[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


    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
    deal maker

    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
    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

    "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

    "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,
    '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 [2]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


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=ALEX%20WILLIAMS&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=ALEX%20WILLIAMS&inline=nyt-per
    2. http://www.BrightenYourLife.info/

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