Can someone please explain why we persist in heaping approval on early risers while casting the semi-nocturnal among us as disastrous under-achievers?
This week, after a discussion with colleagues about getting up early and its associations with success and virtue, I realised how unfairly maligned us nightowls really are and I decided enough is enough. There is no intrinsic virtue in getting up early and where is the respect for those among us who just want to have a lie-in?
I like to sleep in, dragging myself out of bed at the latest possible moment, and I do not believe this makes me a criminal or a failure in the least. I don’t in fact believe anyone should speak to anyone else before 11am and I’m tired of being implicitly thought of as a lax, chaotic under-achiever just because I don’t set my alarm for five am to watch the sunrise from a yoga mat or jogging up steep inclines listening to the dawn chorus.
We all know the old adage: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise’ and blah, blah, it’s really just a hoary old saying that takes no account whatsoever of the body clocks of great and erratic creatives, those of us who spend the small hours battling insomnia or night shift workers.
We have all heard about the endless academic studies claiming that getting up early is better for you, and we’ve all met these smug types who get up at half four in the morning to lift weights or run several miles before doing 50 lengths of a swimming pool and then zipping off to get their soy latte and working for 18 hours a day building a global empire or whatever.
And guess what? These people are insufferable! I don’t care if they got up half an hour before everyone else went to bed and completed a difficult assault course or meticulously re-arranged the contents of their stationary drawer or built an entire shrubbery in their garden before tackling the Jones report for 17 hours straight. We were not put on this planet to all be early rising workaholics with a demented zeal to be up and at things with no sense of the joy of a lazy morning or the delicious languor of a wholly sedentary weekend.
The association we generally make between early risers and high achievement is just about acknowledging that hard work generally pays off, but it hardly matters whether you’re up half the night writing a Booker worthy novel or are mainlining caffeine and writing like a maniac from the very crack of dawn.
Steadfast early risers are completely convinced that people who get up at four in the morning to eat organic muesli and ride their bicycle 500 miles to work are basically saints. No, early risers are not more virtuous in the least, they just get up early. I am sure Donald Trump has been rising very early on the campaign trail and this makes him no less of a dangerous cretin; it would be a whole lot better for western democracy if he just stayed in bed. I am sure deft criminals have often risen early before embarking on manifold projects of gun-toting evil. Let’s stop allowing early risers to claim the moral high ground and be mindful of the damage dramatic alterations in routine can do. The 17th century philosopher Renes Descartes was accustomed to rising at noon. It was after being asked to tutor Queen Christina of Sweden early each morning that he promptly contracted pneumonia and died prematurely at 53. Fellow esteemed night owls of inordinate talent include F Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Marcel Proust - all great names to remember the next time someone chides you for your failure to rise like a lark.