OPINION: Sleep schedules should not be subject to shame

Student completing homework late at night
(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

The popular idiom “the early bird gets the worm” tells people that in order to be successful and reap life’s benefits, you must get up early. This phrase, albeit not serious in most contexts, affirms that those who stay up and wake up late represent laziness and unproductivity. 

Morning people are often seen as being the pinnacle of productivity and health, while night people are almost intrinsically stereotyped as unhealthy procrastinators just because they follow a different schedule. Early morning routines have become aestheticized to the point where anyone who deviates from this routine risks being perceived as unproductive. 

Daily routines are highly personal and vary depending on personal preferences, age and circumstances. It is imperative not to shame people for following a schedule that suits their needs, because everyone’s bodies and circumstances are different. 

In recent years, YouTube has been flooded with 5 a.m. productive morning routine videos that showcase people going to bed at 8 p.m., waking up at 5 a.m., exercising, eating healthy breakfasts and working the entire day. While this routine may work well for many people, tagging the word “productive” in the title of the videos implies that people who do not follow this routine are not productive enough.

For many teenagers, going to bed at 8 p.m. and waking up at 5 a.m. is biologically difficult because of their circadian rhythms. In a sleep study, it was concluded that teens do not start producing melatonin, the sleep hormone, until 11 p.m. at the earliest and 1 a.m. at the latest; and do not stop producing until 8 a.m., while adults start producing it at 10 p.m. If most teens do not feel tired until 1 a.m. and need eight to 10 hours of sleep every night, it would be difficult to feel fully rested if they followed a 5 a.m. morning routine. 

Beyond teenagers, many adults are night people, based on their lifestyles. Bartenders, parents of newborn babies and other night shift workers find themselves working at night and being very tired in the morning. Their inability to wake up early does not represent laziness but the opposite — they work productively through the night and need rest in the late morning. 

Being an early riser and wondering why others cannot do the same can also be an example of privilege. Graveyard shifts are typically done by blue-collar workers who may be in school, have family responsibilities or cannot find other positions. They have no choice but to be night people in order to make sufficient income and fulfill obligations. Those who have the privilege of either not needing a job or working limited hours during the day have the ability to sleep and rise early out of choice. Shaming people for staying up and waking up late represents a lack of empathy surrounding others’ lifestyles. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many students to have to shift their daily routines. With the introduction of daily classes on Zoom, extreme time zone differences and general uncertainty about the future, people’s sleep schedules have been thrown off. 

Also, many students prefer to work during the night because that is when they feel the most productive. Circadian rhythms are highly personal and can vary depending on genetics. Students often feel more creative later at night, which allows them to produce better work. Furthermore, for students who live in busy cities, the late night can be one of the only times when they feel calm and at peace. 

The desire to delay going to sleep can be the result of having an extremely busy schedule. There is a phenomenon called “revenge bedtime procrastination,” where people choose to sacrifice their sleep time at night and replace it with leisurely activities that they wouldn’t get to do otherwise. Thus, staying up late at night can be the result of students’ needing time to themselves after a long day. 

Much of American society is built around morning people rather than night people. Because humans once lived revolving around sunrise and sunset times, there is the idea that we should all be morning people. However, there is no harm in accommodating night people; college professors could make due date times at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. instead of 11:59 p.m. 

Being understanding of people’s schedules allows for everyone to live shame-free. Most people have enough difficulties going on in their lives, especially during a pandemic, to the point where commenting on their lifestyles can be hurtful. For all the night people and late risers who have been made to feel unproductive because of their lifestyle, remember this revised idiom: “The early bird gets the worm, but the night owl gets the mouse!” 

Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, CA. She loves afternoon naps. 

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