Night Owls, Stop Apologizing

“Nightlifer” is my preferred term for those who are awake while others sleep. However, I will continue to use “night owl” for the sake of clarity. I do hope, one day, the term nightlifer becomes the accepted term.

delayed sleep phase disorder
Don’t apologize for being a night owl.

Is Being a Night Owl Really a Disorder?

After extensive research on Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPS), I am feeling a little down. As much as I appreciate the support, literature and studies  on the subject of sleep, I am having a hard time accepting the fact that I have a disorder. Do I need to be fixed? Or better yet, do I want to be fixed? And is a treatment for delayed phase sleep disorder what is best for those diagnosed and, perhaps the more important question we should be asking, is curing those of their delayed sleep phase disorder what is best for society? I understand that as much as I embrace my unorthodox circadian rhythm, there are others, like me, who are desperate for a fix. I get it. The life of a night owl is often riddled with isolation, inconvenience and harsh judgement from others. But with support, effort and education we can bring awareness to the struggles night owls face and the benefits of accommodating their needs.
However, before we expect daylifers to accept our place in the world, night owls must first accept themselves.

Nighttime is the Best Time

I know my enthusiasm for the night perplexes a lot of people. Night is for sleeping. Why can’t I be like everyone else and let the sun be my guide through life. Well, technically the sun is my guide—when it disappears, I get a burst of energy that enables me to continue working long after everyone else has petered out. Granted, I rise a little later than most, but there are enough people scrambling about in the mornings—I would just be in the way. I can’t imagine myself  taking pills or mulling through years of therapy so that I, too, can live a life of traffic, phone calls, meetings, crowds, queue lines and sunburn. Been there, done that. Therefore, if my disorder affords me a life of peace, quiet, freedom and unencumbered creativity, then so be it. I’m okay with my night owl status and all the term implies.

delayed sleep phase disorder
Did you hear me? Stop apologizing.

Society Needs Night Owls

Not only do some daylifers find us enigmatic, we seem to get on their nerves. Maybe their jealous. After all, night owls are known for being more social, creative, intelligent and adaptable. Or, maybe they believe we couldn’t possibly be productive and useful members of society. After all, our efforts often go unnoticed. Still, we can’t blame the daylifers—they’re sleeping, and it’s hard for them to embrace the fact that a day is 24 hours and not the conventional 14 to 16 hours they’re awake. Granted, the sun dictates the most active time for humans, but even thousands of years before the invention of the light bulb, someone had to sacrifice sleep for survival. Someone had to stay up and stoke the fire, watch out for saber tooth tigers, tend to the young, and protect the tribe from the enemies. These early humans possessed greater adaptability and evolved into night owls so they could protect other humans during their most vulnerable state—sleep. Being a night owl is not a disorder, it’s an evolutionary novel, which makes night owls adaptability a sign of intelligence.

Don’t Apologize, Be Active and Informative

So, night owls, stop apologizing. You are an important part of society, no matter what people are telling you. You are not lazy, unmotivated, unfit, mentally weak, and destined for an early death; and if you are, then your issues extend well beyond preferring the night. Be proud of your delayed sleep phase disorder and know that you are in good company. Embrace the advantages and your attitude will improve your mental and physical health. Just because certain studies claim that night owls have shorter life expectancies, doesn’t mean we have to prove them correct. Besides, those studies are riddled with flaws. You are who you are. Confront the ignorance, prove your worth and defend your lifestyle to all those that question your value. Society praises early risers (larks) for their ability to make the most of the day. Why can’t that same praise be given to those who make the most of the night? Who’s with me?

The Advantages of Being a Night Owl

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash
In a nine-to-five world, most struggle to realize the advantages of being a night owl—especially those who are not night owls, or who are required to adopt a night owl schedule.
But if you are a true genetic night owl (or nightlifer as I like to call myself), then you have most likely embraced the following advantages of being awake when most people are sleeping.

Night Owls’ Adaptability Make Them More Productive

According to writer Peter Economy, many of these advantages make night owls more productive than their daylifer counterparts. Night owls enjoy the solitude, serenity, freedom and peace that the night brings. Therefore, night owls often possess a calmer demeanor and more easily adapt to situations that don’t address their circadian rhythm – like a nine-to-five schedule. In turn, night owls are capable of being productive during the day as well as night. This adaptability also makes night owls more alert for longer periods of time.

