Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My least favorite day of the year approaches

It's a sin to go to bed on the same day you get up.
~Jimmy Walker, Mayor of New York City in the 1920s

Although I've long known the quotation in a slightly different form, I've finally found out who said it. By 1920, Daylight Saving Time had only been around for a couple of years, and I wouldn't be surprised if it led to Mr. Walker's proclamation.

If you think it's a bit much to label the "early to bed" behavior a sin, I can only tell you that you must try walking around in the night owls' shoes to realize how amusing it is to see the tables turned.

Night owls are constantly labeled as lazy, just because they don't adhere to the "larks'" schedule. Most night owls try not to disturb the larks' sleep, while forced to try to sleep through the larks' extreme daytime noisiness. Over the years I've heard my lifelong circadian rhythms labeled a "sleep disorder," been told that only people who are up to no good are up at night, had larks who spend far more hours lying about than I do tell me that I'm a slug-a-bed if I don't want to answer the phone at nine in the morning. We night owls are often forced to live with the larks' business hours, or were until the Internet freed a lot of us with its 24/7 convenience.

Some of you who have been in Sisters in Crime for a long time may remember my "Night Owl Manifesto." As I said then, I loathe "spring forward" and love "fall back." So you can imagine how unhappy I am that this year, Daylight Saving Time arrives here in the U.S. a month earlier than usual, on March 11 at 2 AM. Since I'll probably be up when it suddenly becomes 3 AM, it may not be as disorienting for me as for some. But there goes an hour of the lovely night.

I found an interesting discussion and history of Daylight Saving Time on the "Web Exhibits" site. Made me realize how much we take standardized time itself for granted. For many years, the time was whatever the locals agreed it was. (Makes one wonder about those time machines in futuristic fiction that can take a person back to "4:15:01 PM on January 10, 1608." I'll save the calendar discussion for another day.) As the site mentions, "Britain was the the first country to set the time throughout a region to one standard time," and most of the country was on GMT by 1855, although the law establishing it throughout the country didn't pass until 1880.

This desire to standardize time was in response to the demands of the railroads, who also exerted pressure in the U.S., although the first person to try to make a push for it in the U.S. was an amateur astronomer and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, William Lambert, who brought the idea before Congress in 1809. (I suspect many amateur astromers are night owls, too.) According to the Web Exhibits site:
Standard time in time zones was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads on November 18, 1883. Prior to that, time of day was a local matter, and most cities and towns used some form of local solar time, maintained by a well-known clock (on a church steeple, for example, or in a jeweler's window). The new standard time system was not immediately embraced by all, however.
Apparently, Daylight Saving Time was an idea of Ben Franklin's that took a couple of centuries to take root. Too soon for my tastes.

All of this probably falls under the category of "more than you really wanted to know," and if so, just take this as a reminder for those of you in the U.S. to set your clocks forward and check the batteries in your smoke detectors this weekend.

For my fellow night owls, let's just keep to ourselves all the finer aspects of the long, quiet hours of the night and of greeting dawn at the end of one's day.

Maybe old Ben meant something entirely different by "early to bed."

The lovely photo of the owl, above, is used courtesy of Bob Wragg, who kindly made it available on


Sandra Ruttan said...

I am, by nature, a night owl. But I have a husband who gets up at 5 am, sometimes 4:30.

In general, these days, I'm just messed up. I really don't see the issue with separate bedrooms, but I can't persuade my spouse.

Jan Burke said...

Fortunately, I married another night owl!

Anonymous said...


I'm a lark who also hates Daylight Savings Time. As someone who has the luxury of rising when the light finds its way into the room -- whose windows face south and west -- I tend to sleep much later in the early days of EDT, and I feel perpetually late for everything.

I never think of night owls as lazy. I'm just surprised that they like the dark quiet hours, as I love the light-filled ones between 6 and 9 a.m. A few years ago, I had a bedroom with a huge window that faced east, and that was ideal for me, waking to the rosy light that washed over the room.

Jan Burke said...

I'm trying not to have a vampire's reaction to the waking by morning light imagery...

Seriously, though, I see lots of sunrises when I'm on a typical night owl schedule. I won't see as many hours of the morning light now that it's Daylight Saving Time.

I hope I didn't sound anti-lark -- just want others to recognize what you obviously do, Laura -- we all have our own inner clocks, legislation or no.