Research is now finally beginning to confirm what some of us have known since teenagerhood: some people have an innate proclivity to go to bed late and get up late, while others are programmed to go to bed early and get up early. One can see the evolutionary advantages to a given tribe if you have people of both types on hand: this way, you always have someone on watch. They say that the ‘owls’ (those who incline to stay up late and get up late) are programmed for their afternoon ‘nap’ about 2pm, while the doves are programmed to have theirs about 12:30 or 1 on average.
Speaking as a certifiable owl, one of the most horrible things about almost every job is that it forces you to get up far too early. It has gotten a bit easier for me as I have gotten older and have required less sleep: as a late teen (when most people require their peak amounts of sleep at up to 9 or even 10 hours) it was absolutely brutal to get up for high school, which the administrators had perversely set up so that it began earliest, while elementary school began latest. Thus high school started at 7:20, meaning we all got up at 5am!!!, while elementary school didn’t start until 9. I have also seen studies saying that they should reverse this order: elementary kids tend to get up early (which I also did: I was up at 5 and 6 when I was 6-10 years old), while high school kids really want, naturally, to stay up late and get up late (this whether you are a dove or owl – you still have tendencies to do more sleeping in and staying up at that point).
Even though I need a bit less sleep now (8 hours to be fully functional, rather than 9 as a teen), the hours that almost every job forces you to get up at are entirely inhumane. It should definitely go into the global declaration of human rights that people have a right to enough sleep, and therefore the right not to get up at 4:30 if they want to. These days, however, it seems that insanely early waking hours are almost entirely unavoidable. Almost everyone I know who has a ‘real’ job suffers from chronic sleep deprivation. For one thing, they are away from home at least 12 hours, often 14 hours, 5 or more days per week. To do this, they get up at 5am, some even earlier, some as late as 5:30, and then they get home often at 6 or 7 in the evening. Wow! And then, as other studies show, people still feel the need to have some life, and so they do a set amount of things, no matter how little time they have in the evening, and so most of them end up going to bed after midnight anyway, thus setting themselves up for 5 hours of sleep max if they are lucky. And it’s hard to sleep in on weekends because they are programmed to get up at an ungodly hour all week, every week, most of their lives, with no significant vacation to speak of.
So why do we do it? As Terry Eagleton put it; our society worships work, esp the Anglo-Saxon North American (and Asian). Eagleton says: there should be no such thing as a pre-dawn power breakfast.
But then again, this couldn’t happen, if at least some people, those in power, didn’t mind it. The problem is, there really are a minority of people who either a) don’t need much sleep in order to feel happy, or b) more commonly, who can caffeinate themselves into some semblance of go-gettimness in the morning – but the real issue it seems is c), which is that there are indeed some ‘doves’ out there, who really do like to go to bed earlyish, say , 10pm (I’ve seen it!), and then who can get up at 5 and actually feel totally refreshed and ready to go.
This is a serious problem. Why is that? Well, there seems to be some real correlation between getting up early and doing well in ‘the system.’ I mean, it’s totally set up by dove people, who are actually happy to get up early and be chipper by 6 or 7 am. And since the system tends to promote these people, (first in high school, and then in the office), this means that the boss types are already those who are used to and can function early in the morning. So the problem is, by the time us Owls are rolling out of bed, the doves have already done the best part of their workday. This of cousre just makes us look ‘lazy.’ And so, the world is basically run by doves, for doves, and those of us who aren’t doves are screwed.
I would like to point out that this is a physiological thing. In other words, if there are indeed two sub-species of human beings, then there is pretty serious discrimination against the ‘owl’ in our society. Owls are economically majorly disadvantaged, because the system has long been run by doves, and there has long been this rather arbitrary idea that people who ‘get up late’ are missing out. Well shit, we can’t really help it: and yet, I would argue, that i’m every bit as capable of being just as productive a worker as any dove. Only, I’m ready to get rolling about noon, rather than 7am.
Why should that be a problem? If our society wants to maximize its labour productivity, as so many people who make a living out of this sort of thing suggest, then they should really be taking into account that, no matter what you do, some of your workers are going to be much more productive later in the day. How hard would it be, in this day and age, to set up a system where half o your workers come in a few hours later than the other half? Then, just as the doves are starting to nod off a little after noon, the owls come in fresh and start kicking butt. They could then even keep things running much later, after the owls are comatose at 6pm. I still think that, as has been shown (and as France has tried to adopt), people only work productively about 5 hours per day. The work day should therefore be max 6 hours: you go in, get settled, get your work in, and then, rather than wasting time and surfing the net, you go home, so you can recharge and do it again. But, I also propose that things need to be staggered. It would be possible for me to work at a normal ’company’ if there was any chance that my work schedule could be arranged so that I could, yes, be avaialble when other people were, but also, so that I could maximize my personal production. I am not a kid. I am perfectly willing to do my part, and to work hard, if it is for a decent cause and or the remuneration is right. But, I am not going to kill myself doing it. I will have enough sleep to function, and I will work the amount of hours that a human being can comfortably work. If everyone said this, if everyone demanded this as a precondition for work, the world would be much less nineteenth-century, and most of us would be far, far happier.
But there is also that issue, that there are some obsessive people who really like working 14 hour days, because they have turned off every other aspect of their lives. The answer is: we cannot allow the 90 percent of us who want to have variety in our lives, to be dictated to by that 5 or 10 percent of crazy obsessives, who not only are doves, but who are also unhealthy workaholics. They get to be bossees, they make the rest of us ‘look bad’ in our bosses’ eyes. But, they have to be seen for what they are. They are not normal; they can do what they like, but they can’t be held up to us as examples of what we should be. There has to be more room for motivated, skillful and professional people to make a contribution, and recognizing the innate sleep patterns, and respecting people’s right to sleep and work in a way that keeps them happy and fulfilled, is a big part of getting there.