[Paleopsych] NYT: The Crow of the Early Bird
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The New York Times > Fashion & Style > The Crow of the Early Bird
March 27, 2005
By WARREN ST. JOHN and ALEX WILLIAMS
Mr. Iger, who is married to the television journalist Willow Bay,
with whom he has four children, is up at 4:30 in the morning, works
out and arrives in the office by 6:30.
The New York Times, March 14, profile of Robert A. Iger, the new
president of the Walt Disney Company
Most days before work, Ward, 53, wakes up at 4:30 a.m. at her South
Anchorage condo, grabs her mandatory morning coffee and heads to the
gym. Part of her success rides on the fact that she exudes energy and
sleeps only six hours a night.
The Anchorage Daily News, Jan. 3, profile of Robin Ward, a real estate
After Singer's call, Wirtschafter couldn't get back to sleep. He
usually drops off for only about three hours a night, anyway, rising
at around 1 a.m. to read scripts and scribble diagrams in a blue
notebook, plotting the decision tree of the following day's phone
The New Yorker, March 21, profile of Dave Wirtschafter, the president
of the William Morris Agency
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 statusin which every conceivable
personal detail stands as a marker of one's ambition or lack
thereofwaking 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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
morningdid you really send it at that time?'" Ms. Schur said. "I say,
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 www.BrightenYourLife.info.) 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
"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
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