How to Be an Extreme Night Owl and Fail Miserably

My bedtime before and during the experiment

This past month I attempted to live and work as an extreme night owl. What do I mean by “extreme night owl?” — staying up and working until dawn. As one might guess, it’s been a bit of a disaster. Today is the final day of this experiment and a chance to write about it.

Life Before Staying Up All Night

Before I decided to shift my schedule, I was already a night owl regularly getting to bed between 2:00–4:00am. My schedule as a musician, music teacher, and accountability coach rarely requires me to be anywhere before noon. Teaching and gigging prevent me from getting home before 10:00pm.

I mostly enjoy being up late. I thrive at night. It’s when I can get the most done. It’s when I’m most creative. Most people are asleep. I’m less tempted to check news, social media, emails, football games, whatever. Fewer distractions = greater productivity.

Most of my life, I’ve fought this desire to be up late. The earlier you get up, the better human you are, right? I’ve met a few of these idyllic human specimens. They wake up at 5:30am on purpose! (Oh, and they’re always happy, they’re in great shape, their teeth are white, and they have great sex.) Getting up early does seem appealing, and there are plenty of health benefits of aligning your circadian rhythms with the earth. There have been a few periods where I’ve been able to get up “early” (like 9:00am), but I always end up slipping back to a late night schedule.

Recently my schedule was slowly creeping later and later, and rather than fight the desire to stay up, I thought, “What if I just stay up way late every day for a month? How productive can I be?”

There were a few other reasons why this seemed like a good idea:

  1. As I mentioned above, there are fewer distractions, and I get more done at night.
  2. I’m recording an album which requires me to go to a music hall one day a week which is only available to me after 10:00pm. Getting up later would allow me more energy during late-night recording sessions.
  3. There MAY have been in a long distance relationship that was keeping me up, too. (It has since ended, ladies.)

For those reasons, I decided to give this late-night schedule a try.

The Routine

My average day went something like this: Wake up around 1:00pm, rush to start teaching piano lessons until 9:00pm, practice piano, drive to Denny’s (or Sheetz) and work until dawn or until my laptop ran out of battery. Many nights were also spent at home practicing or doing housework.

So, what were the results of this experience? Let me talk about the positives first, since that won’t take long.

Pros:

  • Email — My inbox is back at zero and has consistently stayed there.
  • Cleaning and Organization — I got the house REALLY clean and organized.
  • Creativity — I posted a grand total of one new YouTube video.

Overall, I was somewhat productive and got caught up on several nagging projects that were neglected.

Cons:

  • No Morning Routine — Waking up was followed by cursing at the clock, debating if I have time to take a cold shower, struggling to convince myself to keep the water cold, eating leftovers for breakfast while driving to teach or perform. My previous routine of wake up rested, meditate, exercise, and cook a healthy breakfast was eradicated.
  • Sleep Quality — My sleep amount and quality were drastically reduced. I woke up feeling tired and stressed trying to run out the door, or I slept right through my alarm. Several times this led to…
  • Arriving Late and Missed Appointments — I was late for lessons, late to performances, I missed three morning meetings (one was rescheduled and I missed that, too!), and a CSA pickup, all because I didn’t get up in time. My students were getting tired of hearing me apologize for being late almost every week.
  • Eating at Denny’s and Sheetz — As a freelance health coach and someone who values being healthy and eating nourishing, low-toxin food, this was not ideal. Where I live, they were the two closest 24-hour places with internet. So I patronized and did my best to keep my meals within my diet.
  • Yard Work— Mowing the lawn in the dark is challenging to see which part of the lawn you’ve already cut.
  • Not Really That Productive — Yes, I did get some work done. But I probably could have gotten the same amount of work done, if not more, during the day. The feeling of having endless time to do something allowed me to take endless time to do it.

What I Could Have Done Better

  • Plan ahead — When I would work at night mostly on my laptop, I would just do easy things, like respond to email or read articles. If I would have made it a priority to plan ahead a little better, I could have been more efficient and been more disciplined at going to bed at 6:00am rather than 7:00 or 8:00am.
  • Avoiding scheduling anything before 2:00pm— This is difficult since the rest of the world is on a normal schedule. But if I could consistently sleep through noon, this experiment may have been more successful.

Wrapping Up

My intent and hope were to find a way to make the desire to stay up at night work for me and possibly for others. I believe there is a way for this to work, but it would require a lot more discipline and control over one’s schedule.

I was hoping this past month would have been a bit more fruitful. But sometimes learning what paths don’t work eventually lead to finding the ones that do.

I plan to go back to my regular schedule for a couple weeks and try again to shift my day, but this time towards waking up with the sun. No more writing blog posts at 3:30am.

If you’ve had more success (or failures) at being a night owl, please share your ways in the comments!