Nocturnalism: The Last Fully-Accepted Prejudice

Imagine you are a normal, everyday nine-to-five employee. For the sake of convenience, and for the sake of paralellism with my own life, let’s say you’re a quick dresser with a small commute and you shower at night, so you wake up at eight. You go to work, have your lovely day, are awake and functional for all of the happy, warm, bright parts of the day (though the midday sun might be a bit too hot for you sometimes) and, after work, come home in the evening, eat dinner, and chat with your friends until you go to bed at around eleven or midnight. Note, by the way, how you escape the coldest, darkest part of the night.

For the sake, again, of argument, you’re well-adapted to your lifestyle: you’re rather slim, you lose excess body heat fairly quickly, and you don’t squint at bright lights. You don’t see very well at night, but in decent lighting you’re like an eagle. You like activity, and socialization, and the accomplishment of goals. In short, in an neolithic society, you would have been perfectly suited to join the hunters and gatherers during the day shift.

Now, let’s flash to another scenario, one that actually applies to me and to most of my friends. I go to work at 3:00 PM, and generally get out around 10:00 or 10:30. Might be slightly less time than the 9-5, but I don’t get the paid hour’s lunch of the standard salaried businessman, either. As such, I wake up at two, eat a little breakfast, have a lovely day at work, return home and, during those lovely cold, dark parts of the night, relax with my friends until I head to sleep at around five or six in the morning. Notice how I escape the hottest, brightest part of the day!

And like the previous example, I, too, am well-adapted. I’m a little on the heavy side, which provides me with ample insulation for the cold; however, I don’t shunt heat too easily. My pupils are the size of dinnerplates, allowing me near-perfect night vision– I can make out the contours of obstacles in a room by just the LED light of an alarm clock– but, as a compensation, even rather bright indoor light makes me squint, not even TOUCHING midday sun. (They don’t actually MAKE prescription sunglasses dark enough for me and my optometrist to be happy.) I like being sessile, thinking more than doing, observing more than affecting. In short, in a neolithic society, I’d have been perfectly qualified to be the midnight-to-six night watchman.

Now, let’s go back to “you,” the hypothetical ideal diurnal human. Suppose that your boss, out of the blue, said to you, one day, “Okay, ah, I’m gonna ask you to come in at four in the morning.” Well, first you’d think it was a mistake. Maybe he meant someone else. You don’t go to work in the middle of the night! What the fuck? Well, it turns out he’s serious, and, unless you want to fall asleep in the middle of the goddamn day, you have to go to bed at midnight (you’ll try to get to sleep earlier, but no, you’re biologically wired by this point) and wake up at three in the morning after maybe one shiftless sleep cycle, when it’s dark and cold and alien, drive to work, chainsmoking and drinking coffee to stay conscious, and communicate with… With Night People. Night People are scary. Who in their right mind would be awake at four in the morning? Unsavory folks, that’s who. Sure, maybe some truck drivers, policemen, bakers, a few people necessary for the functioning of civilized society, and the occasional nice person who just happens to wake up at a weird hour, but mostly it’s drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves, others of questionable morality. And for some reason, when you get to work, nobody thinks it’s odd. Everyone acts like it’s normal. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM, you ask yourself in all-caps in your head.

Flashback to me, going in to work at ten in the morning, after falling asleep at six, getting three hours, and drinking a pot of coffee to wake up. Squinting against the sun, smoking three cigarettes on the way to work, completely out of my element, I ponder, who the fuck is AWAKE at ten in the morning? Sure, maybe some bank tellers, teachers, farmers, people necessary for the functioning of civilized society, and maybe some unfortunate souls who are otherwise good people but just wake up at odd hours, but mostly it’s unsavory folk. Clergymen, businesspeople, used car salesmen, people of questionable morality. And why, why in the name of all the gods, did nobody think it was weird? Here I am awake in the middle of my goddamn night and nobody’s sympathizing, everyone just thinks I’m lazy or weird for waking up so late, ignoring that I get the same amount of sleep they do.

Most of them would like to wake up at noon, they say. “So why don’t you, then?” I ask. Some of them have jobs. “Find a job that fits your life,” I say, “that’s what I did.” Then they get kinda shifty. Part of it may be that, well, there AREN’T many jobs for the evening-active, except in food service and self-employment, and there’s a massive gap between those two, skill-wise. Granted, it’s one I plan on crossing (once I have my Ph.D, I plan on opening an after-business-hours psychotherapy practice) but it’s one in which the majority of Americans fall.

But imagine: What if the millions upon millions of Americans who’d rather go to bed at three and wake up at noon mobilized? Created a new temporal class? In urban areas, the nocturnals have already done it, and nocturnal culture thrives, but the noon-to-two class is still marginalized. There aren’t any offices that have 1:00-9:00 hours, nowhere you can get breakfast at twelve-thirty or lunch at five. And very few places still serve dinner at eleven.

Why is our society still discriminating against something so basic as sleep schedules? We are a civilization dominated by diurnalists with hard-ons for agriculture. Farmers wake up with the dawn, so the closer we get to that, the more moral we are, and anyone who wakes up after noon is a sluggabed.

You know what I say to that? Fuck that. If you can find the freedom to wake up and go to bed when it suits you, just fucking do it. It’ll be a little hard now, but in a few years, if enough people just go with their natural sleep cycles, I see the world following. Where there is a customer base, there will be business. Where there is business, there will be the other amenities of society. With any luck, in five or ten years, we nocturnalists will see the day when we can get a fine gourmet dinner at three in the morning. Until then… We’re stuck with “We don’t serve YOUR kind here.”

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Stolen long ago from a site that no longer exists.