Though I don’t have nearly the kinds of problems that my wife does, there are some mornings that I just don’t want to get out of bed. Fortunately for me, my office is generally flexible about such things and I just have to shoot my boss an email letting him know when I’m going to be in and I can go back to sleep. Typically, the extra hour of sleep benefits everyone. It benefits me because the sleep feels so good, it benefits my employer because I am more awake and alert throughout the day, and it benefits the drivers on the road because I am not driving half-asleep.
The dangers of sleep deprivation are well known and I needn’t go over them here except to say that I really think that we really need to consider adding weight to them. That’s a topic for another time. The purpose here is not to talk about sleep, but to talk about waking up.
It is my fervent belief that our bodies are at least partially programmed to rise with the sun and I think that we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we try to jam this programming.
Above I talk about the benefits of getting an extra hour of sleep. The thing is, though, it’s not the extra sleep that I believe does it but rather when it is that I am getting out of bed. I average probably about six hours of sleep a night. If I go to bed at 11 and wake up at 5, I am a lot more tired than I am if I go to bed at 1 and wake up at 7. In the former case, it can make me upwards of 45 minutes to “wake up” and in the latter case I am out the door in fifteen minutes. If I can get out of bed at 8:30 or 9, I am in awesome shape.
This is regardless of when it is that I go to bed.
In a case of Adventures of Missing The Point, I refer you to the comment section of Megan McArdle’s blog. McArdle points to a study suggesting that starting school later helps students achieve more. She talks about nocternalism and hours of sleep, but comment after comment says - completely ignoring the cited study - that starting school later wouldn’t actually help the students because they would just go to bed later. The term I have for this is “rhetorical autopilot” wherein a person has already come to a conclusion on a particular issue and when confronted with someone that disagrees with them, they do not listen to the grounds of disagreement but rather explain their point of view as if the other person had said nothing but what they’d heard before.
The issue is not how much sleep a kid will get under the new regime, but rather how well they wake up. I think that some people really need just a little sunlight (I fall more into this category, I think), some people need a few hours of sunlight to slowly wake up (my wife, for instance) and some people need practically no sunlight (my father). In other words, the later in the day we get started, the more people we have at their best.
Unfortunately, we’re moving in the opposite direction. Commute times to work are getting longer and longer, for instance, necessitating earlier and earlier bedtimes. As school schedules get larded with more and more after-school activities and kids take after school jobs, high school students are expected to get up earlier rather than later.
Obviously, we do have to draw the line somewhere. Even if 10% of the population cannot get up gracefully at any point before noon, we can’t just start the workday at that time for their benefit. What the heck would people like me do in the morning? It’d split what little recreation time we have in half. Also, scattering scheduling is also somewhat complicated. It’s helpful to have everyone in an office during the same general hours. Sometimes this is not the case and employers are obstinate in their refusal to give employees more leeway, but much of the time a standard 9-hour day makes sense.
Unfortunately, the one thing we can do from a public policy perspective is something we not only don’t do, but are actively doing the opposite. I speak of Daylight Savings Time. Daylight Savings Time is built around the notion that we want to save the daylight for later in the day. That’s all well and good, but we’re taking it from where I honestly believe that we need it more: the morning. Last year, congress even went so far as to lengthen DST making the number of weeks where we have to go to work groggy increased by four.
They say that decisions are made by those who show up. I’d be willing to bet that the kinds of people that get elected to congress are more naturally energetic than the rest of the population. They’re also I’d bet much more likely to be morning people. As too are their contributors and advisors. Unfortunately, they probably equate nocternalism with laziness or instant-gratification. That’s unfortunate, because they make things more difficult for everyone else.