I have always been a night owl. As the moon rises and the stars come out, my mind clears, and I am more productive. It seems to run in my family; My children have never missed a New Year’s celebration and are champions at resisting bedtime. Three of my four children can easily stay up until 2 am. Mornings are a constant struggle in my house and we try not to plan things before 10 am.
With my first child, I was confused and discouraged. He was nothing like other children I knew. He never seemed to sleep, a cat nap recharged him as if he had slept 10 hours. He would wake up in the night and escape his crib, making messes in the wee hours of the morning. After failing at sleep training, and speaking with my pediatrician, it became clear that his internal clock was just like mine. Subsequent children displayed the same characteristics and we eventually found our unique family rhythm: Dinner is at 8, we start family movie night at 10 pm, and we go on night walks during the Summer. We operate differently from other families, but it works for us.
Some have speculated that this trait originated in the Nightwatch and the nocturnal hunters of our primitive cultures. This adaptation profits our society and will never be eliminated, despite the fact that our world demands 9 am-5 pm as the standard workday. For a night owl like me, being forced to operate against my circadian rhythm is torture. I can’t sleep at night, I struggle to wake up in the mornings, and I remain foggy until around 10 am. As a mother, the demands of children further complicate the struggle and the profound exhaustion is compounded.
Too often, evening types are described as lazy and undisciplined. I have fought against these stereotypes my entire life. May I suggest that we night owls are simply sleepy, worn out from burning the candle at both ends? It has been suggested to me by cheerful early risers that going to bed earlier, taking melatonin, exercising in the morning, or getting a new planner will solve all my problems. But I have never found a solution that changes my internal clock. While I can function in the mornings to accomplish menial tasks, an epiphany has never arrived before noon. All of my best and most creative thoughts happen at night.
I’m in good company. Some famous night owls are President Obama, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and Prince. Evening types tend to be more creative; They are the poets, artists, and inventors. It is no coincidence that Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the lightbulb so that he could continue work into the night without the limitations of the sun.
If you are an incurable night owl like me, the following tips may help you to survive. These are the things I do that actually help me to operate as a responsible adult, despite my nocturnal habits.
Get out in the Sunshine
Go outside in the morning. While I can sleep with the sun shining through my windows, intentionally exposing myself to the outdoors helps me to wake up. The birds singing, the smell of the outdoors, and sunshine on my face helps to wake me up. Drinking my coffee outside is very helpful on days when I need to perform an early task.
One cup in the morning will work wonders to rouse you from sleep. Bonus points if you have a pre-programmed pot that makes your coffee so you can wake up to the smell.
If you are sleepy in the afternoon, take a coffee nap. Drink a cup of coffee quickly and then nap for around 20 minutes. When you wake up, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for the rest of your day. Never drink coffee after the sun goes down unless you want to pull an all-nighter.
Give your kids (and yourself) a morning schedule so you don’t have to think. I have alarms set on my phone with specific instructions. Just follow the list when you are groggy in the morning. Do physical work early and mental work after 5. The quiet of night is perfect for creativity and focus.
Set alarms … So many alarms. Then take a shower. If you are like me, you can wake up and seize the day after you hear the 5th alarm, having snoozed or completely slept through the others.
Don’t Lay in Bed Awake
If you can’t sleep at night, get up, and do something productive. There is no use tossing and turning or wasting your time scrolling on social media. Fold the laundry, write in your journal, read a book, or start a project you’ve been putting off. When you start to feel sleepy, lay back down. Do not let the second wind hit you or you will be up all night.
Exercise at Night
Work out after 3 pm. You will feel stronger and more confident. My family loves to go on night walks, runs, and bike rides. We easily fall asleep afterward, unlike larks who would be too stimulated from the excursions.
Embrace Who You Are
Continue your lucubration (working by candlelight). God made you this way. Go forth and succeed in this world. Despite the difficulties you face, your internal clock gives you specific advantages that shouldn’t be ignored.
It takes all kinds of people to make our society work, and you are an important part of that. Don’t worry if your kids don’t sleep like your friend’s kids. Help them learn to live with it and don’t shame them. They have to learn how to survive and succeed as night owls, just like we do.
I salute you fellow night owl moms. Raise your coffee cup to the sky tomorrow morning, knowing you aren’t alone. We are the Nightwatch.