The Wisdom Of Night Owls

As a guy who usually does his best thinking after sundown, I’ve sometimes felt defensive in the face of a culture which regards rising early as key to productivity, right thinking, even Godliness. But while jumping out of bed early may be convenient to collective business agendas, there’s a downside to making everyone get up near dawn. Science suggests that forcing people out of their natural rhythm injures their health, and the nation in general seems to be suffering an epidemic of sleep disorder. Recent evidence also suggests that rising early is more worm than bird when educating teenagers. As a group teens need more sleep than adults, a fact which doubtless frustrates those who get them up early, only to try teaching them while they’re half asleep!

Of course it’s only natural that most people are active while the sun shines. Until the industrial age most of us were precluded by darkness from doing much after sunset. But some variability in circadian rhythm seems likely in a large population. I’ve sometimes wondered how humanity may have benefited, in both evolutionary and historical terms, from individuals who are active at night. One clue may be gleaned from the relatively bad color perception of mammals, the structure of whose eyes tends to favor monochromatic rod cells. Such cells provide excellent peripheral vision and motion detection in low light, suggesting a time when mammals needed such skills to avoid nocturnal predators. Similarly, guarding a town, city, or citadel with individuals who are alert at night would prove very useful against sudden attack at exactly the time most people were asleep and vulnerable. But being a late riser may have additional benefits, as I learned last night from this Wired Magazine article:

3 Smart Things About Sleeping Late

Artists, writers, and coders typically fire on all cylinders by crashing near dawn and awakening at the crack of noon. In one study, “evening people” almost universally slam-dunked a standardized creativity test. Their early-bird brethren struggled for passing scores.

(Originally posted by R.Guenette on 01.02.09 )