Saturday, September 09, 2006

Workaholism II

The Crow of the Early Bird
New York Times
THERE was a time when to project an image of industriousness and responsibility, all a person had to do was wake at the crack of dawn. But in a culture obsessed with status—in which every conceivable personal detail stands as a marker of one's ambition or lack thereof—waking at dawn means simply running with the pack. To really get ahead in the world, to obtain the sacred stuff of C.E.O.'s and overachievers, one must get up before the other guy, when the roosters themselves are still deep in REM sleep. And of course since so few people are awake at such an ungodly hour, the early risers of the world take special pains to let everyone else know of their impressive circadian discipline.

"I'm an early riser, I'm achievement driven, and oh, my, has it served me well in the business world," said Otto Kroeger, a motivational speaker and business consultant in Fairfax, Va. Mr. Kroeger, who says he routinely rises at 4 a.m., preaches about the advantage of getting up before dawn to audiences and clients. "For 13 years," Mr. Kroeger said, "I never allowed myself more than 4 hours in any 24-hour period. It was all ego driven. My psyche was saying, 'I can do it, I can outlast.' It's a version of the old Broadway song from 'Annie Get Your Gun': 'Anything you can do, I can do better.' "

For late risers, the crack of dawn was a formidable enough benchmark. In today's age of competitive waking, they're made to feel even worse. The writer Cynthia Ozick, who goes to bed after 3 a.m. and wakes up sometime after noon, said she lives with constant disapproval. "I'm a creature of bad habits in the eyes of the world," she said. When Ms. Ozick answers the telephone in the early afternoon, she said, "you're approached in the most accusing voice—'Did I wake you?' "

At least since Benjamin Franklin included the proverb "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" in his Poor Richard's Almanac, Americans have looked at sleeping habits as a measure of a person's character. Perhaps because in the agrarian past people had to wake at dawn to get in a full day's work outside, late sleepers have been viewed as a drag on the collective good.

Even today, said Edward J. Stepanski, the director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, "it's a uniformly negative characteristic to be asleep while everyone else is going about their business."

But before slinking back under the covers in shame, slugabeds of the world should consider: Sleep researchers are casting doubt on the presumed virtue and benefits of waking early, with research showing that the time one wakes up has little bearing on income or success, and that people's sleep cycles are not entirely under their control. Buoyed by the reassessment of their bedtime habits, a few outspoken and well-rested night owls are speaking out against the creep of sleepism.

"There are night owls who have just had their fill of people making them feel guilty and of other people who rag on them," said Carolyn Schur, a late sleeper from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who advocates for night owls in speeches and in her book "Birds of a Different Feather." "A lot of people are just saying, 'I can't take it anymore.' "

Whatever the negative associations with sleeping late, scientists say there's good reason to doubt the boasts of the early risers. Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said that in one study he attached motion sensors to subjects' wrists to determine when they were up and about. While 5 percent of the subjects claimed they were awake before 4 a.m., Dr. Kripke said, the motion sensors suggested none of them were. And while 10 percent reported they were up and at 'em by 5 a.m., only 5 percent were out of bed.
Dr. Stepanski said the same is true of people who boast they need little sleep. In a study in which subjects claimed they could get by on just five hours' sleep, he said, researchers found the subjects were sneaking in long naps and sleeping in on weekends to make up for lost z's.
"There's a tendency to generalize and to do it in a self-serving way," Dr. Stepanski said. "If your view is that you can get by on less sleep than the average person, then you're going to play that up."

Scientists call early risers larks, and late sleepers owls, and speak of morningness and eveningness to describe their differing circadian rhythms. Researchers believe that about 10 percent of the population are extreme larks, 10 percent are extreme owls and the remaining 80 percent are somewhere in between. And they say the most important factor in determining to which group a person belongs is not ambition, but DNA.

"Timing of sleep is genetically determined, whether you're an owl or lark," said Dr. Mark Mahowald, the medical director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center. While most people are a little bit owl or a little bit lark, for others, Dr. Mahowald said, altering sleep habits is "like changing your height or eye color."

Dr. Christopher R. Jones, the medical director of the Sleep-Wake Center at the University of Utah, said that just as there are morning people, scientists have found morning flies and morning mice. Variations in sleep patterns among the population, he added, may have benefited the species.

"The whole tribe is better off if someone is up all the night, listening for a lion walking through the grass," he said.

The rhythms of modern times are determined not by fanged predators, of course, but by the 9-to-5 schedule of the workaday world. While those hours would seem to benefit larks, there is little evidence that night owls are any less successful than early risers. Dr. Kripke said that a 2001 study of adults in San Diego showed no correlation between waking time and income. There's even anecdotal evidence of parity on the world stage; President Bush is said to wake each day at 5 a.m., to be at his desk by 7 and to go to sleep at 10 p.m., while no less an achiever than Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly wakes at 11 a.m. and works until 2 a.m.
Night owls thrive, it seems, by strategizing around the expectations of the early crowd. Bella M. DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who goes to sleep around 3 a.m. and wakes about 11 a.m., said that before she answers the phone in the late morning, she practices saying "Hello" out loud until she sounds awake. Ms. DePaulo said she has been a night person since childhood, and that she gravitated toward academia in part of because of her sleep habits.

