chance to eat you.

But seriously I can’t hack it. I do admire people who have great routines, are up and awake early, and seem on top of things. I do cringe when people say “I phoned you at 9am??” I can’t even face the human race so early. I need hours to balance myself. So yeah I hear where you are coming from.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree in America night owls are often judged as being abnormal, lazy, and less productive. I also agree with @answerjill that it probably harkens back to when we farmed the lands and also when we didn’t have electricity. When we had no electricity if you did not get your job done during daylight, you probably were not getting very much done otherwise.

I also agree with @zenvelo that regionally there are some difference, but still his examples speak of things starting in the morning hours, while some people prefer a much later shift to do their work, or as their waking hours.

Control over my time, what I enjoy, when I can sleep, is very important to me, and important to feeling well. My husband doesn’t mind waking up very early if his job requires it. I loath it. It has probably meant I had a less ambitious career. I worked retail partly because I did not have to be to work until 9:00 and sometimes much later. I was perfectly willing to work weekends and nights and my favorite the middle of the day shift. Many people felt working 11:00 to 7:00 or 8:00 killed their day, I was thrilled to have a slow morning at home, and didn’t care about gettting home later in the evening.

I missed a lot of school in high school and it affected my grades because school started so early in the morning. My senior year when I could sleep an hour later my grades went up tremendously and my attendance was great.

I woke in the middle of the night tonight and I don’t feel like I have insomnia, because I don’t work M-F 8:30–5:00. Which brings up the point that people who can’t sleep at night are often labelled insomniacs. Sometimes they just have different circadium rythyms in my opinion and are not insomniacs.

seekingwolf's avatar

I work 7pm-7am or 11pm-7am. I only work the night shift now. I don’t feel judged for being up all night. I do my job well and that’s all that matters. I’ve had some people laugh when I say that I sleep all day, then I remind them that during the WHOLE time (plus some) that they sleep, I work. That shuts them up, lol.

I agree with others in the graveyard shift. You see the same people. People are friendlier. I work the night shift so I don’t have to deal with administration or too many people. It’s nice to have the same number of patients but half the staff.

JLeslie's avatar

@seekingwolf I think working the night shift is different than preferring to sleep late. I think a lot of people respond to night shift saying, “I don’t know how they do it.” The same people might respond to people who say they don’t start moving untill about 11:00am as being lazy or dysfunctional. It depends on the situation I think, type of work, if they work, many factors.

thorninmud's avatar

I read an interesting article by an historian who specializes in the study of the night. We, who live in the era of electricity, have a hard time imagining how that has radically transformed our attitude toward the night.

Much more than now, the night was extremely dark. That dense cloak of darkness afforded the perfect cover for people who were up to no good. People of honor avoided being out and about after dark unnecessarily. And if you were at home, candles and lamps were luxury items that gave enough light for navigating the house, but little else. Might as well go to bed.

Given that through so much of our cultural evolution the day belonged to the honorable and the night to the dishonorable, it’s not too surprising that echoes of that dichotomy linger.

zensky's avatar

Look at the idioms themselves, harking back to an era when we were predominantly rural farmers; early to bed and early to rise, and all that.

A man (please forgive me, feminists) who wakes up early and brings home the bacon, makes the bread/dough, et al, will, at the end of the day be tired; retiring to bed early.
This is a good man.

A night owl, presumably and clichély, parties all night because he doesn’t have to work the next day.

:-)

kitszu's avatar

@Bellatrix Sister Night Owl

kitszu's avatar

I am a night owl and I love the early bird, I just hate the people parts in between.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Of course I’m a very happy morning person and drive everyone crazy. I get to work way early and piddle around and they seem to love it because they can count on me to be there and available if needed. I’m in bed around 10p-11p each night.

I agree with several posters it has to do with working the farm in daylight or earlier, then going to bed with the sun. I don’t think less of anyone who is a night owl, I used to be young once and burned the candle at both ends, working two jobs and partying all night.

gailcalled's avatar

My circadian rhythms have changed dramatically. Until my late forties, I was up with the dawn and asleep in the library over my books at 9:30 PM. There used to be three of us at breakfast in the dorm dining room. But I was able to concentrate and write and read carefully then.

During my child-rearing and professional years, it was “lights-out” at 11:00, up at 6:30–7:00 during the week.

As I aged, however, and had more trouble sleeping deeply, I have shifted to being intellectually productive at night, often until 1:00–2:00 AM. Luckily I can sleep in most mornings. And I allow myself, if possible, a brown-out (aka nap) in the last afternoon when I can. Milo has the same pattern, which is nice.

No one that I know of has ever labeled me as lazy, abnormal, disfunctional or nonproductive.

But it’s true that this is a post-electricity behavorior and much easier in academia.

Drive through any Uni during the wee hours; you will see that the library and labs and other learning centers are a hive of activity

I am in the middle of reading Isaacson’s bio of Ben Franklin, who may have said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, ” but who apparently never slept, given what he accomplished.

Unbroken's avatar

@Shippy I like how you mention balancing yourself. I find that to be a significant key to a successful day.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

I am highly nocturnal and it’s a shame we don’t really have the equality that “day Walkers” have. As mentioned above everything revolves around the business day but I find the night most appealing (always have)

I wouldn’t say night owls are condemned, they are simply in the minority considering the way we function on time
Day =productivity
Night= rest
Those who wake up earlier lose more rest thus presumably work harder than someone who rests the whole day then works at night.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@HolographicUniverse How do we lose more rest, I get at least 8 every night, which is all that’s required, then sometimes I nap on weekends, esp in the rain…ummmm.

RareDenver's avatar

I think it boils down to the perception that an early bird has more self discipline, most of us know that feeling of not wanting to get up and most of us know that feeling of not wanting to go to bed.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Yes this is the case for you, not everyone.
I wake up at 4am on average and go to sleep around midnight.

@RareDenver said what I was trying to say which is that it is perceived as such (not that it’s necessarily true.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I am also a night owl and, obviously, life isn’t structured for night owls as much as it is for those who function in the morning. I am not sure why, but there have been some great answers above.

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naresh692000's avatar

The sun rises in the morning and so human beings; working nights is totally unhealthy. I will not condemn it if it is for a while when there is no alternative way left.

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