Lark or Owl — which are you?

When are you most creative? Or, should I put it more profoundly: When are you most yourself? In the early hours of the day, before most others have awakened, or after midnight, when most have gone on to the rest of their labors? Anne Fadiman, in At Large and At Small, essays into a meandering set of thoughts about being a night owl.
I defend her before I reveal my preferences. “No one faults,” she observes about the natural world as she sets us up for defending her custom, “the bandicoot for prowling after dusk; no one chides the night-flying cecropia moth for its decadence; no one calls the whippoorwill a lazy slugabed for sleeping by day and singing by night — but people who were born to follow similar rhythms are viewed by the other nine tenths of the population as a tad threadbare in the moral fiber department” (63). I would add to her list one of my favorite childhood memories in Freeport, IL: the nighthawks circling for bugs and other flying objects. They were nocturnal birds and evoke for me a good memory that my day was about spent.

“The child who reads at night is likely to become the adult who writes at night.” The habit began early for her: after her mother tucked her in and cut the lights, Anne tells us she turned the light on next to her bed and hoped her mother wouldn’t detect the light. Only a child thinks a parent wouldn’t notice … unless, of course, one lives in a sizable home. Her mother would leave … “Her steps would grow fainter, the book would grow shorter, and I would fall asleep at an ungodly hour, suffused with the goody-goody’s secret pride at having sinned” (72).
“Something,” she know so well, “amazing happens when the rest of the world is sleeping.” I agree, only I prefer that rest of the world to be still sleeping instead of just sleeping. Kris and I awaken early. On a Saturday, a day we are called by conscience to “sleep in,” I am happy to make it to 6am, but rarely do. And if I do, my back is still and I begin to feel lightheaded. No reason to fight it. I arise, say Jesus Creed to kick-start the day, shower make my coffee and have breakfast. Kris normally arises about 15 minutes after I do. We can’t sleep in.
There was a time when I preferred going to bed late — midnight or so — and getting up early, but I managed such a schedule only by a nice afternoon nap. If I nap now it’s only for 10-15 minutes, and it’s like clockwork. Rarely more.
Perhaps what I like most is not so much a late night when a single light suffuses its light for some reading (I can’t write any later than 4pm) or an early morning visit to the desk and computer, but the routine of pulling up to the desk by 7am or so and not pushing away from that desk until 11am or so and then back again from 12 to 4pm — when a little stiffness sets in because the concentration has been so intense and the clicking of the keys so constant. “I am suspended,” as Fadiman puts it so well, “in a sensory deprivation tank, and the very lack of sensation is delicious” (73).
Ah, it’s not about the time of day or even the place but the feeling of the muse landing lightly on the shoulder, about as heavy as a hummingbird, to ask me if I might like company for the day.

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  • I used to be a morning person. Now maybe I’m a whenever person, whenever I have the chance to do what I like to do as to creativity. But lack of sleep does wear on a person, along with too much coffee.
    One thing I’m not is an early afternoon person. I’d like siesta to become a part of our culture.

  • Having teens and young adults in the house has changed my sleeping patterns. I now routinely stay up until midnight reading and enjoying the company of my older children. I get up relatively early and have a quiet house until midmorning. At least in summer. The fall schedule of homeschool, school and college will change it all. And this former lark will miss seeing her night owls at their best. 😉

  • Maria Dodson

    I’m with you on loving the city when it is still sleeping! I love to walk through neighborhoods and cross busy streets when there are no cars. Or take a job downtown around 5am.
    But, in my world I feel like the odd ball for being a morning person. Are there really MORE larks than owls?

  • Maria Dodson

    oops…make that a “jog downtown”…i bet it’s hard to take a JOB at 5am.

  • Diane

    I’ve very much enjoyed the Fadiman book so thanks for the recommendation Scot. I’m a lark — at least as far as getting things done before the household is awake, before I have to face the reality of the day, so to speak. But that first hour at work, forget it!

  • As a kid I was always a late reader, but I do my best thinking and writing early.

  • I’ve changed with age. I was for a long time, and really enjoyed it, an owl. Now, I’m lucky to stay up past 9 pm. I used to read until 1:00-1:30 a.m. Julie has been a lark and she’s rubbed off on me. We, bot larks now, get up anywhere from 5:30- 6:30 a.m., make a cup of coffee, talk, laugh and get into our day.

