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Sunday, 10 March 2013


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Setting larkish and owlish genetic tendencies aside, I'm all for scheduling sleep-time in order to get as much daylight as possible. I'm pretty sure our mental health benefits from daylight; I know mine does. It saddens me to think of owls sleeping through the sweet light of morning. I rejoice at Daylight Savings Time and always regret its passing in the fall.

I emphatically agree, especially the "mild form of torture" part. The two sets of hours would be a beautiful compromise!

In my case, when I allow my internal clock to decide, my schedule automatically balances so that I go to bed in the morning and get up in the afternoon. I sleep healthy, regular 7-8 hour "nights", except it's inverted from the rest of the world. I've been struggling with this my whole life (my parents could never get me to sleep at a set time even when I was a child), it's a real problem.

Perhaps for this reason, I used to hope for an even more radical change in the way we organize our work "days": that the world would function 24 hours a day!

Mike wrote, "This reminds me of one of the better progressive ideas I've read about."

This is a "progressive" idea?

[Of course. It both requires and embodies PROGRESS. What's retrogressive about it? --Mike]

I was thinking about you and your "CPAP" machine, which I assume is why you got that 'good nights sleep'.
I guess its working for you.
I'm a user of seven years, and because of a cold where the major symptom was nighttime stuffiness, I could not use my machine. It happens sometimes. But as of last night, were back together again!!

As a former teacher in the public schools (35 years, to be exact), I can vouch for the fact that teachers and school administrators will resist good ideas, preferring to believe it cannot be done. But, what's that you say, can't the administrators lead the way? Nope. Probably 95% of the school administrators in the public schools are...former teachers! So the desired change doesn't come about. (BTW: my statistic of 95% is off the top of my head, but in my experience it isn't too far off).

I also have sleep apnea (apropos of nothing at all), and for those of us who are annoyed by this, it helps to use the machine to get a good night's sleep. And then you can set the deadline past which you should not sleep. One way to tell that you overstepped it is that you start having these really weird dreams. The interpretation of those is: it is time to get up!

With best regards,


I'm an owl, but I never felt physically better than when I was on an enforced lark's schedule -- in the Army, believe it or not. The lights in basic training went out at *exactly* 10 p.m., and came back on at *exactly* 6 a.m. Then we'd have a physical day, outside almost the whole time, and eat three meals on a precise schedule. After a month of this, I was feeling about as good physically as I ever have in my life, and I'm sure it was the schedule that did it. The few times in my life I've tried to replicate this, I've failed. It's much like trying to diet.

[I also respond very well to a strict circadian cycle...when camping in the wilderness! The crucial element, for me, anyway, is that darkness must equal boredom and limitation, and, it seems, it can't be self-imposed. I remember thinking that after a few hours of darkness at the campsite, I was so bored that sleep was preferable just to make the time pass.

It might be noted that American Indians considered the light of the full moon to be almost as good as daylight, and took the opportunity to dispatch war parties. In the early days of the southern frontier, full moons were known as "Comanche moons" because the Comanche were fond of attacking by their light. Settlers who experienced this danger grew old and died being terrified of nights with full moons, even after the Comanche were subdued. --Mike]

Being a natural lark, the way I have approached the issue of late night socializing is simply not to do it. When I was younger I tried, but it did not work, as I'm not very coherent past 9:00 pm. Later in life, I just said screw it, forget socializing, I never scored anyway.

Farmer schedules may be one reason why we live in the imposed time frames we do. But I believe that Calvinist thinking lies behind a lot of it. Those people aren't happy unless everyone is suffering, and we're living in a culture they helped shape. I remember reading about a survey once about senior managers wearing shirt collar sizes that were too tight. I've seen this many times.

When you watch those National Geographic specials, the prey animals are constantly scared and on watch. The hunter animals are forever scheming to keep alive. I think the memories of that perpetual discomfort remains in our genes. We like it, we think it's normal.

I read somewhere that the idea of having one unbroken period of sleep might not be natural either - that in past times sleep was broken into two periods, with some people being productive in between the two.

Lark vs Owl isn't all genetics, and real sleep/wake cycles are more complicated.