Night Owls are Typically More Creative

The tranquil and uninterrupted time of night is an optimum environment for creativity to thrive. According to Professor Marina Giampietro at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart states, “Being in a situation which diverges from conventional habit, nocturnal types often experience this situation, may encourage the development of a non-conventional spirit and of the ability to find alternative and original solutions.”

Night Owls Tend to be Smarter

Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa studied over 20,000 adolescents to determine how sleep habits affect intelligence. His study found that night owls tend to be more intelligent across all races, demographics and ethnicities. His reasoning for this discovery stemmed from the fact that our ancestors did not have artificial light, which meant staying up during the darkness was an “evolutionary novel,” thus making night owls more adaptable. And humans that more easily adapt tend to be more intelligent.

Night Owls May Be More Entrepreneurial

Since night owls tend to be more intelligent and creative, it is not surprising that they are also typically more entrepreneurial. According to the University of Chicago night owls are more likely to take risks, and their boldness often results in new and unconstrained ideas. Also, an uninterrupted work environment, free from calls and meetings, leaves one’s mind to flow freely. Jonah Peretti, Aaron Levie, Alexis Ohanian, Tom Lehman, and Mark Zuckerberg are founders of some of the most successful online companies today. And they are all people who seems to embrace the advantages of being a night owl.

Night Owl Gene (Nightlifer)

“Nightlifer” is my preferred term for those who are awake while others sleep. However, I will continue to use “night owl” for the sake of clarity. I do hope, one day, the term nightlifer becomes the accepted term.

Night Owl Gene

If you a are a night owl, it is probably genetic. Michael W. Young and his team at the Rockefeller University Laboratory of Genetics  studied  human sleep cycles for over 30 years and discovered a variant in the gene CRY1. The night owl variant of this gene, which controls one’s circadian clock, possesses a longer circadian cycle which makes an individual stay awake longer. Based on the research, one in 75 people in certain populations may have what has been called delayed sleep phase disorder or DSPD.
For most people, a 24 hour sleep cycle is considered normal. However, a person with DSPD, or the night owl gene, has a cycle around 30 minutes longer, as well as, delayed cycles in body temperature, hormones and melatonin—all variables that affect sleep. “Melatonin levels start to rise around 9 or 10 at night in most people,” emphasizes Young. “In a DSPD patient that doesn’t happen until 2 or 3 in the morning.”
Alina Patke, a research associate in the laboratory with Young adds, “Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,”
Most individuals with DSPD often fall asleep so late at night that sleep becomes more of a nap. This lack of sleep may affect relationships and nine to five  job performance. As a result, DSPD and other sleep disorders may cause anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Young emphasizes that, “It’s as if these people have perpetual jet lag, moving eastward every day. In the morning, they’re not ready for the next day to arrive.”

Night Owl Cure

Although there is currently no cure, Patke does see the potential for future drug development. In the meantime, the self-proclaimed night owl Patke suggests “An external cycle and good sleep hygiene can help force a slow-running clock to accommodate a 24-hour day.”

Do Night Owls Want to be Cured?

As much as I appreciate the few scientific studies on the night owl gene, focusing on a cure seems a little misdirected. Do night owls really want to be cured?  And is that really the best solution for humankind? Doesn’t every community, town and city need people to be awake when everyone else is sleeping? Attacks from enemies, natural disasters, medical emergencies, etc., don’t care if it’s the middle of the night. And in a global economy, night owls are more in demand than ever before.
I cringe at the thought of giving up the quiet solitude and freedom the night provides. Darkness is what fuels my imagination, and I don’t care if my CRY1 mutation may shorten my life. It’s all worth it, and the pros far outweigh the cons.  Quite frankly, I find it upsetting that some genetically true night owls regard themselves as broken. We are not broken. We are a minority, and, therefore, have less say in how the world runs. We are simply misunderstood and greatly underappreciated. And that perspective is what needs to be fixed—not us.
As far as I’m concerned, the best “cure” for night owls is society’s acceptance of our genetic makeup, understanding our needs and talents, and willingness to adjust schedules and expectations accordingly. Scientists should focus less on a cure and more on the why, what and how for night owls so everyone else may finally accommodate this important sector of humankind.
At least Young’s study produced one very sound conclusion—nature knows what it is doing, because the world needs all types of people.

Night Owl No More

I have a new term to describe my genetic predisposition for being awake during the time so many others sleep: nightlifer. Night owl is not bad, it is simply redundant. And what most nightlifers aren’t is redundant—we leave that to the daylifers (everyone else). Let me know what you think.