Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn’t a Problem

Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn’t a Problem, by Alex Williams.

Society likes morning people. Loves them, actually. Early risers tend to be more punctual, get better grades in school and climb up the corporate ladder. These so-called larks are celebrated as the high achievers, the apple polishers, the C.E.O.s.

It’s basically the idea that Ben Franklin touted more than 250 years ago — “early to bed, early to rise” — with everyone else cast as lazy or self-indulgent.

But what if they are wrong? What if night owls are actually the unsung geniuses? What if we are the ultimate disrupters and rule changers, the ones who are better suited to a modern, postindustrial society ruled by late-night coders, digital nomads, freelance moguls and co-working entrepreneurs?

Night owl? It’s in your genes:

According to [Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California at Berkeley], about 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the remainder land somewhere in between. “Night owls are not owls by choice,” he writes. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”

When night owls are forced to rise early, their prefrontal cortex, which controls sophisticated thought processes and logical reasoning, “remains in a disabled, or ‘offline,’ state,” Dr. Walker writes. “Like a cold engine in an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature.”

That might even serve an evolutionary purpose. When early humans lived in small tribes, as in the early scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” staggered sleep schedules bestowed a survival advantage: Someone was always awake to watch for prowling leopards and club-wielding rivals, according to the book.

But it has been downhill for us night owls ever since. The rise of agriculture brought fields to till at daybreak. The industrial revolution brought factories with 8 a.m. time clocks. Night owls were forced to adapt, and that appears to have taken a toll. …

Society needs night owls, but they don’t fit in:

Say what you will about night owls, but we are a tribe of mavericks. Our hall of fame — or infamy — includes rebels (Keith Richards, Hunter S. Thompson) and revolutionaries (Mao, Stalin), mad geniuses (James Joyce, Prince) and madmen (Charles Manson, Hitler). Even our conventional political heroes (Barack Obama, Winston Churchill) are remembered as genius outsiders.

This may not be a coincidence. The very essence of our chronotype makes us oddballs, prone to looking at life through a different lens. We are the weirdos who feel most alive skulking through the darkness, secure in the illusion that we own the world for at least a few precious hours every night while everyone else slumbers.

In those wee hours, we feel the freedom to think any thought, dream any dream, safe from the scrutiny and judgment of the strait-laced world. …

Other researchers have suggested that we are preternaturally wired to take risks, a quality that I tend to associate with entrepreneurial verve. A 2014 University of Chicago study found that night owls were “associated with greater general risk-taking” in matters of finance, ethics and leisure.

Joanne and I are night owls. Makes a regular job seem so unappealing: getting up too early! We do our best work late at night.