The Return of the Morning People
This may seem like a silly topic to you - along the lines of my Hebrew National Shortage article or my Disturbing Fiber Commentary or my rant on Kitchen Efficiency. Even my wife laughs when I bring it up. What a silly thing to worry about. If you're tired, just go to sleep earlier. Sure waking up at 5:30 is hard, but I do it, so why not you?
In April, I explained Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, a recognized disorder that makes it as difficult for a "Night Person" to wake up at 6am as it would be for a "Morning Person" to wake up at 2am. Can you imagine going to sleep at 7pm and waking up at 2am every weekday of your life? It's one of those things you never get used to. I argued in April that it was a hidden discrimination in the workplace - that the vast majority of corporate dwellers are morning people simply because the Night People are either pushed out or not promoted for being lazy.
Slate has an interesting article today that suggests that night people may not ever even make it to the corporate world, or even the top ten percent of college graduation. For years, we've been told to eat breakfast because we did better during the day. We were more alert, we were smarter, we worked harder. Studies (funded by Kellogg, but still valid) have repeatedly shown that people who regularly eat breakfast perform better during the day. Nobody knows exactly why that is, but people have put forth a lot of guesses. You know, like it gets your body's engine going, there's a blood sugar rush to the brain, it prevents hunger pang distractions, yada yada yada.
Slate suggests that nobody has ever looked at that group that doesn't eat breakfast - the ones who can't seem to get out of bed in time to shower, get dressed, eat, and still make the school bus on time. I remember that if it came down to a choice between making the school bus and eating breakfast, I knew which side my mother preferred. Still, maybe the people who don't eat breakfast are the Night People, the people who are groggy and overtired to begin with. Schools start early. If you don't have kids, you might not remember. In my county, elementary schools begin at 8:15. High schools start at 7:30. When I was in high school in Florida, I had to be awake at 5:30 to make the bus to get to school before the bell so I was in my seat on time - otherwise I had detention. Not only that, my father certainly didn't want to drive me to school that was 20-30 minutes from both home and his work. 7:30!! Who among you gets to work at that time? And high school students are most affected by DSPS - due to their changing hormones, many experience some form of DSPS sometime during their teenage years. Slate references a Brown study that showed that the brain patterns of many teenagers look like that of narcoleptics. Narcolepsy can cause sufferers to fall asleep at the snap of a finger. Ever seen students sleeping in class? Sometimes they put their heads on the desk. Sometimes they're still sitting straight up, and occasionally still have their eyes open. Familiar with the "head nod"? Sometimes the first these kids know they're asleep is when their head droops and they jerk back upright, waking them up.
I've had chalk erasers thrown at my head. I've come very close to throwing them back. The only thing that stopped me was extreme embarrassment at having fallen asleep to begin with. I also didn't get great grades, despite testing well. I don't know if I can correlate that with being sleepy. It would be interesting to pull out the old report cards and see if I did better in late morning or afternoon classes. Either way, Night Kids start out life with a serious disadvantage. In the best case scenario, lower grades only affects college choice, but in college students can sign up for later classes. In more likely scenarios, these kids never really learn what they could be learning in school, making them somewhat developmentally delayed. Some just figure they're stupid and never try too hard in the future. Some may give up entirely, as many developmentally delayed students do. Those kids drop out, join gangs, commit violence. Hmmm - maybe that's why gangs like to hang out at night?
Slate reports that some schools are experimenting with later start times, and that's a good start. Parents, of course, are put out. Early school times fit in so neatly with their Morning People work schedule. I remember years ago there were some schools that ran on a split-shift to cut costs. I wouldn't have minded going to a school that started at noon. But there's hope on the professional front, as telecommuting becomes more prevalent. Take out 45 minutes of commute in the morning and 30 to 60 minutes of showering and getting dressed, and you're starting to talk about real sleep time. It's an idea whose time is overdue. And maybe those homeschoolers are on to something. In either case, however, you eliminate the social life. Making friends is easy when you're sitting next to them in misery for 8 hours, and that applies whether you're at work or school. Either way, being a Night Person means a lifetime of uphill climbs. All I can say is, "Fight the Man!" Night Power! (away!)