home
RSS
Get Some Sleep: Are you a night owl? Here's why
November 30th, 2010
01:41 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Are you a night owl? Here's why

I hear the floorboards creak, the toilet flush, first one shoe drop to the floor, then the other.  My husband pulls back the covers and climbs into bed, disturbing the dog, who now spins around rattling her tags looking for a new, cozy den.  I groan and turn over to look at the clock:  3 a.m., an early night for him.  You see, my husband is what many people call a "night owl," but really he suffers from a circadian rhythm sleep disorder called delayed sleep phase disorder.

Circadian rhythm means a 24-hour cycle.  Humans have a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that is linked to the 24-hour cycle of the sun.  So, in the optimal situation, we rise in the morning and after about 16 hours of wakefulness we are sleepy and we go to bed and sleep for eight hours.  In my last blog, I talked about shift work disorder and how shift workers are not able, because of their jobs, to flow with this natural rhythm.

People with delayed sleep phase disorder also get out of sync with what we would consider normal bed times (10 p.m. to midnight), but for unknown reasons. The exact prevalence in the general population is unknown, but it is estimated to affect 7 percent to 16 percent of teens and young adults.

Delayed sleep phase disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood.  Sleep onset is delayed at least two hours from social norms, and these altered sleep/wake times can impair the work, academic and social parts of sufferers' lives. People with DSPD often complain of insomnia because they try to go to sleep at a normal time but their internal rhythm is set to a later time and sleep is usually impossible until very late.  Then, if they have to get up for work or school, they are very tired and sleepy in the daytime and are not functioning at their highest capabilities. Often, they will steal a nap, but that only sets them up for further delay in their bedtime.

Usually the patients who show up at the sleep center are teens who are brought in by their mothers because they can't get up and make it to their early morning classes.  Their grades are failing and the school is threatening to expel them.  How do I help them?  Well, I must return to my near-constant theme:  Light.

We get them on a schedule where we slowly move up their bedtimes - just 15-30 minutes each time over a series of weeks. With each change in bedtime, they are instructed to be sure to avoid bright light two hours before the desired bedtime.  We often need to use glasses that filter the blue light because it is not realistic to think that teenagers are not going to be on the computer or using some electronic device.  I also have them get outside and get some bright light in the mornings.  Where I am in Chicago, for much of the year we recommend that such patients use light boxes in the morning. I recommend the ones made by Lite Book because they use LED technology, which means they are smaller and patients  need to spend only 15-30 minutes in front of the unit.

We also use melatonin, but not as a sleep aid.  Instead, we use it to alter people's circadian rhythm, and therefore, we give it 5-7 hours before desired bedtime and we use small doses (0.5-1.0 mg).  And I always recommend that they try this at home the first few times in case it makes them sleepy right away.

I would like to caution that although this general principle of bright light in the morning and dim light before bedtime is easy enough to understand, it is also easy to apply the principle incorrectly and actually make matters worse.  For example, a well-meaning mother of a 16-year-old reads this and tomorrow morning hauls her son out of bed at 6:30 a.m. to get him to his first AP class.  The next night, to her dismay, he stays up even later, and getting him up the following morning would require inviting the marching band to hold practice in his bedroom.

What has gone wrong?  Well, when mom got him up at 6:30 a.m., he had only had 4½ hours of sleep and his core body temperature had not reached its low point.  When his eyes received bright light before the lowest drop in core body temperature, then the internal clock in the brain was being reset to a later time and actually delaying the sleep onset for the next night. Many times we have to wait until a vacation to try to reset someone's clock.  Most times, the help of a sleep physician is essential, and always, the patients themselves have to want to change their schedule.

Another word of caution: It is easy to confuse this disorder with insomnia, but just giving the young person a sleeping pill doesn't usually work to reset the internal clock.

Why do some teens have these dramatic shifts in sleep onset and not others?  This can run in families and changes in one of the circadian clock genes have been associated with this disorder but we cannot yet point to a specific genetic mutation that causes this problem. Delayed sleep phase can be associated with depressive symptoms but the good news is:  Many will naturally outgrow it, especially when the responsibilities of adult life force them into becoming morning people.  Some, like my husband, will return to their nocturnal ways every chance they get.

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She’ll blog on Tuesdays on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Post by:
Filed under: Sleep

soundoff (267 Responses)
  1. Night watchman

    2am – 10am*

    December 1, 2010 at 00:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. More Grammar Plz

    I don't know if I have this disorder or not, but I definitely have trouble falling asleep before 4AM. I'd stay up until 5AM more often if my roommate didn't have a tendency of waking up around that time. She knows I fall asleep very late, but for some reason, I hate the idea of being caught awake at 5AM.

    I do suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the occasional panic attack, so I'm guessing they have something to with it. I need to be absolutely drained of energy before I can go to bed. If I still have a decent amount of energy left in me, I'm just going to toss and turn and think about unpleasant things and get anxious.

