The Stylist columnist explains why early birds aren’t necessarily top of the pecking order…
Early mornings are getting me down. Not because I’m rising early – I’m not – but because I’ve always been an owl, not a lark. When I was a student, pulling an all-nighter was no problem – it was an all-dayer that would have killed me. And when left to my own devices, my best working hours are less 9 to 5 and more 4 to midnight.
But this is becoming ever more unacceptable as the cult of the early riser grows. Getting up at stupid-o’clock has long been a staple of both self-improvement and business gurus’ manifestos, whose attitudes are best summed up by the latest one to take the US by storm: Robin Sharma’s The 5am Club: Own Your Morning, Elevate Your Life. But now it seems to be infecting the lives of normal people, too.
Everywhere I turn, my life – and my social media feeds, if we’re still distinguishing between the two – is full of friends celebrating that they’ve been for a run, emptied their inbox, filed their tax returns and passed two GCSEs in the time it once took them to pour out their cornflakes.
What I don’t see, however, is what happens at the other end of the day, when everyone is collapsing at their desk at 4pm, or crawling into bed by 8pm with a bag of chips because they’re too knackered to cook or deal with anyone.
Because here’s the thing: night owl or morning lark, the human body only has a certain number of productive hours in it. You can probably put in about eight at work, sustainably, and stay awake long enough before and after to commute, eat, sort out the plumber, pet your dog, have drinks with friends and do all the things that those hours at work are meant to enable you to do. Then go to bed.
But wherever those peak productive hours fall in a 24-hour cycle, it makes no sense to try to emulate those who say they work best in the morning if that’s not the way you operate. And it makes even less sense to be pious or feel superior about it.
We have this idea that getting up early is some kind of moral good. Perhaps it’s a hangover from when we were all farmers and electricity hadn’t been invented, so if you did miss any daylight hours by not getting up at sparrow’s-fart to thresh your wheat and make your bread, you really were a daft, lazy bastard because you and your family would starve.
Things (guess what?!) are different now. You can get fully made sandwiches, for a start, which puts you a week ahead of any peasant schedule right away. So the cult of early rising as a means of transforming your life is as gimmicky as wellness practitioners who promise that flaxseed will make you immortal. In short, it’s a dramatic, empty promise that looks good, sounds tempting but is worth nothing.
It may make you feel more productive because you’re getting stuff out of the way early, but a) there will always be more stuff to do and b) remember that you will be effectively dead by 4pm. Meanwhile, the only thing we night owls are tired of is being treated as if we’re deadbeats because the world still clings to a feudal timetable.
Eight hours is eight hours is eight hours. Employers need to accept that the 11 to 7 (or 12 to 8, or 1 to – you get the picture) is as good as the 9 to 5, and everyone else needs to accept that I will never be joining them for breakfast in the park at 7am. But if you ever need someone to have a drink with at midnight – great, I’m there!