Night owls unite

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For 35 years or so, I’ve been a night owl. I do my best thinking at night, after all distractions are gone, the stores are all closed, the phone has stopped ringing and the streets are empty.

As my profession is "writer," it did not become a problem until recently, when I was expected to attend school functions for my children and morning pitch meetings for my work. Someone will mention a morning event I’ll need to be at, and I’ll say "Well, that’s a little early for me because I work at night," and the person will subtly recoil as though they have suddenly noticed that I’m a vampire.

It’s weird — I live in and move through a community of artists, or "show people" at any rate, I would have thought that "night owl" would be at the shallow end of the pool of peculiarities. My profession is filled with drug addicts, alcoholics, manic-depressives and pathological liars, and yet I say I’m a night owl and I can see people reach for their crosses.

When I was in college no one thought it was weird that I was up all night, lots of people were up all night.  When I lived in New York there was a whole strata of society that supported night living.  Even before turning pro, my "day job," so to speak, was managing a movie theater, where I worked from six to midnight.  When I became a professional performer, I was rarely expected to be anywhere before sundown.  Even as I became a screenwriter, no one noticed my schedule because a 10:00am phone meeting in LA took place at 1pm for me, which was perfect.  But now that I live in L.A., where every condition has a cure, suddenly I have people saying to me "You should get that taken care of" or "Have you tried such-and-such drug?" when, frankly, I had no idea it was any of their business.  The shock and horror even gets transferred electronically: I’ll send a treatment to a colleague during the course of my normal workday, and get an email reply that begins "My God, what were you doing up at 3:00am?!"

Anyway, turns out there’s a name for it: "Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome." It’s always fascinating when "normal, every-day life" for you turns out to be a medical condition. All this time I thought "Well, that’s just how I am" and it turns out no, I’m officially abnormal. My ideal day: I awake at noon, take care of whatever daytime activities require my attention (meetings, phone calls, shopping), spend time with my family from five until bedtime, watch a movie, then work from ten until four am, and then sleep. Scrolling through the Wikipedia DSPS entry, what doI find but that that schedule is common among DSPS folk.

(My father also had this, which is one reason I imagine he was unhappy working in advertising, which required him to be on a commuter train at seven o’clock in the morning. He would come home from work, immediately go to sleep, then wake up at one and be up all night.)

I’m thinking of starting an awareness campaign for people afflicted with this disorder, but when would we hold our rallies?

(Question: does New York City have a high number of DSPS folk in it, and therefore has more 24-hour services, or has its 24-hour-ness attracted more DSPS folk to it?)



40 Responses to “Night owls unite”
  1. yesdrizella says:

    Fellow night owls unite!

    My ideal day is quite similar to yours. Having afternoon and evening classes makes it easier on my sleep schedule. Although I have a (necessary for graduation) class next semester that begins at 10 AM. I’m already dreading it.

  2. Wow. I never knew they had a name for it. This description fits me exactly. Thanks for passing along the info.

  3. notthebuddha says:

    (Question: does New York City have a high number of DSPS folk in it, and therefore has more 24-hour services, or has its 24-hour-ness attracted more DSPS folk to it?)


  4. mcbrennan says:

    I’m the same way. I may get creative ideas in the daytime, once in a while, but I almost never write before the sun goes down, and usually it’s not until about 10-11pm. Then it’s just a race to see how much I can get done before the sun comes up. At which time I must crawl back into the crypt. I had no idea I had a condition. A medically recognized condition. There has to be money in that. Or at least something I can use when well-meaning associates encourage me to get to bed by midnight. “Stop oppressing me! I have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome! You’ll never understand, you heartless night-sleeper!

    See, I told you I write better at night. I suggest Canter’s on Fairfax for the rally–they’re open 24 hours.

  5. dastwa says:

    Today’s Achewood echoes my own feelings about doing things in the morning.

    I’ve been diagnosed with DSPS, and my ideal schedule is pretty much the same as yours. I was prescribed Ambien back in high school to try to correct it, but taking Ambien at the time of night when my brain was most active just caused all-night hallucinations. I’ve been able to take mostly afternoon classes in college, but the occasional 7:30 AM lab has me dreading a 9-5 job after graduation.

    • gordwick says:

      Are you still on Ambien now? I know it can serious affect the sense of reality and that’s why I find it surprising that your doctor prescribed it to you. Having a serious condition shouldn’t be an excuse for doctors to prescribe strong medication because often things can go worse. I’ve been in ambien detox, it took me quite an effort to recover…

  6. swan_tower says:

    Huh. I’m definitely in the camp of not thinking of it as a disorder — but that’s because I have the freedom to work according to my own hours. (Which are, as you’ve seen, much like yours.)

    I can cope with a different schedule. Or at least, I could the last time I tried. But I get jack-all done in the way of creative work if I have to wake up at an early hour, and go to sleep at a correspondingly early time. (Where by “early” I mean “before midnight” — I don’t think I’ve ever managed a regular 10 p.m. bedtime.)

