The180

Night owls are people too!

Kate Shellnutt has always been a night owl: her most productive hours are when most of us are asleep. She used to be ashamed of it, but now she wants everyone to know, and to acknowledge, that some people just operate on different biological clocks, and that's ok.
(CBC)
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"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

That's a quote attributed to U.S. statesman and inveterate early bird Benjamin Franklin. It's also one quote of many that argue there's something good and wholesome and healthy and natural about getting up in the morning, as opposed to those ne'er do well creatures of the night that sleep well into the day and haunt the wee hours, rattling around like a ghastly spectre in the sinister reaches of some godforsaken hour.

But not so, says Kate Shellnutt! The freelance writer and night owl from Augusta, Georgia, is here to set us all straight.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What time do you go to bed?

Most nights it's between 2am and 4am.

What time do you wake up?

Uh, I'm trying to think of what's a good time, because I still get embarrassed, but probably between 9 and 10.

Is that an honest answer?

Between 9 and 10, and I am generous with my naps. I usually take a lunch-break nap or an after-work nap. I get my sleep in when I can.

Kate Shellnutt. (Provided)

Why do you feel the need to defend this behaviour?

Well I've been a night owl for many many years. It just has become a rhythm and a pattern in my life that my friends know about, my husband knows about. And then I recently started reading about chronotypes, and the fact that there's actually science and genetics that goes into when we sleep, when we get tired when we do. And so I stopped feeling like I was some weirdo because I stay up so late. And started to feel like maybe I'm just keen to when my body wants to go to sleep. And I started to get a little more confidence that this is actually right for me, and healthy for me, to be working and up and active when I want to be, and to be sleeping when my body finally gets tired, rather than trying to force myself to get tired at 10 or 11 or 12.

Is this productive time?

Yeah, it's actually my go time. By that time I'm in prime work mode. I would vacuum my house if it didn't wake up my husband. But I do all our dishes, pack lunches, do meal prep, do the laundry, go grocery shopping, go to the gym, run errands if there are places that are open 24 hours. I do a lot of my writing completely uninterrupted by email and phone calls and appointments.

Why do we have this bias in our society towards early risers and against night owls?

It's kind of ingrained in us that if you are up early in the morning, then you are a productive person. And they've actually found that sometimes people can come into the office early, spend less time there than their colleagues and co-workers, and still be seen as the ones who are doing the most work, even if they're in an hour early, and their colleagues are there three hours later. There's this idea that if you're first, maybe, if you're there at the beginning, then that's what counts more as people who are staying late, because I think it's often seen as procrastination or laziness or not having gotten something done during the work hours. I still see that ingrained in us and that's something that should change because I think either set can be healthy depending on who you are. 

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