I know this because I switch back and forth (really) between lark and owl.

And I go through long stretches where no matter how much sleep I had the night before, I need a break/nap late afternoon - but am quite chipper afterwards.

The "arise by X every morning" is a 1st rate way to set a pattern, and patterns matter.

Dream, baby. This is a subset of sleep research, and a fascinating one. We now know that people dream at times other than REM. And some, with certain disorders, don't dream at all, or have disrupted patterns. We're still learning a lot, and theorizing a lot, about why we dream. A recent TV program, increasingly the only kind I like, summarized some of the findings to date. The way we feel each day has a lot to do with humans as dreamers.


I am an extreme Lark because I am at work by 6:30AM and leave at 4PM. This concept of 2 work days in one would not work for me as by 8AM I am already well in to my standard work day.

I was not born this way but adjusted to it after my wife decided to work 4 10 hr days. After she retired for medical reasons I just kept at it. First because of traffic issues and finally because my body is now this way.

In my early days I was an Owl staying up to 1 or 2 AM and getting up between 6:30 and 7AM for work and sleeping in on the weekends. Alas that part seems to be gone at least until I retire myself.

If you do succeed in becoming ruler, please make for 3 day shifts to accommodate those of us who are extreme Larks by having a 7AM, then an 11AM and finally a 2PM starting shifts. It might just work. :D

I'm a big subscriber to that theory ... always have been. Been an "OWL" since childhood. Drove my parents nuts. The best workday I ever had was when working the 11am-7pm shift in retail. Got to sleep in and still had lots of time to party after work. For years I got up at 6am, was at the office by 7:30 and suffered pure hell in that hour between 2-3pm just trying to stay awake - and guess when the afternoon meetings were always set for ...

There's a couple of other complementary theories I've come across. One has to do with the 8hr night sleep. That concept is a derivative of artificial lighting systems. Before artificial lighting became common we went to bet early (8pm or so) slept for about 4hrs, up and about for a couple of hours and then back to sleep for about 4 hours, rising at about 6am just about sunrise. As usual, we've evolved socially and technologically but not in evolutionary terms. Our bodies still want to run on the 4-2-4 cycle. After I retired couldn't figure out why I kept waking up after about 4 hours sleep and then struggled to get back to sleep for about 2 hours, etc, till I stumbled across an article explaining this. Now I get up, meditate, putter around on the computer, read etc., then go back to bed and fall asleep in minutes.

The other interesting theory is from a recent NatGeo article on teenage brain development (they REALLY do have a brain). Apparently their sleep cycle is upside down - sleep days, stay up nights - which explains why they are so hard to get out of bed in the morning. Also means the school system is backwards to their needs - they should be going to school at night - but try selling that to the teachers unions.

Just shows you how little we still know about that stuff between our ears.

"He said the single, overriding factor in good "sleep hygiene" and the way you regulate your body's internal schedule is to set a deadline time for every morning, past which you will never sleep in."

I got this advice too, when I had a bout of bad sleep a few years ago. Helps a lot. Although sometimes I'm sleepy all the time. :)

Two modern developments seem to be the biggest deterrents to following one's natural cycles- artificial lighting and communications. We owls are now productive at night -is that why we're called "night owls?"- and those of us who do business around the world end up having teleconferences all hours of the day and night on SKYPE.

I was a dyed-in-the-wool Owl (going to bed 0100 or later) for many years of my life, especially in college, where my last semester I had to take a class at 0715 and I thought it was a hideous form of torture.

A handful of yeas later I had a job that enforced a rather brutal split shift, where my morning alarm went off at 0325 for 6 days a week. I also had to sleep during the day for a few hours.

Even though that schedule is many years behind me now, the net effect is that I am now a Lark, and can't sleep in past 0545-0600 even if I want to.

