A Night Owl And Morning Lark Swapped Sleep Routines – Here's What Happened

Can you learn to be a morning person? Are you missing out on the genius of late-night ideas? HuffPost writers swap lives to find out – with exhausting consequences.

In our daily morning meeting, the HuffPost Life team is split into two camps: those who have stayed up late and are struggling to get going, and the people who’ve been awake for hours and ticked off half their to-do lists.

But is there any hope for those who want to swap sides?

HuffPosters Sophie and Nancy – who live at extreme ends of the sleep routine spectrum – tried to find out.

Nancy (left) and Sophie (right) pose for a rather unconventional work photo.
Nancy (left) and Sophie (right) pose for a rather unconventional work photo.

Sophie: ‘I live for an early bedtime and 8 hours sleep’

Sophie: As a child I thought one of the best things about adulthood would be staying up late; with no parents to stop me, it would be all midnight feasts and late night Donkey Kong on the Nintendo. Turns out, I was an idiot. One of the best things about being an adult is, in fact, an early bedtime and eight delightful hours of uninterrupted sleep. Especially when your alarm clock is set for six o’clock.

I wouldn’t entirely describe myself as a ‘morning lark’ – I don’t leap out of bed, fresh with enthusiasm when my alarm goes at six. I definitely need a strong tea to get me started before I reach my desk at 7.45am, but I am certainly more productive, more alert before lunchtime. For some time, I presumed that was the case for everyone – energy levels gradually depleting as the day progresses, resulting in a 4pm slump and forage for a Hobnob.

But it appears not. For some people, the optimum time for productivity is during the antisocial hours, late at night (you can tell I’m still getting to grips with this). And the idea is that I try to become one of them.

Nancy: ‘At 1am I could conquer the world’

Nancy: I have never been a morning person – not even as a tiny baby, says my mum, who was the first to negotiate my ‘just woken’ grumps (and nappies to match). As a teen, the moods got so stormy I was ‘gently’ encouraged to eat breakfast up in my bedroom to spare the rest of the family my thunder.

Oh, but the evening hours. So rich in potential, so live with possibility: 11pm is when my mojo kicks in; 1am, and I could conquer the world. Truly, I love nothing more than pottering round my flat after midnight. Reading and writing, snacking and scrolling, messaging fellow night owls – and all to a soundtrack of late night radio. Sailing By, Shipping Forecast, God Save The Queen, Bed.

This routine flew just fine when my job started at 10am. It’s less workable now my alarm goes off at the same time as Sophie’s and I have to face our daily 8.30am ideas meeting on five hours sleep. So I’m swapping my late finishes for her 10pm bedtime – and we’re starting on a school night.

Evening one: ‘Where does Love Island fit into this routine?’

Sophie: First obstacle to navigate: my bed partner who looks at me like I’ve asked him to eat a wasp when I mention I won’t be retiring with him at 10pm. I’ve got at least another two hours before I can justify hitting the hay. But what to do with my time? I’ve already been out for dinner with friends (coming home just before nine), had a shower including leg shave and hair wash, put away the washing and watched two 20-minute episodes of The Office. Yes it’s been pretty productive but I normally achieve all that and still make it into bed by 10.

Now comes the post-bedtime hours. I’m not enjoying them because I’m so focused on counting how many minutes of sleep are slipping away – diminishing by the second and to what end? It feels like a bizarre form of self punishment that I’ll pay for all day tomorrow, and is making me feel very anxious. (It’s at this point, I acknowledge the cult of ‘sleep wellness’ might have more influence on my sleeping habits than I previously thought.)

I end up binging a Netflix series to try and keep myself awake. I also eat a lot of biscuits. At one point, I may even have nodded off briefly on the sofa. By the time I drag myself to bed I fall asleep straight away and wake up very bleary-eyed the next day. Is it possible to feel hungover with no alcohol?

Nancy: It helps that I’m just back from holiday and well-rested, for the first night of our experiment. I’m home from work by 7 – early for me – and I’m all ready to put my holiday washing on, just as soon as I’ve uploaded my Instagram snaps (and checked out everyone else’s). I look down at my phone, then up at the clock and, shit, it’s almost 9pm. I HAVE TO BE IN BED IN AN HOUR – and I still have supper to cook and Love Island to watch.

Something’s got to give and it’s not going to be Tommy Fury. Still, I feel a bit panicked. Forget eight hours of sleep: when I work a long day, sandwiched by a not inconsiderable cross-London commute, I feel constricted if I have anything less than six waking hours to myself in the evenings. (Neither Sophie nor I currently have kids to deal with, and I wonder how they’d affect things).