  7. catwalk says:

    i’m not alone? i’m not alone!
    except for the fact that, honestly,
    i considered it slightly aberrant, at worst.
    but hey! one more scrip i can’t afford!

  8. easterkat says:

    I’ve been this way all my life. Luckily I found a great job that actually pays me to start my workday at 6 PM. Downside: I have to stay until 6 AM. Booooo.

  9. jestermotley says:

    Its a bit of both for NYC.

    In early years the long work hours at factories and second shifts caused there to be a need for these services for displaced family people who would previously be used to rural community.

    Hence bodegas being everywhere that operate on a 24/7 schedule.

    Additionally, as it became the “trade capital of the world” it naturally fell of of sync with the rest of the EST Time Zone. So it wasn’t just blue color folk looking at odd hours but white collar suits potentially being up for late hours.

    So the fact that it had the services helped push it towards being the DSPS mecca it is. BUT It had a lot of inclination towards that, like any major city usually does, but a lot of pieces fell into place and worked out.

    Personally I’m still young, so I’m up till 3 or 4 and wake up at 9 or 10. I hate sleeping into double digits, and whenever I sleep 8 hours I feel like trash. Gimme 4-6 any day.

  10. blagh says:

    Another with a similar sleep schedule, not aware it’s a quote-unquote condition. Having the excuse is interesting, but it also implies there’s something to fix. Also, annoyed that the slightest differences require medical classification :/

  11. Anonymous says:

    “Nite Owl” is my natural state. I had to train myself out of it because for the past 20-some years I’ve worked in jobs that require me to be dressed, in an office, and coherent by 10 a.m. I refuse to see it as a disorder.

    My actual sleep disorder gets me up at dawn — sunrise is supposed to be an occasional and beautiful conclusion to my night, not a wake-up call.

    Some day, when you move to Paris, no one in L.A. will notice that you’re writing or speaking to them in the middle of the night, thanks to the 9-hour time difference. (By the way, it’s almost 3 a.m. where I am now. Thank you, jet lag!)


  12. musicpsych says:

    I wonder if I can use this as a medical excuse to be late to work… 🙂 I actually do have problems with this. I just don’t know if it’s how my body clock is naturally set, or if it’s a habit I picked up in high school/college and never broke despite working an 8-5 for about 5 years now. My most productive hours have always been from about 10 pm-2 am; like you said, there aren’t many distractions at that time, and I actually feel like I can think more clearly in that time frame than at other times of the day.

  13. What I want to know is what all these executive types are doing from noon to 6pm. I’ve had the same experience as you with these people. You ask for a meeting later in the day and it’s as if you’re inconveniencing them somehow. As if their work day ends at 1pm and you’re somehow making them work overtime if you want to have your call at 3. Who are their afternoons reserved for exactly?!

    I of course have the same complaint about doctors, dentists and mechanics.

    And I of course have the same “disorder” as you, clearly inherited from my mother (my father, on the other hand, has never stopped finding it amusing that he wakes me up when he calls at 9am, and usually adds a “that’s some life you got there, fella”).

    Being a night person was no fun when I lived in L.A. I don’t know how you do it. It’s also super-depressing in the winter, when you wake up to the sun already low in the sky.

    • jvowles says:


      They golf in the afternoons.

      Wish I could golf in the afternoons. I suspect it might be fun.

      Left to my own devices, I sleep from 1:30am to 8:30am. But it doesn’t seem to adjust to daylight savings time.

  14. vinic says:

    I’ve been the same way for as long as I can remember. When left to my own devices, I’m never awake before noon. It doesn’t matter if I fell asleep at midnight the night before, 4 am, 6 am, or even 9 pm. I cannot get myself out of bed until after noon. My natural “bed time” seems to be around 2 or 3 am.

    It’s nice to know that I have a scientific excuse.

    Waking up at a “decent” time is such a pain in the ass for me.

  15. laminator_x says:

    I feel ya. During the times in my life when I’ve been free (for good or for ill) from morning time commitments I always gravitate to a 2-3AM to 10-11AM sleep schedule. At the moment, I work 7-4. sigh

  16. medox says:

    Hoorah! I’m abnormal too. And just when I thought I was boring.

  17. Anonymous says:


    I can’t believe I had never heard of this before.

    Only once in my life has my body been allowed to sleep and wake to its natural rhythms, the winter break between my first and second semesters of college. I was going to bed around 4 a.m. and by the time I was dressed and ready to leave the house the next day, it was about 4 p.m. – it felt so great.

    As a single parent, I hated having to get up with my kids to get them to school in the morning. We moved around a lot, too, and the schools all started at different times. To me, having to get up before 7 a.m. – in addition to being really tough for a night owl – is just barbaric.

    But what makes it so much worse for me is that I am also a very light sleeper…which makes it hard for me to share a home with anyone. Soon, I won’t have to, and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life sleeping whenever the hell I want.

  18. freyja says:

    i’m a night person, completely and totally, as well. <3 it hits me hard in the gut to see it classified as a disorder, and it seems like one more way to force people to others' ideals. dictating what time of the day is "normal" to go to sleep or get up just seems too much.

    thanks for sharing. we should so definitely have a rally.

    a really, really loud one.

    at 2am on a Monday night.

    on some “early riser”‘s front lawn.

    viva la revolución!