I am an owl. But I think it was a learned thing as a result of being a musician for many years. We would play late, and return home in the wee hours of the morning & sleep until noon. When I got a day job, I would always revert back to the "owl" mode on Friday night, through the week end. Now that I've retired, I'm a full-time owl. I'm back playing in various bands. Last night we played out of town and I didn't get in until 4:00 a.m.: not a problem b/c I'm used to those hours. :)

Don't blame the farmers!
Farmers have been on 24 hour days for quite some time, since they ran power lines out into the country. Tractors run 24 hours a day, cows want to be milked in the middle of the night, irrigation water needs tending at 4:00am.
Sunrise is pretty nice, the light is nice, none of the equipment has broken yet, you are relatively clean, nothing is on fire. At sunset you don't get to notice what with fixing whatever broke, putting out the fires, catching the cows, and getting whatever was scheduled done.

What really annoys the farmers is daylight saving time, where the rest of the world decides to quit for the day right when you might need to run into town for ball bearings , stop at the Sears store to replace all the wrenches someone broke by putting a 5 foot pipe on the handle, and refill the Acetylene tank.

In the big city, left alone to make up my own schedule I tend to go to a 26-28 hour day, but family and employers mess that up.

In one 5-day workweek I have to cycle from an evening shift (4pm-midnight) to an early shift (5:30am - 1:30pm) with progressively earlier shifts in between. It could be worse; other people in my career field have that opening shift on their fourth day and then have to come back 10 hours later to work an overnight "mid" shift.

Why all this insanity? "It gives you a longer weekend" - or so they say. Hell! I end up sleeping away half my weekend just trying to catch up. And what career field demands this enforced sleep deprivation? Air traffic control. Think about that the next time you take a flight.

About a year or so ago, TOP taught me I'm a middle-aged man. Later I learnt my vision impairment is called "presbyopia". Now I find I'm a lark. That makes me a middle-aged presbyopic lark. Wow!

[Much better than being an nearsighted old owl, you must admit. [g] --Mike]

As a fellow owl, my solution has been to generally implement my own, parallel workday, similar to the one you've described. It occasionally caused an initial upset when I would begin a new job or long-term contract but generally, I've spent my twenty-plus working years so far getting in at around eleven and leaving at eight or so in the evening; sometimes, my unofficial shift would be from noon to nine pm. Now I'm running my own thing again, my clients know about my routine and accept it.

I'm not inflexible (I sometimes leave the house at 8 am for a meeting and am always amazed at how many people are up and about) but generally, I'm happier experiencing a few single-digit hours at the end of my day rather than at the beginning.

I went to Neil Young and Crazy Horse last night so didn't sleep too well as Powderfinger was reverberating thru my head all night. Great concert though and Neil in good form! Rock and Roll will never die!

Interesting article. Good sleep does seem to be illusive and inconsistent. I like the term "consolidated" and I agree that it's the socially accepted "right" way to sleep and we all try hard to force each other into it, including training our kids that way. (Not "teach" as that would allow them to learn how they can best sleep. We want them to sleep the "right" way. I know that's what we did.)

From my own experience, I've always wondered why the clock has anything to do with it. I know, the "industrial by-product" part. Back in the '80s I was having trouble finding my way at work. I realized that I was waking up 15 minutes or so before the alarm and would lay there thinking and agonizing about the goings on at work until the alarm went off, whereupon I would turn it off, fully relax and go back to sleep. I hated the thought of a snooze button (why would one put oneself through that more than once???).

So I made a choice: If I wanted to get up and go to work, I would do so; If I didn't, then I most likely should begin finding other work at which to spend this beautiful life I've been given. Thankfully, those I work with are not "by the clock" people. I find that I normally get to work sometime between 6:30 AM and 8:00 AM. Generally, that means between 7:30 and 8:00. Rarely, I'll arrive by 8:15.

One would think that you would have to go to bed at the same time every night. Not so. If I'm not particularly tired, I'll tend to stay up a bit longer. If I am tired, it's most likely because I didn't get quite enough sleep the night before (often meaning stayed up too late the night before). And rising is something I've found to be more gradual. I tend to notice things like how light it is, whether I feel rested, am I uncomfortable, do I need to pee, etc., and work through those while dozing off and on for up to an hour before getting out of bed.

