Monday 20 June 2011


I’ve never been big on sleep. Generally it’s an inconvenience to be fitted as unobtrusively as possible around work and play. Don’t misunderstand me, I relish that moment when my head hits the pillow as much as the next person, I just don’t yearn to get to that point.

Mind you, I least I sleep every day. I did know a man who claimed to need so little sleep that he only closed his eyes every other night. Worse, this was pre-24 hour TV, shopping or the internet and he only liked to read biographies, which were distinctly fewer in number in those days. I do remember he had a very extensive record collection, however, and a long-suffering girlfriend who finally swapped him for a man who fell asleep the minute his bottom touched a sofa.
I put my good fortune of being an economical sleeper down to Deep Sleep. No messing about in the REM stage for me, I’m plunged into blackness within seconds and not retrieved from it until that alarm clock chimes five and a half hours later.

I’ve been a night-owl forever. My first memory of the benefits was when I read the entire copy of James and the Giant Peach in one night. I was about nine years old and my understanding parents had given me permission to read on – no torch needed. I got to turn my light off at midnight, I was so grown up. 

I remember starting my homework at 10pm and still putting in three hours before bouncing into school next day. And of course, being an owl is fantastic for parties, unless, of course, you’re the host who's ready for you to leave. 
The downside of needing little sleep is that I always push it too far. 1am is when I should go to bed. 6.30 is when I should rise but no, I can always find another blog to read as I wind down at midnight ready to log off for the day. I can tweet uninterrupted with fellow night-owls or distracted writers on the other side of the world for another half hour, prepare myself a little snack, unload a wash, scrub a pan and make some notes for tomorrow before deciding that really, I’m absolutely wide awake and at last, I have uninterrupted time to read whatever novel I have on the go. And then it’s 3am and I know that come lunch time tomorrow, my writing will be reduced to sludge.

Being a night-owl is also quite anti-social.
I remember staying at my Auntie and Uncle’s as a child and thinking it sad that my Uncle stayed up long after his wife had gone to bed, only to fall asleep, alone, in front of the test card. I remember my Dad tapping away at the typewriter keys in the early hours long after my mother was asleep and telling myself that I would never do that when I was an adult.


So, in order to attempt to better align my sleep patterns with the rest of my family’s, I’ve been conducting an experiment; I’ve been trying to turn an owl into a lark. I call it Larkism. My friend, who retires at 9pm and wakes at 4, ready to run at 4.30 (which is not what I’m proposing) didn’t think it possible. We are genetically disposed to being morning or night time creatures and there’s nothing we can do to change it. I’ve tried, she said. 

Larkism requires two things: I have to go to bed before the date changes and set my alarm for five and a half hours later. My Larkism started a month ago. The first day my alarm went off at 5 and I woke with that queasy, early flight kind of feeling. My husband slept on, I could so easily have done so too. Thank goodness for tea.
Quickly I got into a routine and realised that half way through my first cup, I was feeling surprisingly sparkly. I also noticed how alert I felt when my children got up at 7am and that I knew exactly what they needed for school without having to constantly refer to notes scrawled at 2am. Having already banked a couple of hours of writing, I found I could accept a coffee invitation guilt-free without the gremlin at the back of my mind reminding me every ten minutes that it was OK, as long as I worked late tonight.

The most unlikely result has been in my productivity. Larkism has only given me a maximum of ten extra hours every week. Being an owl, often afforded me double that, or so I thought. Not so. Because in my life, to be an owl, is to be a midnight faffer. Don’t get me wrong, those first two hours preceding the bell tolling were often massively productive. Often I’d write hundreds, if not thousands of words in this time. But then I should have gone to bed.
Larkism has made me focus.

The biggest surprise, however, has been to realise that I actually like feeling tired. I like clocking off at at the end of the school day and realising that my writing day is also done. Full stop. No need to think about how much work I might possibly be able to fit in later because I’ve done enough; I’ve made progress. And I love the fact that having been up since 5am, at 11pm I am tired, like a normal person, and it’s time to go to bed. I suppose, like babies, I’m enjoying the routine.
Nobody is more surprised than me to admit that Larkism is working. I’m told the biggest test will be when those mornings get dark and cold. I’m determined to continue. I’ll keep you posted.

