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February 13, 2012

Fight for your nights

American work and school days are structured for the early risers—but night owls deserve their time too.

I am a member of a tribe this society doesn’t have time for: the nocturnal. We few, we tired few, we who are banned from operating heavy machinery.

In America, you see, people get up early. They are expected to go to bed early, too. No other sleep pattern is seriously entertained. This is the schedule our Puritan forefathers kept. They led pious, thrifty, hardworking lives, almost entirely in the light of day. Probably because it’s harder to hide sins when it’s bright out. Why should anyone ever desire something different?

This creates a conundrum for those of us who subscribe to a different rhythm. It is difficult to maintain a healthy, productive life while also indulging our night owl tendencies. Work starts at 9. Class might be even earlier. Staying up until 3 or 4 means running on painfully little sleep every day. We have no choice but to repress our natures as best we can.

This is a travesty. We gain the ability to function in “normal” society, but what about everything we lose?

What about the silence? What about that profound lack of distracting noises that only arises well past midnight in cities? Cars and trucks stop rolling down Woodlawn. No one slams the heavy front door to the apartment; no strains of music penetrate the thin walls. You have no one to talk to, and nothing to vocalize. It is perfectly, blissfully serene.

What about the special poetry of the middle of the night? The sudden burst of creative energy that needs darkness as its catalyst. The beautiful softening of lines, the shadows cast on the wall by the streetlamp outside. The way things acquire a new significance.

Pouring a glass of cheap wine and opening a book of the Romantics is not an activity for right after lunch. But at 2 a.m.? 3 a.m.? It just works, goddamnit. Byron and Shelley aren’t the same in sunlight. This is the time they were writing for. This is the time at which they deserve to be read.

What about the world of thought you discover lying awake in bed? Most of the day your mind is directed. Focused. Even when you daydream, there is some fixed endpoint, some appointment to keep. Not here. Here you are free to wander until sleep takes hold.

There are dreams, fantasies that you would never entertain on the more rational hours of the clock. There are memories that emerge from the depths, years since their last appearance. You can hold them, turn them in your hands, twist, stretch, warp. Here, like at no other time, you are both master and tourist of your imagination.

Night people are suppressed by the subtle, unnoticed tyranny of the early risers. This is not meant to be an attack on those who choose to get up at daybreak. They certainly have the right to do so. And, in truth, there’s also a wonderful quality to early morning, with its dramatic sunrises and crescendoing choruses of birdsong. Much as I usually hate waking up early, I have to admit I find something to love each time I do.

So I would never deny morning people the right to keep to their own schedule. But why can they not extend to us the same privilege? Why must we live by their workday? It serves no practical purpose; most of us no longer need to get up in time to plant crops, or go to bed early to preserve whale oil. Nor is it inherently natural, as the late hours kept in southern Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere attest to.

We night people must stand together. This means you, girl reading this at 3 a.m. without yawning. This means you, guy who thinks 4 a.m. is a wonderful time to catch up on homework. Hit the snooze button. The time for chronological diversity is here.

David Kaner is a second-year in the College majoring in philosophy.

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