    December 1, 2010 at 00:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Chris

    I am 22 years old and since around 16 years of age I have had a lot of trouble falling to sleep before 2 a.m. The last couple of months I have been going to bed around 4 and waking up at 11 or 12; I just can not go to sleep before 2-3. This works out for me right now because I am in college and my classes are in the afternoon, but I am worried about when I enter the workforce; will I be able to do the 9-5 rigmarole? I am much more productive in the evening and do all my class work around 8-12 pm, if I try to do work in the afternoon I get nowhere. Oh well, i guess I'm on of those abnormal Owl people.

    December 1, 2010 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daniel

      You're only abnormal if you feel like something is "broken" and want to fix it. Sounds like your body and mind are in-sync.

      December 1, 2010 at 01:35 | Report abuse |
  4. sleeplessness

    I usually wake up at 6:30 to get my kids ready for school and myself for work and would fall asleep around 2 a.m or 3.am, sometimes 4. Im tired all morning and would get really sleepy around 3 p.m. but would get back on track after. Ive tried going to sleep on time around 11 (thats a early bedtime for me) but would just get up around 2 a.m or 3.am and wouldnt be able to get back to sleep till the next night. I hate being tired all day but cant go to sleep on time to get the rest my body needs. Sleeping bills dont help.. they just knock me out faster but i still wake up 3 hours later.

    December 1, 2010 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. TommyD

    "People with higher IQs are more apt to be nocturnal night-owls. Those with lower IQs tend to restrict their activities primarily to daytime." source: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/smart-people-sleep-late-82486792.html

    December 1, 2010 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ME

      I like this study! I'm a member of a high IQ society, and that's where I meet most of my friends. I have noticed that a significant number of us are awake at all hours of the night, which is great if I feel like chatting, playing games all night, etc.... When I go to Mensa events, I can almost always guarantee that I WILL find someone to hang out with at 4 AM and they will not judge me for being wide awake.

      On the other hand, my mother is very average and is a slave to "normal" work hours. She is horrified at the idea of sleeping at unusual times because it just isn't right, in her opinion. I have tried to argue with her average IQ mind and point out that there is no "right" and "wrong" about people's personal lives if they aren't affecting others, but she simply cannot think outside of her closed world of "normal." High IQ people in general are more able to rationally look at man made rules and separate the truth from the invention. In the case of "normal" sleep hours, this is simply invention.

      December 1, 2010 at 02:43 | Report abuse |
  6. sleeplessness

    Im more tired if i get lucky and get over 4 hours of sleep. More tired than my usual 3 hours sleep.

    December 1, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ken

    Hmmmm... Why don't teens and young adults get to bed at a resonable time? COLLEGE! Duh.

    December 1, 2010 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TexasRN

      As a single Mom in college, I worked 7a-7p on Thursdays, then 3p-3a Fri and Sat nights, classes on Mon and Wed; this minimized the time my son had to be at daycare ($) as he went to his Dad's every weekend. Rarely, I would take a MWF class, or have to shuffle things up (READ: Work less) if the class I had to take was only, and only ever gonna be a TTH. After graduation, I remarried and had another son...I worked 7p-7a and my husband worked 7a-7p, and still managed to breastfeed till my youngest was one year old.....I worked the nightshift cuz I was the night owl (plus I got nightshift differential). Sometimes I worked a Baylor Plan, but always the nightshift one (7pm-7am; just every Sat and Sun)...I loved that, so I could be off M-F with my sons, be a room mother, denmother, etc. Nursing has been very good to me, in that respect alone!
      When my youngest had "difficulty" matching his nights/days to his school schedule, I recognized that he was prolly a night owl like (not the Morning Glory like his Dad)me, and that it was foolish to try to make HIM change, the answer to lower grades/missing class altogether, was for him to take afternoon/evening classes and asynchronous online classes. Too bad that option wasn't easily available for him in highschool, but it has worked wonders for his undergraduate years. In fact, in selecting his major, he kept in mind his future career options: including the availability of working nights during certain
      phases of his profession .
      I'm working a conventional M-F 8a-4:30pm with no nights/holidays/weekends to better mesh with my husband of 22 years, since both kiddos are pretty much out of the house. Besides teh empty nest thing going on, we had to learn to share weekends LOL, as I hate football, NASCAR, etc. Just a few more years till we can retire, and then I can stay up as LATE as I want and get up as LATE as I want...the way "my" brain and body were made for 🙂

      December 1, 2010 at 09:37 | Report abuse |
  8. SkiGirl

    Why fight it? Embrace your natural rhythm, find a job (if at all possible) where you don't have to rise with the roosters, and enjoy those nights out with friends where you're dancing at 11 p.m. and your "lark" friends are asleep at the table. In Italy, they don't even begin to think about eating dinner until long after the sun has gone down. Viva the night owls!

    December 1, 2010 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Daniel

    I am a night owl and love it. I get more done and feel more creative as the sun goes down. I hate mornings. Always have and always will. Besides, I find nothing broken. My body sleeps when it wants to. Sometimes I am in bed at 11pm, and on the weekends if I feel like staying up I can stay awake until 3 or 4 with no problem.

    December 1, 2010 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. April

    I'm inclined to agree that computer use does prevent drowsiness, but for me personally, I really believe that any kind of stimulating activity will keep me awake.