"Academia is a good place to be if you're out of the mainstream," she said. "If you're doing 80 hours of work a week, what does it matter what 80 hours you work?"

Dr. Meir H. Kryger, a professor of medicine and a sleep researcher at the University of Manitoba, said that many people choose professions in line with their circadian rhythms.

"There are whole professions that tend to be larks," he said, like bankers and surgeons. "Very often people self-select themselves into that kind of career." Owls, he said, tend toward the entertainment or hospitality industries and the arts. But not everyone manages to find a perfect fit.

Drue Miller, a design and marketing consultant in San Francisco and the creator of a satirical late sleepers' bill of rights online bulletin board, said that when she worked as a Web designer, she was able to indulge her night owl tendencies by coming in late in the morning and working into the evening. That changed when she became the boss and found herself adjusting her schedule to fit the perception that people who run things are at their desks early. "I felt like I was being a 'bad boss' by showing up so much later," she said.

Perhaps the biggest boon to night owls in keeping up with the larks has been the Internet. Ms. Schur, the night owl advocate, said she spends the wee hours shopping, paying her bills and doing her banking online.

"It's a vehicle for maintaining a night owl lifestyle," she said of the Web. Ms. Schur added that if she is expected to get some bit of work to clients or colleagues by the early morning, she typically does it late at night.

"People will call me and say, 'Hey, your e-mail said 2 or 3 in the morning—did you really send it at that time?'" Ms. Schur said. "I say, 'Yes.' "

For people desperate to change their circadian rhythms, doctors say, there are some options. Dr. Kripke said that light therapy, melatonin and large doses of vitamin B12 can be used to adjust the body's natural clock. (Dr. Kripke outlines these treatments in a free e-book on his Web site But because sleep rhythms are so ingrained, the treatments must be practiced continually and so for many are impractical.
"People come to my clinic and want to change," said Dr. Jones of the University of Utah, "and I tell them I can't, I don't have a genetic screwdriver to get in there and tweak the gene."
Of course for hardened members of the early-to-rise crowd, any talk of being a slave to a notion as wispy as circadian rhythms is a sure sign of weakness. Their message to the drowsy is more or less: Get an alarm clock.

"If you work two extra hours a day," said Brian Tracy, the motivational guru, "you will outstrip everyone else in your field. The question is, where do you get those two hours? Early morning time is the most productive. It does no good to do work later in the day, because by then your batteries are burned out. Most successful people try to get up by 5 or 5:30 in the morning."
He added: "Getting up late, having fun at work, these are all for losers."


democratconvert said...

I am outraged that someone would “preach” about the advantages getting less sleep. Of course I realize that sometimes there arises a time when we can’t get the correct amount of sleep and rest. To routinely get only 4 hours of sleep, is asking for trouble. As a psychology minor, I’ve learned of the adverse health affects of such a routine. Getting only 4 hours of sleep is asking for illness, sickness, stress, injury, etc. REM sleep (and sleep in general) is needed for the body to rejuvenate itself. Lack sleep is not only dire for the human individual, but for society and the economy as a whole. Lack of sleep lowers production and efficient output, products become defective, and employees make more mistakes, and employers and the economy loose profits. Lack of sleep also functions like alcohol, hindering reason and logic, causing employees to over react, and company unity and harmony is jeopardized and/or shattered. Society as a whole needs to reeducate the public about the evils of lack of sleep. Lastly, success is more than just success in business. Is success worth it, if you endanger yourself (by losing sleep) to obtain it?

bearclawch said...

I can agree that getting four hours of sleep a night is dangerous. When the semester started this year, I found myself going to bed at 2 or later and waking around 7. Those 5 hours of sleep a day eventually tore me down and I was napping constantly. I believe this whole fascination with sleep deprivation is America's love affair with our jobs. When define ourselves by our work, be it doctor, teacher, policemen, or lawyer. To empower ourselves, we make others believe we take our jobs seriously. We overemphasize the stress of the day-to-day and exaggerate our problems because we seem so much better when others believe we are overcoming larger obstacles than we actually do. People in much less prestiguous jobs don't talk about their lack of sleep with beaming faces or false pride but with disdain and regret. These executives and CEOs are extending America's insane work ethic ever closer to a 24 hour a day marathon

fair_weather_jane said...

I used to work the third shift 11pm to 7am at a BP station. I hadn't seen 7am since high school until I took this job and even then I was seeing it from the 'other side'. As for anyone who says that being up early spells success, the only people who are up at 5am in this town are drug addicts, criminals, the guy who thinks he's satan, the bag lady and the pop can man. A few years ago I used to think that staying up all night was awsome, now I avoid it like the plague. Cudo's to those who get up early and go searching for success. I guess being a late sleeper I'll just have to settle for a college degree and a moderate paying 9 to 5 job. Oh well.

rinmancan22 said...

