Chronobiology International, a United Kingdom publication, recently released the results of a study that claim that people who identify as night owls, or people who prefer staying up past 11 p.m., have a 10 percent higher risk of all sorts of physical and mental problems. These problems include diabetes and neurological disorders. If you’re an early bird, which means you enjoy getting up before the sun, you get to live longer. If you’re a night owl, meaning you thrive after 9 p.m. and before the sun rises, you need to visit the doctor more and get a mental health evaluation. Good thing there are no studies condemning permanently exhausted pigeons, or people who feel tired all the time. I’m off the hook, then. As a former night owl who still has mental illness, though, this news does disturb me.
In all seriousness, I find a lot of problems with how news outlets are presenting these findings. I don’t doubt that staying up till 3 a.m. and waking up at, say, 9 a.m. constantly has its consequences. I’m just having a hard time buying the whole staying-up-late-gives-you-mental-health-problems argument. Staying up later is just how the biological clock works for some people, such as myself. I’m not going to deny that continually pushing the body past its limit when it comes to sleep has its negative effects. Unfortunately, I know of these effects all too well, especially as someone who has pulled one too many all-nighters just within the last two semesters. But I just can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes any time before 12 a.m., unless I have a cold or something like that. Sure, there are ways to adjust the body to going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier, but is it worth it? I say no.
Also, the whole staying up too late puts you at a higher risk for neurological disorders concept is sketchy, at best. Here’s another thought, seemingly glossed over by this study: what if staying up late and getting up late doesn’t cause mental health issues? What if staying up late, for some people, is the result of a mental disorder? Per Vantage Point, having trouble sleeping is a common problem for people with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorders. Having trouble sleeping because of a mental health issue means going to bed later. Going to bed later means needing to get up later to feel at least somewhat rested. These observations are why I struggle functioning any time before 10 a.m.
I’ve always been one to stay up late, even in elementary school. Staying up until 11 p.m., 12 a.m. or even 1 a.m. was rarely an issue for me. But the thought of staying up until 2, 3 or even 4 a.m. was a foreign concept to me until my mental health took a nosedive and my anxiety levels skyrocketed in my sophomore year of college. It’s gotten to the point where if I go to bed earlier than 2 a.m. and if I feel rested enough, I actually tell my friends about it like one would talk about getting a new job or internship they’ve been hoping to get for a long time. It’s that rare. Combine that with how I have a phobia of fire alarms going off at odd hours of the night while I’m asleep, which is also partially why I stay up until 2, 3, or 4 a.m. thanks to the million fire alarms that went off in Nassau-Suffolk in 2015-2016. You have a real hot mental health mess.
Permanently exhausted pigeons and night owls live in an early-bird-centered world. Forcing us to become early birds because of the proposed health benefits is only making things worse. It’s time for the early bird society to realize that it’s not the center of the universe.
In other words, don’t shame me for not being fully awake before 10 a.m., thank you very much.
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