    I lived in an African country for two years in a house without electricity. My only source of artificial light was the candle light I used to read or journal for hours on end. When I didn't have anything interesting to read or write about, I was more likely to fall asleep earlier. But even then, it was often difficult to turn my mind off and laying awake for hours was common. During the summer, the heat made it hard to fall asleep and hard to wake up once I did. I got more exercise, sunshine and healthy, natural food than at any other time in my life. I feel that my body and mind were in their most natural state and I was definitely a night owl.

    These days my work and school schedule changes every semester. Right now, I start my work day after noon and stay as late as I want/need to. This is ideal. The semesters when I teach at 8am are brutal, and I have another to look forward to this spring. But going back to what I mentioned at the start of this post, I've been able to get to sleep a little earlier by taking away anything interesting from my life a few hours before bed. No energy required menial tasks, boring reading and avoiding stressors as much as possible. It's a drag, but it helps somewhat.

    December 1, 2010 at 01:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. joey

    When I was a teenager I went to sleep at about 2-4 every night. I went to bootcamp when I was 17 and after 2-3 weeks I was able to fall asleep whenever wherever hahaha. But now that I'm out and back in the real world I am once again a night owl. =P

    December 1, 2010 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ME

    I have delayed sleep phase disorder and have had it for as long as I can remember. It annoys me that people act like there is something wrong with it. In my opinion, if my sleep times aren't hurting anyone, it's no one's business. I just try to find second shift jobs and that works for me.

    I am confused by the advice in this article, however. To "cure" sleep phase disorder, you do NOT go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. That only makes things worse. Every study I've read recommended staying up two hours later each night until you've reset to a normal bed time. At that time, you can use light therapy upon waking at a "normal" time to help your body feel like it actually is time to wake up.

    But again, who is to say which sleeping schedules are "right" and "wrong?"

    December 1, 2010 at 01:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Amanda

    I'm considered a "Night owl" because of my sleep schedule. I go to bed at about 2am and wake at 10am. I was born on the west coast and as a Navy Brat have moved all over the globe... I have always slept on west coast time no matter where I live and I haven't lived on that coast since I was ~3 months old.

    I'm on the east coast at the moment (hence the 2am-10am sleep pattern), but function on west coast time. If I was out there I'm certain that I would keep the same schedule, but I wouldn't be considered a "night owl" because out there it would be 11pm when I hit the sheets and 7am when I woke up.

    One of these days when I have enough money I'll move back to the west coast and my natural rhythm. Until then I'll just have to be a "night owl".

    December 1, 2010 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Alex

    thumbs up for reading random articles on CNN at 2 am

    December 1, 2010 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. k

    delayed sleep phase disorder.

    Don't you love all these quack doctors who try to justify their ridiculous salaries

    I like staying up late because I like the nighttime

    December 1, 2010 at 02:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. asiu

    There's a program for Macs called F.lux, which makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. It's even possible that you're staying up too late because of your computer. You could use f.lux because it makes you sleep better, or you could just use it just because it makes your computer look better.

    December 1, 2010 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daniel

      I use it too.. great program. It's not just for Macs, though - I use it on Windows. It's also available for linux.

      Link: http://stereopsis.com/flux/

      December 1, 2010 at 03:34 | Report abuse |
  17. dtphilbrick

    Going out during daylight hours has always sent me into a state of physical agony, exhaustion, dizziness, headaches and stomach disorders. I am unable to sleep till about 5 or 6 am and will sleep until sunset. I have been to a "sleep center" and was finally terminated with no diagnosis, there were about 30 others in the programme that had similar problems and were also terminated. I wonder what these NEW studies would say about people who are TOTALLY agonized by daytime and the UV lights.

    December 1, 2010 at 03:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kirk B

      Are you a vampire?

      December 1, 2010 at 05:05 | Report abuse |
  18. Red

    My mom said I stayed up all night and slept during the day as a baby. I now work either eves or mids. I'm a night person and no amount of light changes that. Thank goodness when I found a job with shift work I found my niche. I will never again work dayshift and be tired and grumpy. And I don't suffer from any sleep disorder because I can get 8+ hours of sleep and feel great instead of about 3 hours like I did on days for many years. Then again I do feel for the ones that have to work mids but are day people. It's all in the timing!!

    December 1, 2010 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Nick

    I've also had this "disorder" for many years and have more or less learned to live with it. I'm lucky to have a flexible work schedule that lets me come in as late as 10am on days like tomorrow is going to be where I don't get to sleep till 4am or later.
    I don't think there's a way to "fix" it, gimmicks such as light boxes and drugs may help your body into a temporary solution, but your internal clock will still be on the 26+ hour cycle once you quit using those. I generally fix my schedule on a weekend by staying up all night on friday and sleeping on saturday from 5pm to 4am, then 9pm to 5am sunday, 6am monday, 7 tuesday, etc. I've tried going to bed earlier, even in small increments it does not work.
    Holiday weekends, vacations, and international travel really trip this up and it can get into a complicated 2-3 day process to "reset" back into a normal work schedule.
    I don't particularly enjoy the night hours, I just can't fall asleep until I'm tired which naturally occurs later and later each night, regardless of how much (or little) sleep I got the previous day.
    I also find without 4-5 shots of espresso I'm not fully functional until around noon regardless of when I woke up.