I tweet my editor in an attempt to hold myself accountable and, by some miracle (or the fact I essentially hate breaking rules), I’m in bed with the light off by 10.01pm. Never mind that I’m not asleep for another two hours. Sigh.

Evening two: ‘I’m struggling to focus through a cloud of fog’

Sophie: Night two, and I’ve been for a run, cooked dinner, cleaned up, hoovered the flat, watched two episodes of Killing Eve and packed my bag for tomorrow. I’ve even booked a bloody smear test. I’ve definitely filled the time before bed, but it still feels like I’m just generating admin to fill the time before I’m allowed to sleep. Night owls like Nancy tell me about their late night creativity bursts – but that definitely isn’t happening to me. I’m just tired and have no motivation to do anything apart from stay on the sofa.

The next day, I’m knackered again. Whether it’s the placebo effect (possibly) or genuine physical tiredness, I’m not sure – all I know is I’ve struggled to focus through the cloud of fog, been reliant on coffee, and have had several (fairly bad) arguments with my partner. Would I have been as irritable and, frankly, irrational had I been well rested? Who knows. Sorry to my partner for making him my sleep guinea pig.

Nancy: I meet a friend after work, but as she has spent the entire afternoon standing in the driving rain at her daughter’s primary school sports day, she’s as ready for an early night as I am. And oddly, I actually am – it’s only been a day, but I’m – yawn – starting to feel the attraction of an enforced bedtime.

We cover off the holiday gossip at Olympian speed, keep it to one glass of rosé each (hard!) and call time on our catch-up a full two hours earlier than usual. By 9.20pm, I’m on a train across London that gets me home soon after 10, whereupon I immediately flop on to my bed.

Fatal error: that’s on, not in. Once again, I fall into the triple vortex of Whatsapp, Instagram and the Twitter meme-stream from Westminster and Majorca. By the time I get off the bed to brush my teeth and make a cup of sleepy tea, it’s half 11. It’s not that I don’t like my bed, I’m just not very good at putting myself in it.

Evening three: ‘I’m delusional to think I’ll write my magnus opus this way’

Sophie: Finally, it’s the weekend – when I can enjoy staying up late without having to deal with the following morning. If I’m out, I usually start to flag by about 2am – but tonight I have more energy. Perhaps those late nights have trained me up? Maybe I’ve experienced the much-sought-after switch between morning lark and night owl? Or maybe it’s just the alcohol.

After my later night, on Sunday morning I sleep till about 9am but that is a totally normal weekend rising time for me. What I’ve never worked out is whether this propensity for a sneaky weekend lie-in is tapping into my natural body clock (and the time I’d always wake up then if I didn’t have a job to go to) or whether I’m always just making up for my early hours in the week.

Nancy: My sleep routine is actually better at weekends than during the working week: I’m often up and out for a swim by 9am and go to bed earlier than on a school night. (Underlining, perhaps, that I stay up late not because of some crazy disco body-clock, but because I simply want to fit in more me-time). However, as someone who suffers from Sunday blues in a big way, Sunday night often proves problematic. I’ll wind down around 10 with a book in the bath, only to lie for hours in bed unable to sleep.

Tonight, however, it’s different. It’s 8.22pm, and I’m doing the washing up and picking out a work outfit so I can be in bed by nine with ITV2. Even after watching Aftersun (yes, really), my light is out at 11pm – and I’m asleep before midnight for the first Sunday in weeks. This makes Monday morning manageable, rather than the achey-headed endurance test I’m used to.

Time for an (alarm clock) reset?

Sophie: I am so glad this experiment is over – in fact I celebrated by getting into bed a whole hour earlier than normal to read my book. I know my colleagues mock me and think I basically have the routine of a toddler, but with a full-on job I don’t want to be waking up feeling exhausted every day. Yes, sleep is for when you’re dead, but I feel only half alive when I don’t get eight hours. And no, I don’t feel like I’m missing out – I still go out and socialise during the week, I just make sure I leave before nine o’clock, which seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Nancy: What have I learned? That I’m even more addicted to my phone than I feared. That I’m delusional to think I’ll get my magnum opus written by staying up late into the night (I could just pen a novel in the time I’m watching Love Island). That 11pm is still a magical hour – and Sophie and I have fundamentally different experiences of time. But that sometimes putting yourself to bed at a nice, normal time is actually the grown up thing to do.