Early bird or night owl?

The African Wilderness

Some time ago, I spent 4 days trekking through the African Wilderness on the ‘Umfolozi Wilderness Trail’. As we sat around a camp fire on the first night, the ranger asked us to take our watches off and hand them over.  It seemed an odd thing to do, but he explained that we wouldn’t need them for the trek.

As the journey unfolded I realised that without a watch, I was able to really appreciate the environment and listen to my body clock. People went to bed and rose at different points. I went to bed fairly soon after dark and rose when the sun was rising and the birds singing their morning chorus. Lunch and dinner were informal affairs, people ate when they felt hungry and snacked throughout the day as the need arose. At no point during the trip did anyone know the ‘real’ time.


On returning to the UK

I felt a real sense of calm on leaving the trek. I saw lots of African animals but what I remember the most is how it felt to be ‘timeless’ for a while. For days I hadn’t fought time, I’d gone with the flow.

Of course, on returning to the UK I had to be aware of the real time again, but I stopped wearing a watch, most of the time. Time is everywhere - phones, radios, walls, computers, cars, ovens etc. In fact, there is often no escaping it! Even when we can’t see it our bodies often instinctively roughly know the time.

The trek taught me to listen to my own body clock. For a long time I have woken early and used to get annoyed at the birds outside. This wasn’t aided by the arrival of my young daughter – she would regularly get up before 6 full of the joys of spring!

In Africa though, I hadn’t worried about waking up with the birds and had felt invigorated. So, I decided to embrace being an early riser, rather than getting frustrated.

I now like my mornings (well, most of the time). I creep down, usually with my daughter! I’ve found that I work well in the mornings and this is when I prefer to work on challenging tasks. I also love running in the mornings. Come the evening though and I wane, unless something really needs doing or I am out.

Friends of mine who are ‘night owls’ are the complete opposite and find they function best in the evening. They are often still on their laptops or reading at midnight, when I’ve usually been asleep for hours.

Body Clocks

Research has shown that our biological clock controls rhythms within the body, which cause changes to take place within a rough 24-hour period. These rhythms affect our sleep patterns, which are also affected by external signals from the environment, such as light. This makes our natural sleep patterns differ.

Researchers from Aachon University also believe there are structural brain differences between early birds and night owls and that approximately 10% of people fall into the early bird category and 20% the latter. Everyone else falls into the ‘normal’ category.

Of course, shift patterns and the demands of everyday life mean that often we can’t follow the sleep pattern we’d like. People often have to change their natural sleep pattern to fit in with what they do, or to suit their environment.

For me, I have learned to embrace my early bird tendencies. Whilst getting up early for a cup of tea in my kitchen might not be quite as exotic as waking up to the sounds of African wildlife, our cat at least usually greets me with a loud miaow!


  • When do you prefer to wake up, given the choice?
  • When do you work or study best and feel at your most alert?
  • When have you had to adapt your sleep pattern?

I’d love to hear from you, as long as it isn’t at midnight!

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  • Hello,

    I prefer to work late in the evening, when everything is calm, quiet and dark. I don't know if it started as a choice or I just felt good and productive working late hours. So, yes I am an night owl. I wouldn't encourage this style of work unless you do feel more efficient, more creative and better concentrating this way and, of course, if the kind of job you are doing allows you to choose the working hours...

    It can be quite a challenge to change your natural biorhythm. Lucky those who can follow it because there are so many jobs that won't let you work when you feel most creative.


  • What a beautiful shot. I've obviously been studying the HR/LD Profession Map too much as I'm thinking how 'curious' the deer looks! Thanks for sharing the photo, Helen

  • That's the great thing about wildlife photography - there's always room for improvement, providing the excuse that I need to go back again and spend a day crawling thriough the heather! Image below from my last visit to Exmoor, crawled for about 150m in soaking wet heather and prickly gorse to get it. 

    2897774?profile=originalAt the time, I would probably have preferred to be off skiing!


  • Hi Steve and Mike, thanks for your comments. It is interesting to read that you tend to work better later on, it does indeed show how we are all different. See, if you were tweeting between each other in could indeed go on until the early hours, all that creativity!

    Regarding sleep, it seems people do vary although I am very impressed that you can survive on 6 hours Mike. I tend to go more off how I feel these days, I used to be a stickler for wanting my quota!

    Hearing that you got up at 3 a.m. to photograph wildlife makes me feel better about leaving the house at 4:30 a.m. in January to go skiing, although I'm not sure sitting in the East Midlands airport will be quite so exhilarating! I hope you got the shots you wanted!


  • I tend to be most creative at the end of the day. Here I am now replying at nearly 10pm, knowing that I could happily go on working until the small hours - but unlike Mike I don't think I'd survive very long on 6 hours sleep a night!  I find it so odd that I don't get replies to twitter posts, until I glance at the time and realise that I probably have to wait til the morning for people to wake up before it will be read! 

    I do get to work early every day as well. Not because I feel overly creative, but because I so enjoy that hour or so before everyone else arrives for work - I get so much work done without the interruptions that start at 9am!

    One of my hobbies is wildlife photography - which can entail a really early start. I've been known to leave the house at 3am to drive 120 miles to get decent images of the deer rut on Exmoor. Not saying I've been particularly creative for the rest of that day though! 


  • I am at the other end of the scale here ladies. I've always been a night owl and hate early mornings.

    I have always found myself needing to relax and unwind following a hard day grafting at the office and especially with the arrival of kids need time to myself following bedtime stories.

    It's this time where I can do my things like playing my computer games, watching a film, reading or writing. In fact I feel at my most creative quite late in the day and write a lot of blogs well in the early hours of the morning.

    It's probably not healthy and I most likely don't get enough sleep but I've always been this way and can quite happily survive on around 6 hrs sleep a night.

    Mike 'night owl' Collins

  • Hi Helen! Thanks for your post, interesting to hear that you are a morning person too, it must be the name! ;-) I like the idea of an afternoon nap and didn't add in my blog that we did that on the trek, well, we stopped when we felt like it and some people had a sleep! I don't think the ranger did in case there were any lions about but napping on the sofa should be safe....

    Thanks for the links, I will look at those. I certainly know that 'fuzzy brain' feeling, I get that if I have had several bad nights in a row. I know students sometimes don't sleep well before the first workshop but thankfully I've not had anyone fall asleep - yet!

    I'm impressed that you replied before 8 a.m. This is late for me to be working so I'm going to drink my hot chocolate now in front of the television! Night! :-)

  • Hi Helen!

    Love this post - my husband works shifts and as a consequence I do too when I am working from home - and the impact this can have on our effectiveness can be very telling - for example weekends are quite often catching up on the sleep that has been missed during the week!

    I do like the idea of following our bodies natural rhythms - I am naturally a morning person and like you (must be something in the name!) will tackle more challenging projects then. In the afternoon I am often distracted more and will if given the opportunity have an afternoon nap and be more effective for it afterwards - although I confess the afternoon nap doesn't work out so well when delivering workshops!!

    Recently I have come across a couple of links which are linked to sleep and learning which are interesting



    From my own experience - I know when I am not sleeping well I often feel like my brain isn't working as effectively as it could be - I sometimes refer to this as feeling brain fuzzy! It's like all my clarity of thought has the edges smeared...

    So having answered all my emails and commented on your post and it is only 7:50 - I look forward to my afternoon nap!

    Have a fabulous rest of week!


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