    December 1, 2010 at 03:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Daniel

    Describes me completely.. I have extreme difficulty getting to bed before 4am. Melatonin supplement helps.

    December 1, 2010 at 03:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mike Ahmadi

    This can be a cultural thing, as well. I am half Iranian and my relaives on that side are ALL NIGHT OWLS.....including myself........they party until three in the morning on a regular basis and get up and go to work the next day. This is a cultural phenomenon......I doubt it has anything to do with sleep cycles. THis is normal behavior for them.

    December 1, 2010 at 03:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Question for Lisa Shives, MD

    How come sometimes you can stay up too long and not be able to fall asleep? Sometimes I will stay up to the point of being too exhausted that I can't seem to shut my mind off and sleep even though I know I should be sleepy after being up for 20+ hours.

    December 1, 2010 at 04:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      You may have insomnia as well as delayed sleep phase. It is important to recognize the window of opportunity for sleep and to crawl through it. Often when people push past their sleepy period, they are then alert for hours, but in an overtired state.

      December 1, 2010 at 10:15 | Report abuse |
  23. Rachel

    I have DSPS and it's been a lifelong nightmare. Night jobs don't pay well, and frankly, most of them are dead end jobs.

    There's genuine prejudice against anyone who sleeps past 9am. The remarks implying laziness are endless - and come from nearly everyone in my life, and always have. I'm 40 and I've been this way since I was about ten. I have no health insurance, and I truly can't afford any medical help. Last summer I had three weeks off and I tried the technique mentioned here (pushing my sleep cycle forward about an hour each day.)

    It worked for about a week, then I was right back to my old schedule. I've tried to get into a sleep study at Brigham and Women's in Boston, but no luck.

    So Doc, do you have any ideas/help for those of us who have no health insurance?

    December 1, 2010 at 04:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ME

      This is so true about professional jobs. You can get retail management or maybe call center jobs which are at least better than minimum wage jobs, but it's hard to find a good paying job with second shift or third shift hours. I guess nursing or E.R. work is a possibility since there is a premium wage for overnight hours in those situations. For me, I have a graduate degree and am working on a PhD. Fortunately, my end goal is to be a professor which does allow for some flexibility, but in the meantime, I have to search hard for a job that will work with my natural sleep times. I have accepted that with my "unusual" lifestyle, I will never get rich. That's fine with me if I can feel good and be happy!

      December 1, 2010 at 05:12 | Report abuse |
  24. Daniel Broadbent

    Wow – I must have extreme phase disorder. I don't actually get tired until the sun is coming up. Right now I'm usually in bed around 7am, and up around 1-2pm. I work freelance, so this is not a problem. I live in a busy downtown area with 24 hour grocery stores, cafes, etc. so it's perfect for me. I go to the gym at 9pm – when it's virtually empty, I never wait in lines, never see traffic. Going for walks at 4pm is amazing – it's like a deserted city. Calm and quiet. However – when I occasionally have to get on a regular schedule I go crazy – I can't believe 90% of the world is on the same schedule – it's like a massive traffic jam all the time – on roads, streets, stores, etc. If more of us had our sleep cycle spread out, things would be so much more peaceful.

    December 1, 2010 at 04:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. zzzzzzzzz

    I started having this problem when I moved to the country at age 11.I am 55 now,and nothing I have ever tried has worked at being a "daytime "person.I would fall asleep during school.As an adult,I had an impossible time working anything other than 3rd shift.It was REALLY hard when I had children,who basically had a 1st shift schedule.As a matter of fact,I am writing this at 4 in the morning,having been up all night,as usual.It is VERY hard to get any business taken care of at night,we are FORCED into a 1st shift world.I can barely think straight when I am out doing business,I jsut want to go to sleep.1st shift people are very thoughtless to night owls.

