Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Morning People II

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!)


Sylvana said...

You know, I never really thought about it quite like this before- about it being discrimination. I must have missed that point in your Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome post.

I have a lot of trouble eating breakfast in the morning. I have to wait until at least after 10am to eat, even if I wake up at 6am or 7am, or I will feel sick. I just don't think my stomach wakes up until then.

I am a night person. I wonder how many other night people have this problem. Maybe that's another reason that they do not eat breakfast.

We homeschool our son, and he does far better at night. I have heard of a few budget-crunched areas going to night classes so that they can accomodate more children in the same building without expanding. Many of these children's parents need to work at night so that works out for them as well. What do the night workers that do not have these eductional options for their kids do when they go to work? Night jobs aren't always high paying jobs. There's a little more discrimination for you.

Mike said...

I don't buy it.

Ben said...

I buy it. People have different rhythms. It's pretty obvious that the colleague who is obnoxiously chipper every morning on just 6 hours of sleep is going to function better in the morning than the guy who gets the same amount of sleep but has huge dark circles under his eyes and doesn't want to talk to you for the first 2 hours of work (the latter example is autobiographical). I've tried going to sleep earlier, and it doesn't matter. Whether I've gotten 12 hours of sleep or 5, I'm still dead at 8 a.m.

If you don't buy it, then you are probably a morning person.

Mike said...

If there is such a thing, then yes I would be a morning person. I can't sleep past 7 AM. Even on weekends I'm usually up at 6:30. I never drink coffee or eat breakfast. But usually I'm cranky the next day if I stay up past 10 PM. I think people use the whole "I'm not a morning person" as an excuse to be lazy. Hahaha!

Actually, I bet it is a function of how much R.E.M. sleep you get. That is the truly restful sleep that charges your batteries. You could sleep for 12 hours, but if you only get 2 hours REM sleep you're going to feel tired. I think REM sleep may be a function of health, diet, and exercise. I'm not a doctor, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last week.

Scott said...

Could be, Mike, but since Morning People get their REM sleep at 3am and Night People get their REM sleep at 7am, it's the same issue, no?

I have the same issue as Ben - I can get 12 hours of sleep, but if I wake up at 6, I'm wasted. I worked nights for a year - I went to bed at 5 or 6 am and usually woke up at noon with no alarm. I felt awesome and I rarely ever slept past 12 unless I went to sleep really late (8am).

Mike said...

I'm not sure how it works. I guess it's possible for some to get their REM starting at 11 PM and others not until 3 AM. I was thinking maybe some people are able to get a good solid 6 hours straight (heavy sleepers) vs. some who only get 10 mins here, 20 mins there (light sleepers). So theoretically someone could get 8 hours of sleep but only 2 hours of REM while another person only gets 5 hours with 4 REM and be more alert. I'm booked for another Holiday Inn Express next week so I'll let you know.

I used to do the night shift thing too. I usually got to be around 9 AM and slept until 2 PM. On rainy days I could sleep until 4 PM. I was always screwed up b/c when you looked at my sleeping hours at the end of the week I had deprived myself a whole night of sleep from staying up late the first night and staying up when I got off on Friday so I could sleep that night. I'm glad those days are over.