Like the article says, I tend to sleep soundly for 4-5 hours. When I wake at that time, which I often do, I usually go back to sleep. I have, however, been to work as early as 3:30 AM when I just gave up and figured I just as well go take care of what I was thinking about that was keeping me awake. We didn't always have broadband wi-fi connectability, so back then you had to be physically present to "work". I did finally learn that I can do things around the house in the middle of the night, too, as long as it doesn't disturb others.

One last comment about the article: I wonder how it was decided that the hypnogram must look like they say? That makes me think that someone just decided that it must be ordered a particular way and that there's no real science behind it. I'm guessing we all sleep differently, based on the past few days of eating, not sleeping, drinking, worrying, and innumerable other factors.


" Go to bed early, get up early -- this is wise. Some authorities say get up with the sun; some say get up with one thing, others with another. But a lark is really the best thing to get up with. It gives you a splendid reputation with everybody to know that you get up with the lark; and if you get the right kind of lark, and work at him right, you can easily train him to get up at half past nine, every time -- it’s no trick at all."

- Mark Twain, "Advice to Youth"

While it works for a regular schedule, we photographers have to be ready to jump on a quick notice, or plan for a photo shoot off of our normal sleeping hours. I find food intake the best way to modify my operational hours versus downtime hours. If I need to crash early for an early rise I skip the last meal and run out of energy. If I need to stay up longer I will eat the last meal later and have the energy I need. And I clock in almost every day at 8 hours of sleep. Below 6 hours of sleep and I cannot make it for even six hours.

A solid month of proper sleep and Mike should be able to dominate the photography world. Or at least have the energy to plan some good photography to keep himself happy. Now that Spring is coming you can prepare for some new photographic adventures.

Getting to sleep before 2 is nearly always a struggle for me, has been for ages. Luckily, computers and networks are less busy at night, mostly, though the international nature of the Internet makes some of that less true these days.

Unlike most Americans (at least according to lots of articles), I insist on getting enough sleep nearly all the time. I'm a lot more functional that way, and I've always worked jobs that sometimes require my higher mental functions.

I sometimes have wakeful periods in the middle of the night. If I do get up to do something, I rarely get back to bed in under three hours, though, which is kind of a big hit.

your article and the new yorker piece both suggest i should look into what my health plan offers in the way of sleep therapy cuz i sleep poorly and function badly in a rather demanding tetchy job ....

doesn't help that our idiot government has inflicted jetlag on us all this weekend. i loath dst - what a stupid concept!

Not much discussion of what, since I retired, I have learned to be the most important part of my sleep cycle - the afternoon nap. I am an owl who sleeps from 1 am to 8 am, but by 3 pm I am ready for an hour (or two) long nap. I don't know how I ever made through a full workday for 36 years.

I'm an owl by nature. I recall reading that some folks (like me) have internal "day" clocks that are greater than 24 hours long -- hate to go to bed, hate to get up. My wife, on the other hand, is more lark-like and probably has an internal day clock shorter than 24 hours long -- tires in the early evening and likes to wake up early.

Put me in a cave somewhere with no clocks and I bet I'd live 25 hour days.

Farmers are larks, but in my country which is in the tropics, they are a different sort of lark.

By mid-day, work in the field must cease because of the scorching heat, to resume again by mid-afternoon. In between is siesta time. This tradition has been kept out of consideration for the health of the carabao, which must be kept in the shade or allowed to wallow lest it suffer from hypothermia (they have no sweat glands).

As a kid, I used to hate siesta time which my father enforced during weekends and school breaks. Now, I can't have enough of it. The luxury of a longish postprandial nap (after lunch) allows one to become both a lark and an owl.

I think the Spanish working/waking hours—built around the siesta—is a most civilized custom.


Thanks, Mike. Now I'll never be able to get to sleep, with that damn song rolling around in my head.


"A school district in Minnesota that switched to a later schedule found that the average S.A.T. scores for the top ten per cent of the class rose by more than two hundred points"

And what happened to the non-elite?

... the judges found that a schizophrenic case worker whose medication caused morning drowsiness was entitled to a trial on his claim that he could have accomplished the job by working extra to make up for time missed early in the day.

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