By the time you read this, I’ve been up for hours.
It’s 3:14 a.m. I’ve just checked the weather forecasts, latest news and interesting gossip on the internet. Coffee is brewing, and I’m looking forward to my first cup. By 5 a.m. I will be working out. No one else in my house is awake, and for the only time all day I have the house all to myself.
I’ve tried sleeping later. But over the years my body clock has been set to wake up at ungodly hours. I have my alarm set for 4 a.m., but rarely make it that late. If I sleep much past 3 a.m. you’d better hold a mirror under my nose to make sure I’m still breathing.
I was always an early riser. I was probably the only one among my college friends who didn’t mind 8 a.m. classes, and relished having the dining hall almost to myself for breakfast. But the truly insane mornings started when I became a parent. Before then, I would get up about 6 a.m. in order to make my 45 minute commute to work. That was a reasonable hour for most of humanity, and I didn’t think anything of it. Once my first daughter came along, all bets on sleeping later were off.
As a baby, it was a surprise if she slept past 5:30 a.m. There were times in the summer I’d take her for a stroller ride around our neighborhood at first light — until I decided I didn’t want anyone calling authorities because I was walking a baby at 5 a.m. I had to get up early in order to survive. If I wanted to get anything done without holding a baby, it needed to be in the wee hours.
Over the years my mornings have become more solitary, as my oldest is now a teen and lives to sleep later. Her younger sister enjoys a nice sleep-in as well. Even though I could sleep later, I’m stuck in my morning lark habit because it’s so productive.
Most of my writing, exercising, cleaning and quiet time happens before 6 a.m. Then my kids get up to take showers before school. By 7:30 a.m. they are on the bus. And I’ve already done more before daybreak than many people will do all day.
I’m not the only one out there. According to the United States Census Bureau, one out of eight of us leaves for work before 6 a.m. We get on with our day earlier, but we are also apparently mutants.
Neurobiologists at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, have studied why some people can function on unusual sleep patterns. They’ve identified gene mutations that appear to cause people to go to bed much earlier and awake earlier. Another mutation, apparently, is to blame for some people sleeping 6 hours rather than the more typical 8 hours a night.
The only time my early to rise philosophy goes against society is when there are plays, rehearsals and other events in the evening. I’m pretty much useless after 8 p.m., and will usually be the first person to leave a late-night event.
But I’ll still be the first person awake in my house the next morning.