    December 1, 2010 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Kirk B

    It's 4:35 am. Do you know where my sleep went to? I don't. Ever since I was laid off two years ago, I rarely get a full night's sleep. I went to bed at 8 pm and woke up at 2:30 am. I will go back to bed by 6 am and wake up at 10 am. Before I lost my job, I felt like I was sleep walking at work many mornings. No one understood why a talented professional like myself was so tired at work all the time. I did not understand it.
    My Doc and therapists treated me with light therapy, and it helped. Finally, I had a sleep study last year and found that I have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and was kicking myself to death at night, 782 kicks were recorded in a 6 hour period of time. I was placed on medication, but it does not seem to work for me. I have tried several different kinds of meds to try to fit my body chemistry. It just doesn't work.
    I love the mornings. I sit on my screened back porch overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains with the sun rising and the birds singing, the squirrels playing and the deer grazing in the backyard. It is soo peaceful and serene.. the sounds of nature soothing to the soul.. I miss the sunrises because I have to sleep.. I despise not being able to be compatible with the rest of society..
    But, then I look at Greece and other countries in the World that I have visited. The Greeks start work around 9 am and work until Noon. Then the whole country shuts down and takes a break/nap/siesta from Noon until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. At that time, they continue working until later in the evening. They eat a late super, enjoy some late libations and then they do it again the next day. I think this is a much more sustainable life style for many like myself. The problem is that we are dominated by a cutlure that values early morning risers. This continuation of the Puritanical work ethic in our country does not allow for any variance in a person's work schedule. We are in reality slaves to our work.. our schedules and economic survival are dominated by work. It doesn't matter to those in Power that there are many of us who do not meet the sleep standards forced on us by those who Own America. When will they ever learn? It benefits no one to have sleepy employees on the job. Flexibility in work schedules is required. But often times we are not given the option.
    It's almost time for me to go back to sleep. Will the sleepless ever organize and demand equal rights? Isn't it time that this very real issue is discussed on a National level? What can we do to fix this?
    Cordially,
    Awake and Watching

    December 1, 2010 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Cheys

    I have for most of my life since adolescence been a "night owl" and in my opinion it is all the day shift people who have a disorder! I do not believe that is abnormal for some people (myself included) to have a circadian rhythm which calls for them to be awake at night and sleep during the day. There are certain jobs and aspects of society which absolutely depend on people like this! I happen to work for an internet company, monitoring all of our systems to ensure that we are online 24×7. It never fails to amaze me how resistant others are to night shifts (or for that matter how difficult it is for me to work day shifts). I also do not understand why the public school systems cannot be adjusted to allow for the change in circadian rhythms (which even the author of this article admitted was generally temporary) among many adolescents. It seems to me that it is the epitome of arrogance to force the sleeping schedule of others and the height of stupidity to force teens )especially) into school too early (disrupting their particular rhythm) and letting them out of class to do lord knows what just about the time they truly awaken

    December 1, 2010 at 05:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Nate

    I have had this problem since mid high school. Now that I am in college, I regularly stay up until 9am-10am and go to class without even getting sleep. I make it up by passing out for hours during class or immediately after class, waking up at times such as 5pm or even later. It really hurts me socially because I'm always sleeping when things are going on. I also feel for some reason that if I don't get a solid 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, it's as if I don't get any sleep. If i get 8 hours, it's like nothing. I need 10 hours to be able to wake up without passing out. The odd thing is that I'm a healthy guy, 6' 185lb, work out all the time and don't use hard drugs. Since I was regularly up until 4 am, I got a job on campus driving students around until the early hours of the morning. Now I can make money while my body forces me to stay awake. I honestly hate being awake at the early hours of the morning but the world forces us into 1st shift system that is inevitable for the average person.

    December 1, 2010 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. LifelongNightOwl

    I, like many others, question the labeling of this as a disorder. As far back as I, and my parents, can remember I have always "woken up" after dusk and staid awake the majority of the night. Even if I am forced to get up at 5:00 AM (such as when I was in the Army for 8 years) I would not be truly "awake" until the afternoon/early evening. I would find myself being physically exhausted by midnight but still unable to sleep. Eventually I was able to get onto a night shift job in the military and my problems cleared up. Since I have left the military I have done exclusively night/graveyard shift jobs and try to focus my schoolwork around night classes. The difference is very noticeable to me and my family.

    I have surrounded myself with Night Owls as well – my wife is someone I met at a 24hr coffee shop, our two daughters show the same problems with adaptation to normal sleep cycles as I have (my eldest always "wakes up" or becomes more active in the late evening and will sometimes go until past midnight before I can finally get her to bed. Given the opportunity she will easily sleep past noon as well.)

    The point I am making is that I am tired of the world viewing me as abnormal or having a disorder. More progressive studies have shown that there are at least 3 types of sleepers – people that follow a "normal" rhythm, people that a late risers, and people that, like me, seem to only properly function at night.

    It cannot be argued, in my case at least, that an exposure to light or different cycles and medication can permanently change my rhythm – I spent 3 years in Iraq and 1 in Afghanistan, and 2 of those tours I was working a "day shift" job. I never fully adapted to it.

    December 1, 2010 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. rhvankar

    after the sun sitting the food is poision and there for we sleep,if you are ate, before the sun set,in the presense of lord sun giving us energy to diet the all food!the awike ness is the sign of good habit,the great scientist is not owl!!too much sleeping bring the fatness!save energy sleep on the job!!work constant!!

    December 1, 2010 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. b0Rn2bL8

    Why are you talking of it as a disorder?
    If we are 7% to 16% of population, that's a high enough number to consider us a HEALTHY minority.
    Let us be who we are, don't try to change us. Let the businesses operate at 7%-16% capacity at night. Keep the government offices open.

    Let us start classes for 7%-16% of students in the PM's. That happen to me in 3rd grade. That's when I found out I didn't have a learning disability , – I was a night owl. I paid attention, I participated, I focused.... I had had good grades.

    But with these numbers (7%-16%) I don't care whether you think that we're healthy or sick: either way you have to accommodate us, – either as you would any other healthy minority, or as any other disabled group.

