Why Some Of Us Sleep Late At Night. And Sleep Few Hours

Staying up and going to sleep late at night is something I’m all too familiar with. And so is getting a few hours of sleep each night.

I go to bed around midnight or one in the morning on most weeknights, setting my alarm to ring at 6.30am. I thought many others did this, until I mentioned it at work. When I did, my blonde-haired, twenty-something colleague Simone exclaimed, “What? I go to bed at nine. Nine thirty!”

Sunsets are the start of a brand new day for some of us night owls | Weekly Photo Challenge: New.

Sunsets are the start of a brand new day for some of us night owls | Weekly Photo Challenge: New.

I can’t imagine myself sleeping at that time every night. “Too early,” I said.

Some of us sleep late because night time is our time, time for ourselves. Sometimes it’s the only time of the day where we get to do what we want after a long day’s work and looking out for others. Work takes up my entire day, and it’s only late at night when I get the chance to write.

We stay up late because we feel most alert, most energetic, at night. We’re night owls and function best then. Which could be because of delayed sleep phase syndrome, an out of whack biological clock. There have been nights where I hit the pillow at 10pm – and felt very groggy during the next morning.

Sometimes we feel most at peace late at night – the world speaks to us right then, so we stay up. To some of us, the still air, the quiet of the night feels like magic. The inspiration to write always hits me at this time of the day, another reason I put off sleeping more.

Then again, maybe some of us were taught to stay up late when we were younger and it’s become a habit we can’t shake off. When I was doing high school in Singapore, my Asian classmates complained of “burning the midnight oil”, staying up late mugging for exams – and studious me did just that to keep up with them.

And so sometimes we stay up late because we worry. Back in Singapore I remember tossing and turning in bed countless nights before exams thinking, “Did I memorise the maths formulas correctly?”

It seems people who live in Asia go to bed later than others in the Western world. Shops in many Asian cities don’t close until 10-11pm, but here in Melbourne shopping centres shut at 7pm except on late-night shopping nights (apart from grocery stores). Perhaps some Asians are fond of working longer hours and staying out later, and so turn in later.

Certainly not all Asians are fans of sleeping late. My Chinese Malaysian mum champions sleeping early; she’s usually in bed by 10pm. When I was a kid, she nagged at me in the evenings, “Go to sleep now or else the Sleeping God will go away! Then you can’t sleep!”. I always laughed, thinking she was making this character up to scare me into sleeping. But recently I found out she wasn’t lying: in Chinese culture there is a God of Dreams who appears in dreams and hints of what’s to come in the future.

Dawn of the night. Dawn of a new day.

Dawn of the night. Dawn of a new day.

Some say smarter people stay up late, and some with successful careers get by on little sleep. But of course not all of us are actually like that. There are days at work where I feel physically tired, like the late nights or age are catching up with me. Or it could be bad quality sleep or poor diet. And because of this, sometimes I’m a bit out of it at work.

One afternoon Simone said to me point blank, “I don’t know how you do it. I need my eight hours sleep.” Well, neither do I. “You get used to it”, I said, looking up from my computer for a second, then going straight back to furiously typing a memo into the work database. Sleeping late and sleeping few hours, it’s a choice – sometimes we have to, sometimes we want to, sometimes both. If I went to sleep early each night, there wouldn’t be much of a blog here. Wouldn’t be much stories about why it’s okay to be different here.

We sleep late and little because we want to get things done. Be productive. And try to make the world a better place.

Do you sleep late?

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187 thoughts on “Why Some Of Us Sleep Late At Night. And Sleep Few Hours

  1. I think I share your mom’s habit.. I sleep early but also wake up very early..Not that I am a morning person, but I love waking up slowly and easy. There were days when I slept very late as well like during the exam or crazy work deadlines or get hooked on certain TV series. The last one sometimes cost me sleepless night 😀 😀

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    • You’re an early bird! Early bird catches the worm 😀 I like waking up slowy too – lie in bed for half an hour, get out, slooowly brush my teeth, slooowy eat breakfast 😀 Certainly you can’t be as slow as me!

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  2. Great post ~ I use to be a night owl, and it is actually fun when I do stay up and enjoy the day into the wee-hours of the morning… But something clicked during the end of my 30s that found when I woke up prior to dawn (and went out and really enjoyed sunrise), I loved the early jumpstart to the day. I guess I am a bit of both, but ideally going to bed early and waking up early is the perfect start to a day.

    Your quote of “Sunsets are the start of a brand new day for some of us night owls” does say it all, however, and I love that attitude and there is so much truth to it. Cheers to many late nights and early mornings 🙂

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  3. I’m an owl 😦 my mind is most active at night and is too alert to let me sleep.
    It’s a pity though…someone recently told me that an hour of sleep before midnight gives rest equivalent to 3 hours of sleep after midnight.

