You Don’t Have to Wake Up at 5 a.m.

Photo: Emir Memedovski/Getty Images

Recently, much to my horror, my colleague Edith Zimmerman published an article called “An Argument for Waking Up Super-Early,” in which she describes the benefits of getting up at “5 or even 4 a.m.” To further rub salt in the wound, my colleague Katie Heaney wrote a follow-up piece called “The Best Time to Go to Bed Is 8:45.”

Wait … I’m sorry … what?

You want me to go to bed before dinnertime and then wake up in the middle of the night? You guys are capable of doing that? I feel like I’ve just learned that everyone around me has been gifted some set of secret magical powers that enable them to cheat at life, like all my colleagues are X-Men whose superpowers are being able to fall asleep and wake up whenever they want to. On behalf of the Cut’s motley collection of night owls, late-risers, and people who generally feel like they’ve been hit by a cement truck if someone tries to shake them awake before 9 a.m., I’m afraid I must dissent.

Look, it’s not that I want to be a night owl. Sure, all the fun stuff happens at night — I’d much rather watch Colbert than Good Morning America, and I’d take another glass of wine over squeezing in a morning workout class any day. Early rising is a time for productivity — it conjures the chirping of birds and the smell of freshly baked banana bread and the satisfying whoosh of a sent email. Nighttime is the weird time — a time for dark thought spirals and convoluted internet holes and hangouts in smoke-filled bars that go on way longer than they should. Getting up early makes you better at life, but staying up late has always been, and always will be, more badass. *Takes long puff of joint.*

And yet I would throw away my night-owl street cred in a heartbeat if I could wake up at 5:30 in the morning. I would love to pop awake at the crack of dawn, catch up on my long queue of educational podcasts, perform 20 minutes of calisthenics followed by an eight-step Korean skin-care ritual, respond to all my emails, have a long phone conversation with my friend who lives in Russia, walk my dog (that I would hypothetically own because I would now have time to take it for walks), all before I got my first “Good morning!” Slack. But I have never done any of these things, because it is physically impossible for me to wake up at before 9 a.m., no matter how many of Arianna Huffington’s sleep hygiene tips I follow or how many passive-aggressive posts I read detailing the morning rituals of CEOs. What’s that, you meditate for 20 minutes every morning when you get up? Congrats, and go fuck yourself.

For me, the time I wake up and the time I fall asleep has never been a choice. I go to bed at midnight, at which point I lie awake for two hours thinking about everything I’ve ever done and ever will do in my entire life, before finally falling into a turbulent sleep around 2 a.m. If I try to go to sleep earlier, I just end up lying in bed longer. My body wants to go to sleep at 2 a.m. and there’s nothing I can do to stop that. And I need nine hours of sleep, so … I’m gonna be grouchy when I wake up, no matter what. That’s just math, folks.

Thankfully, I’m not alone. According to *clears throat* science, everyone has an internal clock, and everyone’s is different. While most people fall on “a sleep at 11, rise at 7” schedule, there are a lot of outliers. In his book Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walker explains that the population is split between approximately 40 percent morning people, 30 percent night owls, with everyone else falling somewhere in the middle. Some people just have chronotypes that keep them up way later, like cats, or this woman who is my personal hero.

Please don’t send me advice, because I don’t want it. I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried turning my phone off an hour before bed. I’ve tried medications, booze, herbs, elixirs. My body is trained to resist these things. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve popped a zopiclone and then lain awake for three hours while coming up with great article ideas, only to wake up the next morning with an illegible list of ideas scrawled on notepaper. Like the other day I woke up and I’d written a note in my phone that just said “subway philosophy” and “get Stella to send me to Japan,” which is probably not a reasonable story idea (though I feel like the time difference could work in my favor). The point is, none of these things help, and the thing that helps least of all is telling me that I should be doing something I am physically incapable of doing. “Night owls are not owls by choice,” writes Dr. Walker. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”

Society is biased against late risers. More than what letter of the alphabet your name starts with, more than your height, more than your star sign, I believe your ability to sleep and rise at a given hour is what determines your success in life. Most jobs start at 8 or 9, which means the deck is already stacked against people like me. For my whole life, I’ve been punished for my late rising — been given detention slips for showing up late to class, been chastised for rolling into morning pitch meetings without any ideas ready. Frankly, I had barely been keeping it together up until now, but in our age of self-care and maximized productivity and body-hacking, we’ve gone too far. I know 30 minutes of exercise is good for me, but now I have friends running marathons on weekends like they’re training for the goddamn Prospect Park Olympics. I know I’m supposed to have good sleep habits but now I’m supposed to wake up … before birds wake up? I’m sorry, but no.

Thankfully, I have a positive role model. My mom, who is in her 60s, has a successful career as an academic in which she gets to make her own schedule. She goes to bed at around 3 or 4 or even 5 in the morning and wakes up at 11 a.m. or 12 p.m., and it works great for her. I feel lucky to have a career that allows me some flexibility, but I also know that because of my sleep habits I could never be a mailwoman, or a CEO, a farmer, or someone who makes it to early-morning Pilates, even when I’ve RSVPd on ClassPass and am about to incur a $20 late fee. That’s just me, and I know I’m not alone. So I say to you, my fellow night owls, let us band together and fight against the scourge of early-riser propaganda. Let us revolt! Let us sleep in! Let us look at the clock flashing 1:45 a.m. and say “Oh screw it, just one more episode!” Let us be ourselves!

And if you’re ever up at 2 a.m. trawling Twitter, looking for someone to shoot the shit with, send me a DM. Just don’t ask me to get coffee before 9 a.m.

You Don’t Have to Wake Up at 5 a.m.