    Thanks for posting these numbers.

    December 1, 2010 at 06:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      If I told you that 100% of the residents of my town have cancer, would you argue that then cancer is normal? I say in the post that this is disorder because it adversely affects people's work, academic or social lives and such people come to the sleep center to seek help. If people are happy being night owls then they don't have a disorder, at least with the current nosology of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 2nd ed; 2005.

      December 1, 2010 at 10:26 | Report abuse |
    • @Lisa

      As much as I hate doing this, I'll pull the "social construct" card here. Having a later sleep schedule only negatively affects someone's life because the arbitrary requirements for jobs, etc. There is no cancer equivalent to making your workplace allow you to start working later in the day.

      December 9, 2014 at 19:12 | Report abuse |
  32. Bon

    So what about someone, such as myself, who tries all of this, and despite being exhausted and sleepy all day long, once night arrives cannot sleep and is full of energy.

    This is what happens to me:

    My brain seems to want me to stay awake when there is less light. (I do believe light is the factor, because on overcast, dark days, I am much less sleepy.) On a normal day, no matter how much sleep I have had the night before, I cannot feel rested. I'm exhausted all day long. I just want to pass out and go to sleep. As soon as night comes, despite struggling all day in a stupor to stay awake, I become WIDE AWAKE. Even with NO SLEEP AT ALL.

    I have even resorted to staying up for 24 hours before in a effort to exhaust myself, so that come night, I would have no choice but to sleep. Nope! As soon as the sun sets... BAM! Wide awake and full of energy.

    What is this? Photosensitivity? REVERSE sleep phase somehow?

    I have been to a sleep clinic, and the only time they could reliably get me to sleep is when it was BRIGHT. No measure of drugs or timing could reliably get me to sleep when it was dark, like a normal person. Advice? Comments?

    December 1, 2010 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wens

      It seems that light plays plays a major role with my sleep also. I have been in three Canadian sleep studies and had the same outcome. DSPS. Trying to be a quote day person is and has never been possible, effectively anyway, to any degree.
      I can lack sleep and be dragging my butt thru the day, and as soon as the light is gone I start getting more energetic.
      My mother had told me the even as a small child it was very hard to get me to sleep at night and get me up in the morning.
      I would be in grade one for example and I just wanted to be left alone in the corner away from stimulation because I was so exhausted. I would just lay down and sleep. Then when home after dinner and sundown I would then be wide awake.
      Bottom line is light is when I am tired and get a great sleep. Night is when I am creative and alert and feel normal and healthy. So the way I see it , I can go by a label , the opinions of the majority or just be me and listen to my body.

      August 17, 2016 at 00:24 | Report abuse |
  33. NightShift

    I too am a night owl, and have been all my life. I work midnight shift (12am – 8am), and love it. I picked up astronomy as a hobby. I like the dark. Why does that mean I suffer from a 'disorder'? I am happy.

    December 1, 2010 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. America the STUPID

    Look at the first comment and read down from there. Look at the PROOF that the majority of America has slipped away into STUPID DUMB and DUMBER!! Here we have an article that specifically target's ppl who have TROUBLE,,,,PROBLEMS,,, with waking in the morning for School or Work, but, CANNOT!!! go to sleep until very very late..... the first IDIOT Melissa post's as if the Article was written about her and she thinks she has the "SMARTS" to tell a Dr. with several degrees that they are incorrect. LOL... You can go to any website where comments are welcome and see idiots just like those represented here, America is FULL OF MORONS!!!
    I cannot believe the Country that I love has slipped so far down the hole. What ever happened ? Stupid Stupid Stupid!!

    December 1, 2010 at 07:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Raul Endymion

      So sorry we have failed you, what can we ever do to live up to your standards?

      December 1, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      This from a person with eleven mistakes in one paragraph. Is learning how to use an apostrophe really too hard for you?

      December 1, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
    • skr

      Learn proper grammar and punctuation before you point out how stupid OTHER people are...

      December 25, 2010 at 03:04 | Report abuse |
  35. Shelley Stout

    Having trouble getting to sleep at night? Just read one of my novels...

    December 1, 2010 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Raul Endymion

    The thing I would comment on is the assumption that it is natural to sleep 8 straight hours. From what I understand this has only come about during the light bulb age. Prior to that across all cultures there was what was recognized as "first sleep" and "second sleep". First sleep started about an hour after dark, then around midnite you would get up for a couple of hours, then back to bed. I do not claim to be an expert so read the work of cultural anthropologists if you want to know more.

    December 1, 2010 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • penemuel

      Wow – that sounds like what my brain/body try to do quite often. I never heard of first and second sleep, but it definitely fits!