    (maybe this isn’t the kind of rally you were talking about, in retrospect.)

  19. mimitabu says:

    4AM and i’m reading livejournal, so you can guess whether or not i suffer from this “disorder”.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I feel ya, Todd. I work second shift and don’t usually go to sleep until the banks open. The funny part is, I average 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night (well, day), but my relatives (who usually sleep nine or more hours) act like I’m the laziest bastard in the world if I’m reluctant to answer the phone at 10 AM.
    – Doctor Handsome

  21. I think I’d perish if I were forced to get up at seven or eight for work every day. I think people who do are suckers.

    I refuse to believe this is a disorder.

    I do live in the city that never sleeps, and I’m up all f-‘n night most nights.

  22. stormwyvern says:

    I guess labeling certain behaviors that don’t fit into what’s defined as the social norm as “disorders” is comforting to some people. It simultaneously tells them that it’s not something they have control over and that it can/should be “treated” somehow. Drug companies seem to be big fans of uncovering more and more disorders and syndromes.

    I’m not afflicted with DSPS, but I did recently have my eye doctor inform me that I don’t actually have depth perception, which I didn’t know until then.

  23. rootboy says:

    Apparently my wife has exactly this disorder. She’s miserable right now because she has to be at her job at 8 these days.

    I’m not quite like that, though “prefering to wake up at 9:30” isn’t exactly an early bird.

  24. robjmiller says:

    Ideally, I am the same way. In college I scheduled all of my classes no earlier than noon, had a social life in the evenings, and did my studying from midnight to 6am.

    Unfortunately, now I work a “normal” job that starts at 7:30am, and subsequently I feel like crap for the first half of every day. Hopefully one of my soon-to-be-startups work out so I can manage my own schedule again.

  25. ailaes says:

    Oh goodie. I can add this to my list of ‘disorders’ including manic-depressive, bi-polar, lazy, ADD and let’s not forget slightly schizophrenic. Here I just thought I was ‘special’.

    I’ve been nocturnal for years, and thankfully one of the shifts where I work [hotel] allows me to stay up till three or four and sleep until noon. It’s the morning shift I have a problem with. Getting up at six? I’d rather be just getting to bed.

    Though I may have doomed myself by asking for afternoon/evening classes when I go back to school. Which means working mornings.


  26. Well, holy crap. I get another acronym, to add after my CAPD!

    Also, note the incidence of this condition among your blog readers; what are the odds of that?

    Unite indeed!

  27. ndgmtlcd says:

    I always thought that this was one of the tests of a true city. If they don’t accept non-diurnal schedules, and they think that people who willingly work trhough the night are crazy or stupid or sick, no matter what population they have, they’re not a real city.

    Seems like L.A. isn’t a real city.

    • If you spent those hours outside fighting crime instead of inside writing, you could be a CAP(e)D CRUSADER!!!!!!!

      or maybe not…………………………

  28. You mean….people…do things…during the DAY?!

  29. locohero says:

    Thanks a lot for this. I’ve often jokingly claimed that I had a sleep disorder because for years I’ve never been able to go to bed before 12, and I most often go to bed after 2, usually around 3 or 4. Any attempt to fall asleep before 1 is usually met with dismal failure.

    A lot of the or symptoms and behaviors fit me.

    It’s nice to know there’s a name for this.

    • faroffstar says:

      same here, and if i go to bed earlier, like at 10pm, i’ll generally wake up at 1 am feeling completely rested, which is such a pain.

  30. Wow thanks for posting that! I had no idea… but I always knew I there was something… 3-5am is my life long bed time. It was pretty not good for high school. It’s one big reason I’m self employed.

  31. My understanding from reading Todd’s link is that the “disorder” part isn’t specifically “sleeping during the day,” but rather the part about circadian rhythms. People with this disorder who are set to sleep “normal” hours probably will never know they have it; it’s only those of us stuck on the night=wake version who ever notice something may be amiss.

  32. Anonymous says:

    From an old friend in nyc

    Hi, again, Todd- It is late (past midnite nyc time), and since I am an DStP…er..whatever the initials are.. I find myself reading this.. again! So funny to have this as the topic… Anyway,I miss you!!!!!!!! a jerins

  33. tinyjoseph says:

    Never knew there was a name for it.

    I just assumed I had insomnia. If I have to get to bed at a reasonable hour I’ll put on a DVD, that somehow helps me fall asleep. When I was in high school & college I would listen to talk radio.

  34. Anonymous says:

    same here

    Same here, Todd. I hear ya.
    I also work better at night but I am sure it has nothing to do with creative process. At night simply all is calm and still and I can easily focus and not get interrupted by phone calls etc. I too get the ‘3 a.m.’ comment.
    On the other hand, there’s nothing like a good night sleep – sometimes after a day doze I feel like crap.


  35. This is why I love DragonCon — it’s pretty much designed for night owls.