The Tyranny of Circadian Normalcy

The world has a rhythm. You wake at sunrise, you sleep soon after sunset. With the advent of clocks, most people’s lives are regulated to meet an 8am-ish to 5pm-ish local time work schedule. Since the bulk of the population are either naturally early risers or can adapt to that with no great hardship, the world has standardized, for the most part, on this sort of workday plan.

But what about the onenightowl-260s who don’t easily adapt to this? I can tell you from personal experience…it can make life a wee bit difficult.

I’m not exactly a “night owl”. Mine’s more of a “Non-24” situation. My body very much prefers to have an extended day, about 25 hours or so. However, if I’m forced into a schedule, I can shoehorn into a night owl one without a lot of grief, but that “normal” one? Fuggedaboudit.

Ever since I was a knee-high to a grasshopper, getting me to “rise and shine” has been a struggle. There are no bright-eyes and bushy-tails in my mornings. There never have been. Generally speaking, being up early in the day feels a lot like being roused at 3am does to most others. It’s very uncomfortable.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve managed to attain jobs through my life that have accommodated my wake patterns. Yup…that means the bulk of the work is in the dark of night. Nighttime is usually when I’m most awake. I can be dragging for most of the day, but when 9-10pm rolls around, I’m almost always alert and ready to take on the world. Trouble is, the world has already put in a long day, and it is not at all prepared for me.

The trouble with working the graveyard shift isn’t with having to stay up all night. That takes no effort whatsoever. No, the hard part is dealing with the 80-90% of you going about your daylight business.

Obviously there is the sleep issue. The world is a lot noisier during the day than it is all night. You can also sense the bustling that is going on like it’s background noise. It doesn’t exactly make sleep-time a piece of cake.

No, the worst part is shopping. Most people, when they get off of work, tend to shopping as they are going home. The night people? We have to wait. Generally speaking, the useful stores aren’t going to be open until hours after we’ve left work. So we have to stay up and wait for the stores to open or shop just before going to work. We lose sleep because the normal rhythm doesn’t care if we go to bed late. Doctors, banks, auto repair, home repair, and all of those other necessary evils of life? You don’t have any real options except staying up to deal with them.

One of the hardest things is that you get no sympathy from anyone who doesn’t also happen to be a night person. We’re the outcasts. We’re the ones who aren’t conforming. That may be true. But a 24-hour world depends on people like us to keep watch when the rest of you are asleep. We try to keep the noise down. We don’t call you in the middle of your sleep just to chat (boy, would y’all get pissed off if a normal part of your life was dealing with “normal” phone calls at 3 or 4 in the morning).

But like I mentioned, I’m not a pure night owl, either. It’s just that between the two lives, I adapt better to the night. When I’ve been able, being able to go on a 25-hour a day schedule has been the easiest for me. Even then, I’m a “night owl”. I have much more energy at the end of the “day” than at the beginning—which is why I adapt easier to a night-owl role than a day-role.

Think of it this way: you know how much you hate that time in the spring when Daylight Saving Time hits and you have to advance your clocks and watches an hour? Remember how you feel that first day or two being an hour off-kilter? That’s pretty much how I feel every single day of my life. Except for when we add an hour to our clocks in the fall, I almost never feel rested. The days, for me, are literally too short.

And lest you think that night people are lazy. They most assuredly are not. Well, some are, but in about the same proportion as the day people. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why day people could think that. After all, when forced to work a “normal schedule”, the night people just drag on into work and seem to do as little as possible. If you look closer, you’ll see that as they day goes on they get more enervated. By the time they are about to hit their stride, the workday ends and you never get to see them at their best.

I’ve seen it in spades when the roles are reversed. Day people lose energy by the buckets as the night blooms and heads into the am hours. Their best is long behind them and all they want to do is sleep. No one accuses them of being lazy. Nor should they. It just so happens that they are ill-adapted for working hard at that time of the day. If they had more energy at the end than at the beginning, they’d likely have been night people all along.

Sadly, the night people are doomed to live altered lives. Noise ordinances prevents things like working in a home shop, or playing instruments, or using power tools around the yard during the part of the day when night owls are the most alert. You can’t chat with friends on the phone because most/all of them are asleep. Shopping, errands, work, and a myriad of other tyrannies remain constant in catering mostly to the people of the day. It makes sense, given the population percentages involved. Unfortunately, it marginalizes a significant percentage of people in the process.

Usually I have solutions in my gripes, but this time…nada. The world simply isn’t going to change for my kind. Just as lefties have to adapt to a right-handed world, so too must we night people. It’s just the way of the world. It sucks, but it is what it is.

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