      January 6, 2011 at 12:27 | Report abuse |
  37. Matthew

    Of course teens and young adults are affected by this. There's so much pressure put on them with school work, extracurriculars, sports, etc...when are they supposed to sleep? Also, I think once younger people get onto a normal work schedule, they get back into a normal sleeping rythm. For the first few years after college, I worked the open (5am to noon) shift at my local Starbucks and I literally wanted to take a four hour nap every afternoon or go to bed at 8pm. As soon as I got a full time job in my field however, I was able to quickly get back into a normal sleep pattern.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Joe

    "Light" wouldn't work for me at all–my eyes are light sensitive. I have to sleep in total darkness. I can't even have a digital clock.
    If you tired to get me up with "light" I would end up killing you.
    Just let these people–and me–sleep.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. NH

    Here I am, laying in bed on my laptop at 8am in the morning, wondering why in the world this article feels so relevant and strikes a cord for so many people. I've always been a late riser, as a teenager I enjoyed night time television more than anything on during the day and at college 2-7am was a chance for me to do homework in total peace. Still, that makes me think that maybe there is something to the disorder as my grades were never superb, but I can only speak for myself. Even now I find myself never getting feeling ready for bed until at least 4am, and often I choose to forgo sleep at all until midnight the next night. I wouldn't be against changing my rhythm but the truth is that there is nothing during the day that makes me want to get up, my social group is composed of other night owls. Unfortunately I live in one of the cloudiest cities in the United States so even during the day if feels so much like night, except for the sound of traffic.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Sleep well

    I love to sleep at night and wake up early morning.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Eric

    Being nocturnal is not really a condition, but a life style. I personnaly love being up all night.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Knightly

    Why must everything be a disorder? The brain is a physical object. Get good enough at tracing neurons and you can find the structure of any aspect of personality. Once we have that level of clarity, who gets to decide the baseline? How long till the jerks in my life have a "disability" that excuses them from trying to improve themselves?

    I'm not saying that there's no such thing as a mental health disorder. I know that depression, ADHD and autism are real things. I also know that a man with no legs can run a marathon, so long as he gets himself some nice prostheses.

    December 1, 2010 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Russel

    Has anyone looked into how modern day homework may affect sleep cycles? Normal class time is devoted to listening to the teacher, after school, students are busy with dinner, school (enjoying the last bits of daytime). It seemed to me as though the only time to be productive with homework was after dark (9pm to say midnight).

    December 1, 2010 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. ann

    If my body is left to its own devices, my sleep cycle will naturally shift to about 2 or 3am until 11-12 pm. Unfortunately I have to get up early for work (5am) and yes I can successfully fight the cycle on occasion and get myself to bed earlier, however it is a constant battle and doesn't work more than a few nights a week.

    I am still generally wide awake and more alert until more like midnight or later on a work night even though I know I will feel horrible in the morning there isn't much I can do. I try turning off all the lights and lay there quietly, or I read a book (which works better than most things). Unfortunately most nights by around 8pm I start feeling more awake and alert and suddenly not so tired even if I only got 3 or 4 hours sleep the prior night (s).

    I used to get really stressed about this. However, this stressing just seem to make me feel worse in the morning. So instead of stressing out I just try to remain chill about it and then the morning is still bad but not as bad as when I stress.

    Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is the fact that I can catch up on my sleep on the weekend. I just keep telling myself, "only X more days until the weekend".

    A few times when I was in college I was able to schedule my classes to start later in the day and I worked as the later shift lab assistant and that was some of the best times for me as far as being productive and feeling rested and really just doing well overall.

    Once I started working and had to get up so dang early people kept telling me ooh you'll get used to it. Yeah right. It's been nearly 13 years now and I still feel like crap every morning. I have to have 2 or 3 alarm clocks that I set in different places in the room or I will turn them all off without even waking up. I also have to periodically move the locations because when I get used to them I will still turn them all off. My husband tells me about instances where I have talked to him during the night and I don't remember a bit of it.

    Once I get to work I don't really feel alert at all until noon. My co-workers joke that I am still asleep. So I know that there is something different about me from most of them.

    December 1, 2010 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. HowAbout

    Not working the fields and sitting on the rump all day–that should be called the "Civiliized Disorder"

    December 1, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Scott

    "Sleep onset is delayed at least two hours from social norms, and these altered sleep/wake times can impair the work, academic and social parts of sufferers' lives."

    Screw social norms. Why should people be forced into a life of work/slavery just because their predecessors were? Let these kids do whatever they want. F- the man.

    December 1, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. NeedMy8Hours

    Good article, makes sense. I never had sleeping problems, going to bed by 9ish, up by 5;30 or 6 am, waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the work day. For the past year, however, since settling into married life,, I'm having trouble getting my usual hours of sleep. My husband worked the night shift his entire adult life until retiring about two years ago. Since that sleep rhythm remains, he's wired by the time I'm ready to sleep. For me to sleep, I'm used to lights out and minimal sounds. He's up so the tv is on, the lights in the other rooms are on, he's fixing a 'snack', moving about in the house. All the activity and lights won't allow me to sleep until I'm exhausted and the lights and sounds won't make a difference anymore, usually after midnight. Sadly, I have to be up by 5 am, to commute to work and be in the office by 7:30 am. I've tried going to bed earlier, but that doesn't work. My husband is aware of the dilemma and is willing to make some changes too. He's doing his part, I'm doing mine, and some nights are just like the ones I'm accustomed to, where I'm able to sleep my eight hours waking up feeling great. But most nights remain challenging. We're still working on this, and the two of us sharing this article will also help a great deal.

