The Dark Side

I have always, since the earliest days of boyhood, been a nocturnal sort. If I were free to set my own schedule (which I hope, inshallah, someday to be), I would retire sometime between two and three in the morning, and rise at about eleven — or, if it’s been a busy day, perhaps noon.

That a person should have such innate preferences would be, I should think, not in any sense a measure of character or moral rectitude, but this seems not to be the case. Throughout my life I have been confronted with pious normative platitudes about the virtues of early rising, the benefits ascribed to which are said to include health, wealth and wisdom, as well as a good supply of worms. To snooze, we are told, is to lose. To be up after God-fearing citizens are snug in their beds is to up to no good, and if the phone rings at ten a.m. on one of the rare occasions when I can actually catch up on some sleep, the caller, upon hearing my mumbled greeting, invariably asks “Oh – were you asleep?” in the sort of tone in which one might inquire as to whether I had just been beating the children, or smoking crack.

The late-night hours are a splendid time for reading, writing, and quiet reflection; a time of stillness and calm, when one can think long, slow thoughts without interruption. The night-time air is cool and pleasant, and I prefer a starry sky to the sun’s glare. Yet people who collapse into bed as soon as the bustle begins to subside, apparently uninterested in remaining conscious in the absence of a steady buzz of external stimulus, seem to take a smug satisfaction in their hours, and miss no opportunity to remind others. They are the “go-getters”, the “morning people”, and are confident that they hold the high moral ground.

Well, one aspect of moral judgment is the notion of responsibility; we blame others for perceived moral shortcomings only to the extent that they are seen as free choices. (Much ink has been spilled, for example, over the question of whether homosexuality is genetically determined, or is simply a “lifestyle choice”.) We “night owls” may take some comfort, then, in reports, such as this, of confirmation by empirical research of what we have known all along: we are what we are.


  1. Kevin Kim says

    I was fine with waking up at 6AM when I was a high schooler, but college either ruined me or allowed me finally to express my latent vampiric tendencies. Staying awake until 5AM, then sleeping until lunch on days when classes allowed such a luxury, came naturally to me. By the time I finished my senior year, I was fully nocturnal.

    For this reason, waking up at 6AM while living in Korea over the past few years was a royal pain in the ass. Classes at Sookmyung started at 7:40AM, so I had little choice but to wake up early. Once awake, I had no trouble summoning up the energy to teach, but that initial upward swim from the murky depths of sleep was always, always an effort.


    Posted July 9, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  2. I like getting up at 3:00 a.m. for the same reasons that you (Malcolm) like staying up till 3:00 a.m., but staying up until 5:00 a.m. (Kevin) is simply insane and will result in illness, poverty, and foolishness . . . though I suppose that such a late bird will at least get all those worms that Malcolm mentions.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted July 9, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Actually Jeff, I think you simply never got over a version of “jet lag” incurred when you located from one side of the planet to the other.

    As for myself? Up at 3 am, down at about 10 am, sleep til 1 pm, up til about midnight.

    I don’t know that I’m a “nightowl.” Then again, most times I don’t know whether I’m coming or going either. I suppose I could perform “strength tests” but it seems my ability to open beer cans hardly varies.

    Posted July 9, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Yes, I thought of you as I wrote this, Jeffery. I’m not quite sure what analysis to make of the difference (and similarity) between us. But just for starters, I don’t like getting up while it’s still dark out, and I prefer to have my quiet time precede sleep, not work.

    Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    I like to take a nap before I go to sleep. Just to rest up for it. That way, my quiet time definitely precedes my sleep.

    Posted July 10, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

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