  • I am an early – love getting things done when everyone is asleep or hasn’t made it into the office. My most profitable time would be between 730 and 930am.
    Always go to the early mornin service at church too, don’t mind being one of the younger ones there…

  • Without a doubt I am a night owl – and have had to overcome some of the pressures you noted from Anne Fadiman’s essay – much of the known world looks down on night owls. Of the four daughters I have been blessed with, two are night owls, and two are larks – though their actual sleeping and waking patterns vary with the seasons here in the Pacific NW.
    One small benefit of not being a morning person – my kids learned to sleep through the night at an early age and are pretty self-sufficient in the morning, though I still get grief from some people who say it’s unthinkable that I have taught my girls how to prepare breakfast for themselves and get themselves off to school without personally hovering and preparing a good breakfast for them (for this is the only true way to be a nurturing mother) . When they were too young to fend for themselves, I lived as neither a night own nor a lark – barely surviving by awakening before noon and crashing before midnight out of sheer exhaustion. But now that they are older, I have taught my girls to be responsible and self-managing in the morning which will be a great skill for them to have when they leave home 😉
    So, now I can return to the night – staying up late reading and writing and studying and if it weren’t for the darn 7 am school bell, I’m sure my oldest daughter would join me 🙂 She has recently confessed she wants to major in english in college and become a teacher.

  • Peggy

    Perhaps that is part of my current problem with processing things as well as I would like…I am an owl that is forced to live with larks! The life of a mother with young children is one of sleep deprivation…and when I’m always tired, I just can’t stay up late, when my brain is the clearest…but, one day I will have caught up on my sleep and the children will be older and I may get it back. I can hope!
    I think my challenge is the quiet. I cannot process well with the bustle of people talking and doing (and interrupting 😉 ) — but in the quiet of the night, it is as though I can see and hear with unparalleled clarity.
    I wait until I hear that the Spirit is calling to me in that still small voice…and then he gives me the strength to stay up late so that I can hear that small voice without all the noise!

  • steph

    I’m a night. Totally. If I could sleep from 1am – 9am I’d be HAPPY…. but the three children in my house make that an impossibility – for now. Once i start reading i can’t stop. Just this past week I was reading – just one more chapter – before bed – around 10.30. I finally turned the light off – and left the room so the husband could sleep — so I stood in the bathroom and read – just one more chapter – again – and again – until 1 in the morning when I finished the final chaper. This, by the way, was a book I had read several times. I get lost! I love it. When I’m writing music I love to have the freedom to do so at really the only time of the day when the house is consistently quiet – 8pm – 5am. I just said to someone that I can’t wait until our youngest [2 1/2] can fend for herself in the early mornings. 🙂

  • I am SUCH an owl! When I was freelancing full time last year and working at home, I immediately allowed my natural sleep/wake rhythm to set in. I would wake at 10:00am, piddle around most of the day, the start to work in the afternoon, being in bed by 2:00am. It was wonderful, and I was more creative and focused than when I try to fit into normal business hours.
    A story my mom still brings up to me sometimes… when I was in high school, I knew that it was going to be difficult for my parents to pay for college, so I started considering other alternatives. I was seriously considering going into the Army. However, just about that time was when they came out with their slogan “We do more before 8 o’clock than most people do all day.” It was then and there that I decided that army life was not for me!! 🙂

  • Peggy

    Cheryl, LOL, I was also seriously considering the Army (my best friend was in the first class to graduate women), but I had bigger issues than getting up early… 😉

  • Peggy

    …that would be the first class from West Point!

  • Doug Allen

    My problem is getting to writing before I exercise, which is typically a 4 mile walk, 3 mile jog or 8 mile bike ride. After that, I am pretty good at stuffing envelopes. I think I’m more creative in the morning (light verse examples)-
    HEAVEN’S BAR
    I was drinking at heaven’s bar
    When the bouncer said,
    “You’ve come too far.”
    “Wait a minute,” I protested,
    “That other place is too congested.”
    compared to the afternoon-
    PARTITION OF THE MIND
    In some ways I am brilliant.
    In some ways I am blind.
    And, like you, my friends-
    I’m blind to where my brilliance ends.
    Doug Allen

  • Barb Hungerford

    What do you call a middle of the day person?

  • A sunflower.