The human body needs sleep the same as it needs food to live. I exercise regularly and eat fairly healthy, but I still feel that my body needs 7 hours of sleep per night to recharge. I'm definitely an owl person, but I've noticed that my generation seems to be more owls than larks. A perfect example of this is the times at which most businesses open during the week. Many businesses are opening at 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. during the week, whereas 10 to 15 years ago these same businesses opened at 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. Weekends stress this even more, with many businesses waiting until 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. to open. The night life is more appealing to the younger generation, and the early mornings are more for older people with families. The main thing is to not let your sleep cycle get in the way of your work or school. Other than that I believe it does no harm to either be an owl or a lark.

ale'eight said...

The saying in in the military is "We do more before noon than most peopele do all day". I have been in that mode sience basic tranning and it has serverd me well. I still get up and exercise in the morning and I feel great all day. Does it lead me to better success?....No. I just do it because it makes me feel good. Success comes to the person that works for it, no matter what time of day. 1st shift jobs pay the same as a 3rd shift jobs at the same company, but 3rd shift gets that extra differential. I wake up late in the day looking forward to working through the night.

Bones717 said...

I think its fairly evident that one of the key factors in more and more people being "owls" is the internet. I know that I routinely stay online until 2:00 am during the week and then stay out late at parties during the weekend. I agree with rinmancan's assessment about young people being "owls" and older people being "larks". As far as productivity goes, I don't think our sleep patterns affect it much. I can accomplish the same amount of work between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm that someone else could between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm. Success is gained by how hard you work, not when you work.

hawkeye711 said...

If people can fuction properly with little or no sleep congrats to them. I need all the sleep I can get, not because I'm lazy I really enjoy sleeping. Being a truck driver for four years I see what happens if people do not get enough. Every time I watch the news someones always crshing because they fell asleep at the wheel. Lack of sleep has been contributed to poor health, doing bad in school, ability to think clearly. The early bird gets the worm, to me it's the early worm that gets eaten sleep a bit longer.I sleep as long as I can and my financial standing has changed little. By contrast I know people taht sleep very little and their financial standings are no different than mine,so get sleep and feel better and be healthier. John Gruden the coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucaneers is famous for sleeping around 3-4 hours a day his teams not doing so well. As the article says alot or little sleep does nothing for success so hit the alarm clock snooze and enjoy some more shut eye.

rodeo8 said...

It shouldn’t matter whether you get up at 4 am or 4 pm, if you spend the same amount of time working everyday. I understand the concept of a 9 to 5 job and there is a reason for that, but at the same time most people choose their job based on your lifestyle. I totally disagree with those who say early risers are more successful. I am an athlete and there are mornings we get up and lift, go back to our rooms and go back to sleep for a little bit, go to class, then practice, and probably study some. However throughout the day any chance even if it is only ten minutes we try to sleep to catch up. Although this semester we don’t have to get up early, I just have to get up for practice, then class, practice, conditioning and weights, and finally studying. Now throughout the day I don’t find myself trying to sleep throughout the day. So for me, I am much more successful and efficient with getting up later. I get a lot more accomplished during the day and into the late hours of the night, because I am more of a night owl.

Mr.Liberal said...

why would someone want to rise at 4 a.m. and want to get less sleep. People that want to work more have issues. It has also been proven that people who get less sleep, tend to get stressed out easier. Tracy points out that with "two extra hours of work each day, a person can outstrip everyone else in their field." He points out that to do this you must do it in the morning, sicne that is the most productive time of the day. I don't agree with this, because most people are not at their best working ability in the morning and are more better working either late in the afternoon or at night. This is why most people work late into the night and don't work early in the morning. Tracy is going off on a personal point that doesn't apply to the mass number of people in the working world. By the time that Tracy figures out that working all of these early and extra hours have taken a toll on him, it will be too late for him to turn it around, then we will see who the loser really is.

the procrastenator said...

In a way I am going to have to agree with the ideals of this article. I fell into the trap of pulling late nights and sleeping in till the afternoon. As a student, I am involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, I find myself pretty busy until the later hours of the night. Also, my tendency to procrastinate puts me in positions where I must stay up late in order to accomplish all my tasks for the day.
I did however, just recently, try an alternative to the staying up late thing and began going to bed early and waking up early in order to do my work. I find that it is easier to study and do homework early in the morning, especially over a nice warm breakfast. Just as this article suggests, those who go to bed early and wake up early are better prepared to take on the day and accomplish a lot more.
I also know many people that take the route of going to bed late and sleeping in late. I see these people as lazy and unproductive. It makes me wonder sometimes why we were created to work so efficiently early in the day. I suggest we blame the cavemen! I have always been told that before electricity people would use every bit of daylight to get the duties of the day accomplished. Once it went dark they weren’t very efficient. So that is probably how humans got accustomed to waking up early.
I believe we are getting ready to change into a new era. Now we have cities that never sleep, 24 hr stores, and electricity. We can stay up all night! It makes me wonder that since more and more of the public are staying up late now could we begin to adapt to these conditions? Could we begin to see more and more people sleep during the day and do their business during the night? This could completely screw up society to where we can not function efficiently anymore.