An Open Letter To The Diurnal Denizens Of Earth

Hi, there. Yes, you. You people who love mornings, and daylight, and feel tired by 10pm. The people who don’t have daily battles with the alarm clock, who don’t need tea or coffee or several hours to feel awake, and who could not fathom being awake at 3 o’clock in the morning, short of a dire emergency.

You people suck.

Not because you’re diurnal. No, you people suck because the whole world is made-to-order for you, and you seem to not only take it for granted, but also assume that everyone should be like you. That everyone can be like you.

And, well, sorry, but we’re not.

I am nocturnal, and no, it’s not a choice. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been awake for 16 hours on a measly 3 hours of sleep; when 2am rolls around, my brain lights up like it’s the fucking Canada Day fireworks. Ideas and thoughts and emotions tumble around, and make me feel like I’m the most awake, the most alive that I will ever be (outside of certain other wonderful activities that will go unmentioned). Likewise, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been struggling to get my ass out of bed at 6am for months, and should have settled into a nice routine — it is nothing short of a full-out battle to get conscious, and a separate battle to stay that way. Even on the days where I’ve had a full night’s sleep — and they do happen occasionally — if I have to be awake in the actual AM, I’m a zombie.

That is because I am nocturnal. Not because I am lazy, or like to party, or am undisciplined, or need to commit to a specific sleep schedule. And this world is not made for people like me. The assholes among you diurnal folk (and you know who they are) need to stop assuming that “nocturnal” is a synonym for any of the various derogatory/ condescending/ judgemental adjectives you like to throw at us night-owls.

Because, here’s the thing: we can’t control it. No one can. Your body’s internal clock, your natural rhythms, are what they are, and are dictated by your biology. Yes, you can shift it around, with some work. But you can’t completely flip from one end of the spectrum to the other. That’s not the way it works.

When you’re a teenager, your brain begins rewiring in the process that moves you from child to adult. During that time, everything goes kind of haywire, and it has been scientifically proven that young people from about 13 – 20 are more nocturnally-inclined than diurnally-inclined because of this rewiring process. So: getting teenagers up in the morning? Trying to get them to go to sleep early enough at night so that they can get up in the morning? It’s an uphill fucking battle because you’re fighting against biology. Luckily, once they’ve exited teenagerdom, their body clocks stop going berserk and settle down into what will be a holding pattern for the rest of their lives.

For most of you, that means getting up in the morning, and liking daylight. For some of us, though, it means that if we never have to see the hours between 6am and 12noon ever again, we can die happy.  For those of us who didn’t win the biologic lottery, we have to suffer the misery of early mornings and being awake when our bodies want to be hibernating.

Because, um, yeah. I had a night in the last week where I fell asleep relatively early (for me), and woke up at 9am after an almost-full night’s rest. I had time, and space, and quiet, and I should have been able to get work done.

Not a snowball’s chance in Hell.

I couldn’t focus. All I wanted was to go the fuck back to sleep, and get up when the morning was on its deathbed. I felt like I was trying to run underwater. My body felt heavy, my mind anesthetized. I should have gone back to bed, but instead, I tried to work anyway, and got absolutely nothing done. I tried, and I passed out early in the afternoon on my laptop and essay notes. I woke up late in the afternoon, and felt immediately alert. Come 10pm that night, I was wide awake, my mind buzzing, and I was actually able to start getting shit done. Regardless of how much sleep I’ve had, I am simply not productive during early daylight hours. I’m not built to function that way.

And the culture I live in isn’t designed with people like me in mind. The stereotypical workday is 9 – 5. Most shops –even the ones that are open “late” — close by 10pm. Doctor’s offices and government-operated services close between 4 and 5pm. We are raised in a culture that normalizes sleeping at night, and thinks nocturnal people are some rare non-conforming weirdoes who need to just get with the daylight already.

The truth is that there is nothing abnormal about being nocturnal. It is simply one of those things that our brains and DNA control without consulting the rest of the organism. There are lots of people out there like me, and just because we have a really hard time doing what you people can do easily through no choice of your own does not make us lazy. It doesn’t make us freaks, or incapable of exercising a little discipline. It doesn’t make us horrible people.

It makes us the people who can take the graveyard shift in police cars and crime units and hospitals. It makes us the people who can be there for you people when there’s an emergency in the middle of the night, because we’re awake. It makes us the people who appreciate the night, and the stars, and the way everything is so quiet and beautiful come 3am. Often, it means that we’re the writers — the poets, novelists, and playwrights — the musicians, the artists, the dancers and actors and performers who contribute their blood, sweat, and tears to help support culture and the entertainment industry.

We are people, and we have something to offer the world, just like those of you who can roll out of bed in the honest-to-God morning relatively easily, or even with a smile. And we don’t deserve the incredulity, the dismissive attitude, the moral judgements, or comments that begin with “You should . . . ” because those of us who are nocturnal know that we are, and have probably worked very hard and tried many of your oh-so-helpful suggestions to make getting up and hauling ass to work/ school/ internships/ volunteer commitments/ events in the morning less ridiculously difficult. And to have those efforts belittled can be disheartening, infuriating, and even crushing. We get it; we live in your daylight world. But just because many of us have to doesn’t make it easy. If you think it is, I suggest you try this little experiment some time: get some really good sleep, get up between 12 and 2pm, and then stay awake for the next 16 hours. If you’re a daywalker, it will be intensely hard for you to be up and about — let alone productive — during the time your body has decided you should be unconscious.

Now think about this: Nocturnal people have to cope with that. Every. Single. Day.

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.


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