Monday, October 1, 2012

Which Bird Are You?

Most of the time I don't know what I'll be blogging about until I start.  I'm sure that's easy to believe, considering how often I ramble.  But this morning was a little different.  Before I'd even thought about the blog, the topic magically presented itself to me.

Okay, there's no magic to it.  I had to make a fast trip to Walmart.  Because I'm there several times during the week---it's a seven minute walk, if need be, and my talent for shopping once every two weeks died some time ago---I'm familiar with and "know" several of the many clerks.  These are the ones who greet me with a smile and ask how I'm doing as if they really want to know and then chat with me while they scan and bag my items.  When greeted by one of these at the checkout this morning, my answer was that I was still trying to wake up.  (I'd been up for maybe fifteen minutes when I climbed in the car to drive over there.)  She said her daughter was a Night Owl (yes, capitalized on purpose), and I answered that so was I.

Ding! Ding! Ding!  We have a blog topic.

There have been many interesting studies done, both scientific and not-so-scientific, on the subject of sleep.  We tend to joke about it, but there really are differences in our sleep cycles that point to whether we're more productive in the morning and daytime (Larks/Early Birds) or evening and nighttime (Owls/Night Owls).  Because society as a whole has decided that we all get up in the morning to go to school, go to our job, clean our house or whatever, that's what we do.  Of course there are those odd ducks (to add to the bird mix) who work late and night shifts.  And shop at Walmart at 3 a.m..

Not sure which one you are?  Not sure it makes a difference?  Check out HUNCH - Early Birds vs. Night Owls: Are night owls really smarter? where you can discover which one you are.
We’re all familiar with the Benjamin Franklin aphorism, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” But sleep research from the London School of Economics concludes that people with higher IQs tend to be night owls who sleep in. Early risers may catch the worm, but could it be that they’re not the brightest birds in the nest?

Of course, being an early bird doesn’t mean you’re a dodo. Other research from the University of Bologna shows that people who go to bed earlier are more well-adjusted — more cooperative, considerate, and persistent. They cope better with deadlines and tend to do better in school. They’re less grouchy when they wake up. Meanwhile, night owls are less reliable, more moody, and often struggle with addiction. They’re more likely to drink, smoke, and have eating disorders. (What else is there to do in the wee-est hours)?
What does learning and knowing about your biological clock have to do with motivation?  If you're a Lark and are trying to do the brunt of you creative work at night, you're working against yourself.  The same is true for an Owl who tries to create when the sun is shining.  These biological clocks that tell our bodies when to sleep and wake have been with us since birth.  We can't change them.  Working against them is a poor choice.  Guess what?  I'm well known for making poor choices.

So what's a writer or anyone to do?  We each have to accept our internal rhythm and do whatever we can to work with it, instead of against it.  For instance, I know Larks who get up two or more hours before their family, just so they have a special, quiet time to write.  Me?  It takes me two our to wake up!  Besides, if I get up earlier, I have to go to bed earlier, and I lose that time at night.  There's not much sense in battling something you can't win.

As an Owl, I'd sleep until close to noon and stay up until the wee hours.  In fact, I've done that.  At one point is time, I worked a short shift of 6 to 11.  P.M.  I'd wake up late, sometimes after noon, then stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to write.  It worked great at the time.  The reason I don't do that now is that the first of my g-kids arrive around 8 a.m., the others shortly after.  I have them at school by 8:30.  Sadly, I can't just slip back in under the covers for a few more hours of sleep.  For some reason, once I'm up, I'm up, although a short afternoon nap is a perk I take advantage of when I can.

Then comes the problem of not being able to think as clearly as the sun begins to set.  When biologically I should be getting ready to hit some of my peak hours, I'm starting to droop and the brain is beginning to shut down for the next cycle: sleep.  The article Life's Extremes: Early Birds vs. Nigh Owls at LIVE SCIENCE explains it well:
Right from birth, our personal biological clocks are already wound. Genetics establishes a person's "chronotype," which is pegged to when his or her body feels up and at 'em.

"People span the range of those who are very early risers to very late setters, and this is genetically determined," said Frederick Brown, a professor of psychology at Penn State.

To a certain extent, behavior and environment — say, routinely pumping iron in a well-lit gym toward midnight — can shift our built-in predispositions. But for those of us squarely in one chronotype camp or the other, in the end, the body is the boss.

"If you're a morning-type person, you can't become an evening type, and vice versa," said Brown.
Intellectually, we understand that we need to motivate ourselves to do things and especially to do those things well.  But if we're fighting our internal rhythms, we're having to virtually swim upstream, a real motivation killer.  Once you know if you're a Lark or an Owl, instead of trying to fight against it because of external things (jobs and/or family), discover a way to work with it.  The answers are there, if only you look for them.
“Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.” ― Allen Ginsberg

No comments: