The Conflicting Worlds of Early Risers and Night Owls

There are two basic type of people on this earth:  early risers and night owls. Sometimes the two converge such as when someone who is naturally one or the other is forced to adapt because of some external reason. On the spectrum of time, being an early bird has been my norm for as long as I can remember.

When growing up, my father insisted that we start every road trip by 4 AM. My sister and I would pile into the car, still half-asleep, and doze off in the back seat.  Driving in the darkness of pre-dawn, we ruled the highway except for few long-haul semi-trailers. My mother packed sandwiches for our breakfast which normally consisted of mayonnaise-rich egg-salad for the kids and a fried egg smothered with ketchup for Dad. Nothing for Mom, who being a night owl, couldn’t fathom eating before 10 AM.

The Palanci family made great time on the road and was well fed.  Subsequently, I associate getting up early with positive Proustian recollections. (At least, each time I tuck into an egg salad sandwich, I am transported back to those early morning start-time excursions and all the fun our family had traveling together.)

Most of my friends agree that getting up early makes for a great start of the day.  Michelle, from my spin class says, “I get up very early and accomplish all sorts of tasks such as the laundry or paying bills.  Given I never know when my work day is going to end, I need the extra hours in the morning to take care of normal living chores.”

Emily Stubler, our Equinox cycling instructor, says that she has extra energy in the morning.  “By late afternoon my head is cluttered with all sorts of things and I can’t think as clearly as in the morning.  I also like to make all my big decisions before the work day really begins.”

Nicole Lauber, my husband’s millennial granddaughter, also lays claim, with pride, to being a morning person. Her rational? As Nicole explains it, “Mostly because I enjoy the peace and quiet that comes along with it. I love having uninterrupted time to read, catch up on work, or even do some cooking for the week.”

One of the advantages of getting things done early is that it provides you with a feeling of accomplishment.  What better way to start your work day than to feel positive about what you’ve already done?

Forbes Magazine did a recent article enumerating the multiple benefits of being a morning person ( Getting a jump on the work day with a refreshed body and brain fosters:

  • Increased productivity due to fewer distractions and minimal interruptions

  • More efficiency allowing you to get things done quicker and better

  • Superior test scores and overall grade points as proven by Texas University research

  • Increased likelihood of eating a good breakfast to fuel your day, versus the person who skips it in favor of extra sleep

  • The ability to anticipate problems and minimize them efficiently

  • Better use of quiet time to plan things and set short and long term goals

  • More time for exercise which boosts your mood and provides energy

  • Better sleep patterns reflecting the earth's circadian rhythms, which in turn offers more restorative sleep

  • A more optimistic attitude

  • More quality time to spend with your family or to pursue other interests

·Not everyone agrees on this last point.  Those who are forced to get up early argue that if you wake up at 5 AM, you also need to go to bed early thereby sacrificing—not gaining—some hours of free time for family and friends. 

While various studies paint mostly a positive picture for those of us early risers, they do give extra credit for creativity and intelligence to night owls.  The trade off for them is that those who go to bed late are more likely to exhibit traits such as depression, pessimism and being neurotic. 

To be fair, let’s not forget that Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson, was a notorious late sleeper, but also a star performer. Watson accomplished amazing things keeping up with Sherlock’s manic behavior once the doctor’s engines were in full throttle.

Naturally, there is room in this world for both type people. I once employed a woman who struggled with keeping normal office hours.  She arrived in the morning still half asleep and needed several cups of coffee plus quiet space around her before she could even begin to converse with the team.   When the rest of the staff completed their work day around 6 PM she would be just starting to hit her stride.  She would say “goodnight” to the rest of us and stay until 8 or 9 PM producing brilliant work.  I decided to make an exception to the office hours’ rule and allowed her extra sleep time.  Being flexible as a business owner yielded both increased creativity and productivity for the firm. My decision to respect one key employee’s biological clock ended up being fairer to the staff as well.  We could start making noise and chatting away about our day the moment we walked through the office door.

There are some people who actively want to change their natural biorhythm. Anna Squatriti, my Italian teacher, confessed that she wasn’t always an early riser.  She convinced herself to change because she felt that she could get more accomplished in the early morning.  While Anna now gets up around 5:30 or 6:00 AM every morning, it takes her several hours to be fully ready to face her day and interact with others.  As least she can work away in silence until her caffeina kicks in. Then Anna is ready to interact with humanity. 

Individuals who work night shifts or particularly late hours, such as chefs, waitstaff and actors, face a different challenge.  They often need to adapt their natural time clock.  Shakespearean actor, Jonathon Fried, explained that when he is on the stage, his work hours are normally 8-11 PM.  When the show is over, he can’t go to bed immediately like normal people.  As Jonathon explains it, “I need time in the real world before going into the dream world of sleep. At around 1 AM, in lieu of watching television—which most of my acting friends do—I pick up a book.  Reading for me functions as a conduit to sleep. I need quiet time as an antidote to my public personae.  I need to own the world for several hours before starting again to serve the world as an actor.”

My friend Audrey Boulton weighed in in favor of the night owls.  With her years of being a wife and mother behind her, she explains how wonderful it is to be able to follow her natural time clock.  “Now, no longer needing groggy, grumpy, early breakfasts for/with husband, babies, lovers, work, etc. I usually sleep eight to nine hours until coffee circa 10:00-11:00+ AM. This lovely, late awakening is achieved by bed time circa the delicious hours of 12:30- 1:00 AM permitting a benign, happy time for late frolics, dinners, reading the NYTimes, watching TV rubbish, late news, and of course books, books books!” 

During my research on early risers vs night owls, I found a new perspective to ponder. Olivia Goldhill wrote a charming, tongue-in-cheek article in the UK’s Telegram ( giving argument to why one shouldn’t get up early.  She begins her thesis quoting American research.  “US academics discover that early risers are more likely to behave dishonestly and cheat during night time hours.”  Say what? Between which hours?

Wherever you are on the wake-sleep spectrum, no doubt, you are convinced your way is best. For you, yes, but not for everyone. There are sacrifices to be made living in either camp.  For example, sometimes I regret going to bed every night at 10 pm and missing seeing in real time the side-splitting,  late-night talk shows with all their irreverent humor.  Now, if only I could rent a kid, or learn how to tape those shows!