So, are you a lark or an owl? Could you change and would you want  to?


  1. Wow this is impressive! Hope you can keep it up it sounds like it could revolutionise your life - in a positive way of course!

  2. I know! That and talking to people on the turbo trainer, I'll have so much time, I won't know what to do with myself! Seriously, I am quite excited about Larkism but I don't think I'll really know until it's cold and dark at 5am...

  3. Have you ever read Beggars in Spain? It's a Sci-Fi book where you can get an operation so you don't need to sleep at all. Any way, I sleep from 10 PM to 5 AM (a little baby serves as my alarm clock :)) I'm without a doubt a morning person, but I did work overnight for four years and was amazed at how easy it was to become a night owl.

  4. It's interesting, isn't it? I'm an Owl - always have been - but, due to bouts of manic insomnia, I tend to be often awake 3 and 4am... and it's incredible HOW creative & productive I can be at those times. (know exactly what you mean, too, about being ultra alert and organised when kids subsequently get up).

    And, yes, it's lovely to actually be *tired* late evening and ready for bed.

  5. despite my profound hatred of anything morning-y, I have found that on the rare occasion I'm up early (as long as nobody expects a conversation) I'm quite productive.
    However I can't seem to break the "staying up till wayyyy after midnight" habit.

    Fair play to ya - and good luck !!

  6. I used to think I was a night owl. So when the economy crashed and I had to get a "real" job, I picked one working overnights. After two years of that, I got tired of being so "off-schedule" with the rest of the world (though I loved working nights).

    For the next job, I had to be up at 5 am. After a brief period of adjustment (and excessive grumpiness), my body got used to it . . . and seems to like it. Even though I left the job over six months ago, the latest I can sleep (even without an alarm) is 7 am. And even when I do push it and stay up late, I still wake up at the same time.

    I guess maybe all these years I've been a "Larker" and never knew it!

  7. Hi KJ and thanks for coming over to my blog :) Interesting that you're a lark who managed to convert when necessary - I wonder if we did a poll, whether writers would be a 50/50 split between larks and owls? I always thought that writers were overly-represented by night-owls but now I'm not so sure.

  8. Sandie, I guess the only good thing about insomnia is that at least you can fling yourself at your pc - better than 4am telly!

  9. Hazel, said with passion! And yes, the proviso for me getting up at 5am is that there's nobody else around wanting to chat, too!

  10. Hi Brenda! It's only since I started my experiment but particularly after reading blog comments that I'm starting to think that you really can change and that it's less of a genetically pre-disposed thing than I originally thought. I'd love to jump forward a year though and see what I think then!

  11. Hi, Jackie. Great subject. I find that no matter what hours I move my sleep schedule to, I still tend to get the same 4 to 6 hours of sleep. The only difference is that if I push it too late (past 1am) I tend to do a lot more yawning during the day, and yes I'm sure that slows down productivity.

  12. I went through my 20's on 4 hrs sleep a night, I just never seemed tired. Now I get about 6-7 hrs but I'm still up for hours some nights, wide awake.

    Although I'm awake early and lateish at night, I never seem to be in the right frame of mood for writing at those times. I usually read, but sometimes watch tv.

  13. Thanks for reading, Tim. And if you'd asked me before I started on this, that could have been me talking! I do think it's useful to know you'll wake up an allotted amount of sleep later, rather than religiously waking at 6am like some people do, regardless of when you've gone to bed. It's the lack of yawning next day which I'm currently excited about. I wonder if the novelty will wear off, though!

  14. Hi Charlie! You're such a prolific writer, I've have put money on you being able to write whatever time of day. The TV and reading are probably good ideas fodder instead! Thanks for reading.

  15. Great post! I'm not a big sleeper either, and much more an owl than a lark. I love the night hours :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  16. Thanks Sarah :) I know what you mean. Larkism is definitely working for me at the moment but I do love that feeling of working into the night when all is quite and nobody's going to interrupt and ask you to do something.
    Thanks for reading!


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