In my (admittedly selfish) opinion, I spend my best moments between 11pm and, say, 3am . It is when my children have already been confined to their beds and I have a relative freedom that allows me to consume television until my eyes start to burn.
By essentially I mean reruns of Bullseye (the original Jim Bowen incarnation, not Dave Spikey’s obnoxious reboot), maybe some music documentaries I’ve watched seven or eight times already, or one of the 45-episode series on real estate. A Place in the Sun that are jamming my decoder.
Essentially nothing challenging to look at, because by now I’m too knackered to think straight: anything on Netflix is quite a chore for me , plus the extra time needed to go back and forth through endless menus, deciding what to see
Apparently, my dedication to watching pitiful television late at night is a health hazard. Should society make more of an effort to care for nocturnal birds?
The best way I can describe my nocturnal nirvana is that it feels like being both alive and partly dead : a battle against sleep to feel like I’ve had a good time alone, even if I haven’t accomplished anything constructive. A small and futile victory against the relentless tyranny of parenting.
Unfortunately I don’t get to do it that often, partly because I’m not a wealthy member of the aristocracy with free time, but mostly because my children are still young and need help with feeding, dressing and getting to school on time .
But on weekends or when there are school holidays, our rigid schedules go to waste and I can lounge in the dim light on the sofa, binge on brain-boosting junk food and slowly push my way under the cover of some booze from medium quality Tragically, however, the enduring nuisance of science steps in to spoil my party. A study by chronobiologists at the University of Surrey (I’ve never heard of chronobiology: maybe I should have watched shows a bit more educational than the comedy Q&A reruns Shooting Stars) hints that night owls are more prone to to smoking, excessive drinking, depression and drug addiction. Oh, and the unhealthy eating.
The study, published in the scientific journal Chronobiology International , indicates that people who wake up late are 30% more likely to have diabetes, 22% more likely to have respiratory disorders, and 94% more likely to have psychological conflicts.Luckily the chronobiologists aren’t here tonight to embarrass us: they tend to insist that lives could be saved if society were more accommodating to the needs of late stayers. They have detected that in relation to the risk of premature death the main underlying factor is chronic sleep deprivation .
It seems that some of us are predisposed to a nocturnal existence : the biological clock is partly determined by genes, but the study found that those of us who drive late at night are disproportionately likely to be white, possibly due to issues cultural or because perhaps Europeans have evolved in a way that makes them go to bed and get up later.
The best way I can describe my nocturnal nirvana is that it feels like being both alive and partly dead.
Another study, carried out in health centers in the United States, showed that 10% more patients with heart attacks were admitted on days when the time was advanced and 10% less when the time was delayed .
Fundamentally, what chronobiologists argue is that if those of us who thrive in the early morning were allowed to start work at noon or later, instead of turning up sleepy-faced and with little functional coherence at 9 a.m., the world would be a better place and we would go to fewer funerals for our fellow night owls.
We’re all programmed differently, and while I’m not going to scream that the 9-18 grind discriminates against those of us who are more comfortable late at night, there is a genuine argument to be made about making more of an effort to make life more bearable.
Even though we are fortunate to live in an age of more flexible work practices, increasingly easier work from home, and more elastic work schedules, more is certainly necessary if we are to function at our best . And by “better level” I mean “a bit hungover” and “a bit stiff from having finished passing out on the couch at 4am”.
All this has been a great wake-up call for me. If I continue with my nocturnal solitude, I might lose a couple of years . So, in the future, if you catch me at 2 in the morning tweeting about an ’80s episode of Top of the Pops, please tell me to go to bed: you may be saving my life .