Early birds are impressive, but just thinking about them constructs me weary | Emma Brockes

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People who work when most of us are still asleep assert thats when theyre most productive. That is indeed true, but how exhausting

If the world can be approximately divided into two types early birds and night owls there is one overlapping category: the person who starts work earlier today that it constitutes the night before.

I have been thinking a lot about these people lately. Im behind on a volume deadline and, having failed to find more working hours in the working day, Im wondering if the answer Ive been looking for is the 4am start. The idea makes me feel physically sick, but at the least I can be sure the phone wont ring.

We are, after all, bombarded with proof to indicate there is a correlation between early risers and high risers. All those people who get up before dawn to do military fitness training in Central Park or boot camp at the gym might be obnoxious, but they do project a certain thrusting lust for life that must come in handy later in the day. The psychological benefits of forcing oneself into the shower hours before everyone else are backed up by countless academic surveys, too.

And there is a wealth of anecdotal proof. A few years ago, I interviewed Haruki Murakami, who, among his other foibles, routinely starts work at 4am, writing until noon and then spending the afternoons doing the only thing someone with an elective schedule like that is built for: training for marathons.

Kate Mosse, the bestselling novelist, also maintains that when shes doing the sprint at the end of a multi-year book project, shes at her desk by 4am and maintains going for 10 hours at a stretching.

And Sally Wainwright, who I am semi-stalking at the moment out of love for her most recent TV presents, has said repeatedly in interviews that she starts writing at … 2am. What even is that? More to the point, what time do these people go to bed?

Murakami told me that he and his wife turn in at 9pm, which, if you have young kids, leaves you with roughly an hour of downtime after their bedtime and before yours, cutting things a little fine in the mental health department.

The whole thing also smacks of a fanaticism that constructs “i m feeling” weary just to meditate. Its one thing getting up at 5am for the gym or to beat rush hour; its another altogether to claim youre at your desk drinking coffee hours earlier because thats the time when you get the most done. To many of us, there is something not only antisocial, but also deeply alarming about being up at that time, an hour one associates with emergencies, health failings, sleepless nights and neurosis. Its the time when newborns exclaim and adults lie awake, staring at the ceiling and cycling through anxieties. It feels like a is high time to pray , not to run, the darkest hour of the night when the minutes sneak by and tomorrow never comes.

Thats the phase, I suppose. Time moves differently in the middle of the night. It slows down.

It also gives middle-of-the-night-workers a sense of getting one over on the slumbering populace. Wainwright has said that starting work that early gives her a cozy feeling that everyone else is asleep and that she is far more productive than when sitting at a computer for six hours during the day.

I can understand this. As a characteristic, I can find it admirable and enviable. But its also selectively applied. People who love what they do will attain sacrifices to do it and get heaped with kudo for their astounding run ethic. Millions of others, with no say in the matter at all, have the far harder undertaking of sticking to someone elses hours for low pay and no ovation. No one dedicates shift workers nodding on the metro at 5am applause for their zany stamina and commitment.

Anyway, you cant always believe what people say about what time they get up in the morning. In a study undertaken by the University of California, San Diego, scientists extensively interviewed subjects about their sleep habits, then attached motion sensors to their wrists to monitor them overnight. The outcomes? Many more claimed to be up at 5am than were ever out of bed at that time.

It should perhaps come as a consolation that, as with almost everything else in life, the facts of what time you get up matter less than the tale you tell about it.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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