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  4. Well.. I used to be a late sleeper (like yourself sometimes even till 2am) until age caught up and also my work time change (early to office) that got my whole body clock earlier and earlier each time. To me, I felt sleeping early does also keep and make one healthier. That’s how i felt when I slept earlier (not like 9pm by close to 11pm) and up by 5.30am (auto boy alarm. LOL!!) A change from later sleeper to an early bloomer. =P

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  5. Am a morning person..meaning up around 5:00-7:00 am (later time is on weekends), and go to bed no later than 10:30 pm or earlier. Doesn’t mean I always sleep the whole night through. But no point taking chances.

    Part of it was when I started cycling to work, I had to prepare abit more. Also summer time was hot, humid in Ontario so always better to cycle off to work at 6:00 am for 50 min. ride through the park system.

    Yes, it has been proven medically that if people sleep 5-8 hrs., they are healthier. The body’s systems need to function properly at night. (digestive, metabolic, etc.)

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    • You are certainly an early bird, Jean. Up early and ready to go. Sleeping the whole night is another topic altogether…and so is quality of sleep.

      It’s good that you have something to look forward to each morning, cycling. Maybe after all these years of waking up for it, it has become second nature for you to do so.

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  6. NO, I don’t sleep late. When I was younger, going to bed at midnight was no problem and when I was a DJ I would not go to bed until 2.30am and would then be up again at 7am for work. As I have got older I have started to go to bed much earlier (usually at 10pm). But that is because I like getting up early in the mornings and making the most of my days.

    If I was working full time I think I’d get up early and do my writing then as that is the best part of the day for me. By the afternoon. I lose all my creativity and desire to write (or work). I’m more of a morning person, Mabel 🙂

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    • “NO, I don’t sleep late.” Very emphatic of you to say that, Hugh. And with good reason since you know you function best in the morning these days. Ah, going to bed at 2.30am in your younger days. That is late but I hoped you enjoyed DJ-ing. Really hope to hear about that time of your life some day 😉

      I am sure your dog is a morning person too! Another reason for you to be a morning person.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, I suppose it is what you consider sleeping late is. For some it could be sleeping in until 8am (like for me) whereas for others it could be until early afternoon 🙂

    You are quite right, because having a dog does make one get up early in the morning. However, even if we did not have a dog I would still be getting up early every morning. I think us older people can do that far easier, especially with going to bed earlier. The last time I can remember me not going to bed until after midnight was New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day 2013/2014, when I went to bed at 00:10! Shock horror 😉

    Can you tell I’m not an night owl anymore? 🙂 I can’t quite remember when the transition from night owl to early morning bird happened.

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  8. Yes, I do, Mabel 🙂

    I do like to see the clock ticking past 12 at least.

    Such a beautiful post this one is…

    While in school, I used to complete my studies by staying late, well past midnight …

    I just wanted to finish things and go to sleep with a peaceful mind.

    During my college days, I used to leave so much to be completed at the last moment, that I had to sleep late and wake up early on exam days 🙂 I think that’s quite common, right?

    As you said, I used to feel, my day has just begun by sunset and I could stretch the day till next sunrise 🙂

    What ever happens, I used to sleep just before the sunrise to give a logical end to the day 🙂

    Now a days, I am not able to stretch my day as much as I really wish to… and there is quite a lot of work to be completed as I am preparing for an exam …

    Let me try to go back to the olden days…

    Hope you had a beautiful day and planning to stay awake till late night 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve always striked me as a night person, Sreejith. Glad you cherish the night and the calm it brings. I am sure burning the midnight oil paid off for you and got you where you are today.

      Good luck with your exam. May the force be with you, as it always is 😉 The older we get, I think we find that we can’t pull the late-nighters much anymore. Last night I was up reading until 2am, very nice. I woke up at 9am this morning feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. So I will sleep earlier tonight.

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  9. I can’t say I sleep late. In fact, (you’re going to hate me for this) I can sleep anywhere I want to. Yes, even on the plane. I am the passenger sitting beside you, drooling off to Lala Land even before the plane takes off. The only exception is that I can’t really sleep well in a unknown room (aka a hotel room) on the first night but after that, I’ll sleep the moment my head touches a pillow.

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  10. Yes, I agree that western people sleep early and wake up early as compared to asian people. Try coming to the library at night, you will see 90% asians. In the morning, it’s 90% white! I think asians are more nocturnal.

    Also, as I get older, I tend to sleep less and wake up when the sun rises (about 5.30am-7am), I can hardly sleep pass 9am!

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    • Such a great example, and so true. Perhaps Asians are wired to function on less sleep: wet markets (and hawker style eateries) starts at 5-6am each day in Asia, and sometimes they don’t shut until late.

      I really wish I could wake up early and feel good about it. Unlike you, my body has always said 11am is a good time to wake up!

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  11. Great Post!

    I sometimes don’t fall asleep until late (2 a.m
    or even 5 a.m.) and don’t wake until the afternoon–it is something I do need to gain a little more control of, I think.

    It’s just unfortunate that my life, habits, personality, etc, developed me into that state.

    I always feel more productive, and other people leave me alone since they are sleeping, so I can get more work done and have more time for myself as an introvert. I wonder if introverts enjoy staying up late more since they are alone, and extravers wouldnt, because they don’t have anyone to talk to?

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