Sleeping late isn’t a sign of laziness. Stop the circadian-rhythm shaming | Sleep
It’s January, the month of New Year’s resolutions and other doomed self-improvement efforts. And what better way to do more with your life than getting up early to seize the moment?
At least that’s what the voice in my head says when I turn on my alarm for the 10th time at 9:30 in the morning. Then it’s time to get up, tormented by guilt for your laziness, as if sleeping in bed was some kind of ethical mistake.
This is not true, of course. People’s sleep-wake cycles are inherently different, and if you’re also a late-nighter and late-wakerer, then you’re just a “night owl”—or, in clinical parlance, you have a delayed sleep phase.
It’s time to put an end to this disruption of circadian rhythms. This is nothing new—centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin made the outrageously biased statement that “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, rich, and wise.” In a 2018 essay in Cut magazine, Edith Zimmerman wrote that “waking up early gives you a boost; you feel superior, self-satisfied. More recently, a Reddit user put it simply: “Night owls suck,” the person wrote. “Your sleep habits [obstacle] on the path of every plan, which constantly needs to be bypassed.
But, owls, calm down: as Robin Williams once said to Matt Damon, it’s not your fault. Your daily sleep-wake schedule, called your chronotype, is largely genetically determined. Estimates of how common “night owl” occurs vary: Experts who spoke to the Guardian heard estimates of around 15%, while a recent study in Finland found that 10% of men and 12% of women were “evening types.” A 2007 study found that the most common chronotype, accounting for 14.6% of people, slept from 00:09 am to 8:18 am in the absence of “social commitments”, but half of the population slept later. In any case, owls: you are not alone.
Our chronotype is “an integral part of who we are,” says Dr. Beth Ann Malow, a neurologist and sleep expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “It’s not like, ‘I’ll pick an owl, I’m lazy.’ It’s a biological preference.”
Dr. Phil Herman, a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, agrees. The anti-night owl bias is “purely cultural,” he says, citing Franklin, who helped found his university. (Ben Franklin was also a proponent of daylight saving time, which is a whole different circadian mess.)
A 9 to 5 schedule may be good for those who get up earlier, but it works against those who need to sleep later. And it might not just be owls: A 2014 study found that, in general, the later work and classes started, the more sleep participants (not all of whom were owls) got. “The combination of early work start and long commutes results in short sleep,” study lead author Dr. Matthias Basner, director of the Department of Experimental Psychiatry, Department of Sleep and Chronobiology at Penn University, wrote in an email to the Guardian.
The problem comes when we have jobs or activities that don’t match our circadian rhythms. When the responsibilities of being awake interfere so much with the sleep schedule that it becomes difficult to function, the night owl moves from a tendency to a condition known as sleep-wake lag disorder, in which circadian rhythms make daily activities difficult. Approximately 0.2% to 1.7% of adults have this condition.
“The craziness,” Malow says, “is that whether a person’s sleep habit is viewed as a disorder or just an addiction “depends more on their lifestyle and employment than anything else.”
Malow says treatment often starts with seeing if people can adjust their work schedule to their biological rhythms. She describes a patient who struggled in high school but blossomed when he started working as a cook; or students who can sign up for late classes.
In an ideal world, she says, we’d be less rigid about start times — from a health standpoint, the best scenario would be to find ways to stick to our own body clock. Instead of trying to conform to social demands, “I’d rather [patients] stick to a regular schedule where they go to bed at two and wake up at 10 or 11.” Of course, many people are not lucky enough to have such changes as an option – in which case the disorder can be treated with exposure to light, melatonin and exercise. Such methods allow you to change circadian rhythms, Herman says, but people have different success rates (he coined a term for this: circadian flexibility).
But aside from worries about work schedules, are there any fundamental health benefits to waking up early? Research, for example, suggests a link between getting up late and poor mental health or unhappiness. But, according to Herman, the decision on this issue has not yet been made.
“There are a lot of epidemiological studies showing that the night owl is associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and everything. But an open question: is it because you are an owl? Or is it the fact that most night owls are forced to follow a schedule that is ahead of their circadian rhythm—what we often refer to as a mismatch,” he says. Recent studies point to the latter, he says: “Of course it’s not definitive, but we think that’s exactly what’s happening.”
The bottom line is: if you’re a night owl, don’t be upset about it, and if you’re a early bird, be careful with your owl friends. In fact, by portraying those who stay up late as lazy, you may just be supporting The Human: British researcher Dr. Paul Kelly suggested that we stick to the 9 to 5 schedule because it suits bosses over 50, whose age means that they are easier to obtain. earlier.
“People shouldn’t change their schedule because they believe it’s bad for them to follow that schedule,” Herman says. “As people, we always say that if someone is different from us, then he is wrong.
“I think people should look at circadian rhythm differences the same way they look at any other differences between people.” So do not come to us with your opinions, especially before noon.