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Matt Dorey

A bird is sitting on the grass with a kite

First Light, Last Light

Cover image for First Light Last Light

I often ponder whether the joys of waking up early are greater than those of staying up late. Empirical evidence seems to bear this out: all those people who get to work before you do, super-eager to get everything done. But then all the people walking under your windows late at night, drunk and laughing, they sound like they're having a whale of a time too.

I oscillate between the two extremes, though I tend to sleep better if I stay up late. My natural sleep hours are 1am to 8am, though I am usually human if I can get up just after 7. Whenever I try to stick to getting up early, to do masochistic things like running or being organised, I often find it harder to get to sleep or I wake up at 3 rather than 6. I end up second guessing my alarm clock.

I now structure my life in a routine without routine, where I try to stick to both approaches at once. Because my early bedtime is 10 and my late bedtime is three hours later (gasps from the balcony!), I now plan my evenings to do something different after 10 o'clock. I stop watching TV or playing Civ, and start drafting a post or tinkering with existing ones. (As much as I love writing new posts, I do like to smarten up old posts as well…)

A lot of the time I don't make it till one, which is ok because you can leave things like reading and blogging until the next day if need be. I always sleep better if I end up with the book I'm reading tapping me on the nose. There's also no better remedy for insomnia than to finish a piece of writing, particularly if it's about something you've had on your mind all day. I'm also far less of a night owl outside the house, I need to be somewhere I can micronap even if I've burning the midnight oil: loud places and alcohol bore me, they’re often effective sedatives.

Either way, I don't like the middle ground. A crisp cool early morning run with no one around is a delight. That slowness of the night as it drags the departing day into dreams that drift across the silence of suburban streets, that has its own majesty. Each is preferable to the miserable clamour of the day itself.

In the end, it doesn't matter which way you go. You have to split the difference between the virtuous hard-worker who gets up with the larks and the creative soul who likes to wring every last tick and tock from the day's long clock. You might even settle for what I cannot: the median. The roles and stereotypes about when you rise and fall are cultural, which mean that they are merely methods for persons uncaring and unknown to take power over your choices, your life. Don't let them. Stay up awhile. Bed yourself down right now to be up with the dawn. Whichever choice it is, make it the one that you want.

Cover image is "Circle Of Light (Lens Flare), Wisley" by H Matthew Howarth, creative commons license. I made no changes to the image.

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