    December 1, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Joe in Colorado

    Although I'm a natural night-owl (as mentioned way above)... some things this article didn't mention:

    * The cancer link for people who stay awake at night. Apparently, the body releases some type of anti-cancer chemical only during sleep and only when it is in complete darkness. The study I read said that cancer rates were through the roof for night owls.

    * Four reasons, I think, that I'm a night owl:
    – #1. I remember night time being a time of danger (in a fun way) and excitement when I was a child. I felt I was "missing out" by having to go to bed earlier when my older sisters were getting ready to "go out" or were staying up to watch movies I wasn't allowed to watch, or sometimes even playing games at that hour.
    – #2. The way my parents would wake me up in the morning. My Mom would come in and "wake me up" every ten minutes for an hour or more. I kinda liked it. She always treated it like it was funny, and was soft and nurturing. My Dad, conversely, would come in and YELL and THREATEN to wake up immediately, that I was lazy and needed to be like everybody else... this helped convince me to want to NOT be like him and everybody else... I was never a conformer and pretty much could never stand my Dad.
    – #3. I had an older sister who used to joke about sleeping in late (after she had stayed up all night watching movies with friends or going out), and how it was so cool. I always heard this during my most formative, earliest years (my memories go back until I was 1 years old). Sometimes I would sleep with her at night, and I remember her saying "Just lay here and sleep in late with me, it'll be fun."
    – #4. The alarm clock I had as a kid was the loudest, most annoying thing in the world. I remember covering my ears with the pillow and blanket when that thing went off. Waking up to that beast was the most unpleasant thing imaginable, and I dreaded mornings partially because of it. I always thought that if I had an alarm clock that could wake me gently in a nurturing way that I would look forward to the mornings more. To this day, I haven't found an alarm clock like that for which the reviews call it a piece of junk.

    My son is 10 years old, and he is definitely an early riser. He wake up at 6am every morning, whether the alarm clock goes off or not. He actually likes the alarm clock, which is far less annoying than the one I had as a kid. One of the things I did with him at an early age is reward him for waking up early, compliment him on how good of an early waker he is. I have NEVER made night time seem like he's missing out on something, just always presented it as "bed time" to him in a positive way and gave him nurturing at that time. I think this will help him immensely in his life. He gets so irritated at me for oversleeping constantly, and I always tell him "Be like the good parts of me, not like that part of me".

    December 1, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. CC Croft

    Sunshine makes me tired. My natural rhythm is to go to bed around 6:30 or 7am and wake up at 12:30 or 1pm. I feel much more rested than when I get 8 hours a sleep or more going to bed early. I would love to find a later shift so that I can work more accordingly to my schedule but I quite like my job so I get up at at the time I would naturally be going to sleep at.

    Bright lights make my head hurt and make me sleepy.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RLynne

    This article was quite interesting to me, as were the comments afterward. I have been a night owl all my life. Having 2 babies did not change it, neither did all those years of trying to fight it – staying up all day no matter how little sleep I had the night before. I used to follow that advice of not taking a nap in the daytime – no matter how tired you get. Just did not work! I finally ended up with pneumonia due to extreme sleep deprivation, and lost my job as a result. My best working hours were the swing shift (3-11:30 pm). But due to being a single parent most of my adult life, I had to work day jobs so I could be home in the evening with my children. I lost many jobs for being late (since I just could not get up early even though our survival depended on me working.) I have always joked that the reason I am a night owl is because I was born at 8:15 pm. My day was just starting at night and I've been doing that ever since!! HA! Maybe there is some truth to it?????? I was the only one in my family who was a night owl and the only one born at night. My mom always sent me to bed earlier than every one else in the house (since I had such trouble getting up in the morning) but it didn't do any good. I would just lie there awake and wonder why I couldn't join the rest of the family since I was awake anyway. At 56 I have finally given up trying to change it, and just go to bed when I can't stay awake any more and get up when I wake up. Unless I have an appointment – then I get up early but come home and crash the rest of the day. AT least now I don't have to be depressed for being so weird...there is actually a name for my "condition" and I see there are many others out there who are like me. What a relief to know I'm not "crazy"!

    December 1, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie K

      I've been doing a very informal survey for years now, regarding the correlation between time of birth and the type of person ie night owl or lark. With very few exceptions, I've found that those of us born in the evening hours tend to be the night owls and those born earlier, the larks. My brother was born at around 5:30 am and I was always amazed at his ability to wake up, not just early, but to almost jump out of bed and get moving quickly. I, on the other hand, needed multiple visits from mom (and later, alarm clocks) before I struggled out of bed for school or work – until I found the swing shift that is.

      Unfortunately, I'm currently forced into a daytime existence, but anytime I get more than 2 days off in a row, I very quickly revert to my preferred cycle. I'm not lazy nor do I have a "disorder", it's just how I'm programmed. Not everything that's different is a "disorder".

      December 1, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
1 2 3

Leave a Reply to Draggin


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.