It’s common knowledge among personal development experts that one must become an early riser to win in life. And since most people who are successful confess to being early morning risers, we then accept this as true for everyone. But is it?
Perhaps instead of looking at the mighty successful early risers who have been shaped by cultural influences (or perhaps vice versa), we would do well to look at the most untouched and least influenced by expectations and culture, out of all of us: our babies.
Our Babies As Models for Natural Sleep Patterns
My little one, no matter what time she goes to bed, wakes up at 6 AM with a perky smile, ready to play. I’ve tried to put her down later in hopes of getting more snooze in the morning, but it just doesn’t work. Her body knows how much sleep it needs and when to get it best, and so 6 AM it is. Meanwhile, some babies wake up at a gloriously later time, like at 9 AM. They are just not yet ready for bed around the time most babies are expected to sleep. Oh, I am so jealous.
Our babies, left to their own natural preference of when to get their sleep best, will do so. Unless we train them to do otherwise, their bodies will tell them to rest when they need to rest, and to be active when they are ready for it.
When Natural Sleep Patterns Collide with the Rest of the World
I am NOT a morning person. I actually do my best thinking and writing sometime late at night. But because my little toddler is, I have no choice but to adapt. And so I wake up in the morning with a coffee in hand (I am actually trying to wean myself off from coffee, but that’s another post for another time). I stagger through the morning desperately trying to find the energy to match my daughter’s, but I’m just not fully functioning until after her naptime in the afternoon. Even when I go to bed at a time earlier for my liking.
And so for many of us as well. We need to get to work by 7 AM and so have no choice but to go to bed early so we can have a decent night’s sleep. But then given the freedom, we will most likely sleep in on weekends because it’s our body’s most natural or circadian rhythm pattern for wakefulness and sleeping.
For those of us who are not morning people, too often we are chastised for a habit that is nothing more than a natural response to our body’s inner clock. (There is an actual term for this “morningness” or “eveningness” and even a mid-range or neutral, I learned. It’s called Chronotype. Read more here.) We often view the folks who like to “sleep in” as lazy or just undisciplined. Although that could be true, it’s an unfair judgment for those who have tried their best to work with the standard sleeping time in our culture that is not in keeping with their body’s preference.
Not only that, but we often don’t design our life around our natural sleeping pattern. Most of us have jobs that start at 9 am or even earlier. Few of us have the luxury of being able to choose the hours that fit our circadian rhythm.
Some Unconventional Solutions
1. Get the sleep you need.
This is where the conventional wisdom of sleeping early comes in: If you have no choice but wake up earlier than your body would like to, then you do need to sleep early to get the sleep you need. Most of us get that. But something that has also worked for me, is that I sleep in shifts. I sleep with my daughter when she goes down for bed and then I wake up around midnight to do some writing. Then around 3 am, I go down again for a short nap. I’ve learned from my little girl’s newborn days that I didn’t need continuous sleep as long as I get 8 hours in one day, and that each sleep duration lasts more than 45 minutes.
2. Do the most important work when you are at your best.
Some folks recommend doing the work you dislike the most when you have the most energy. But I say, why waste it? If you are not a morning person and you have some freedom to schedule your work around the day, then try to do your most important work when you have the most energy. Not necessarily the most urgent. Simple Mom has a timely post today on Fighting the Tyranny of the Urgent at Home that addresses that. Personally, I do my writing late at night, when I somehow am thinking rather clearly. My second best chunk of time is in the afternoon, so that is when I do a lot of fun stuff with my daugther. This is also the time I am at my best to hang out with, so I have to consciously guard my afternoon weekends with my spouse.
3. Figure out creative ways to do work when you are not quite fully awake.
One of the things I like to do with my daughter in the morning is go out for long walks. This way, I don’t have to shell out as much emotional energy that I do not yet have but we can still have enjoyable time together. Plus the fresh air helps my lack of energy. I also do my mindless chores during this time, like laundry and some light cleaning, with her playing beside me. I am usually on autopilot and do not need to be engaged in the task I am doing. I like to put on my upbeat music as well to cheer up the mood.
Do What’s Best for You
To wrap up, while most of us do benefit greatly from going early to bed and waking up early, some of us don’t. We really need to be aware of individual differences in all things and make space, big and small, for those. Don’t feel guilty for how God made you, learn to work with yourself the best way you can, and most of all, just sleep.