Night owls deserve love and acceptance, not judgment 


Vivian Hoang ’24 is a history major and is working towards self-designing a second journalism & mass communications major. On campus, she serves as the executive editor of The Flat Hat, Chief-of-Staff of Flat Hat Magazine, a peer consultant at the Writing Resources Center and a teaching assistant in the Speech Department. You can contact Vivian at vvhoang@wm.edujust don’t be surprised if you get a response at 3 a.m.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Recently, while scrolling through Facebook reels (yes, there are Facebook users under the age of 45; we exist, damn it), I stumbled across a short video showing the nighttime routine of a young stay-at-home mom. To my surprise, her sleep schedule, the primary selling point of her videos, was quite unorthodox as she put her toddler to bed at 12:00 a.m. and did an array of household tasks such as buying groceries (New York City never sleeps, luckily), cleaning her house, preparing meals and doing yoga until her bedtime at 5:00 a.m.

For most people, 5:00 a.m. seems utterly insane for a bedtime. But for me, a lifelong night owl, the sight of that time blinking at me by my alarm clock before I close my eyes for the night is nothing but familiar. So I was pleasantly surprised and almost comforted to not only see someone’s sleep schedule resemble mine, but also that the person was a high-functioning mother taking care of two, healthy happy children — the very antithesis of who society deems to be a night owl.

However, the comments section greatly diverged from my positive reaction to the short video; it was littered with angry comments from other parents across the worldwide web scolding her for allowing her toddler to be up so late (How will she ever adjust when it’s time to go to school at 6 a.m?!?!) or being such an irresponsible mother for staying up into the wee hours of the morning (What kind of example are you setting for your kids?!?!?). 

But I found these comments to be overly judgmental and grossly misguided. What I saw, above all else, was a hardworking and productive mother. To me, the hour of the day shouldn’t dictate when an action can be considered ‘productive.’ She was still caring for her child and her home all the same as a traditional, early-rising mom. Why should it matter what time of the day she completes her chores?

Too often, those who prefer late bed and wake-up times are seen as lazy, unmotivated and irresponsible. We are seen as habitual mismanagers of time who are only staying up because we so stupidly procrastinated or goofed around during the day. To say that we slept at 3 a.m. last night evokes mental images of us scrolling on YouTube or playing video games with other teenage miscreants disobeying their ‘natural’ sleep cycles.  

Even worse, society constantly bombards us with the narrative that “the early bird gets the worm” and pressures us into feeling guilty if we sleep in because we already feel like the day has started on the wrong foot if we’re not up early. To further reinforce this sentiment, society structures itself around the cookie-cutter nine-to-five model in which most working adults are expected to be up by 7 a.m. — maybe 8 a.m. if you’re lucky — to get themselves (and often their children) ready and commute to work. However, this model completely disregards those with delayed circadian rhythms or other personal circumstances that may not be conducive to an early wake-up time. 

Let’s use me as an example. 

No matter how hard I’ve tried — and I’ve been trying since middle school — I simply cannot be an early riser. I’ve tried taking sleeping aids, doing cognitive behavioral therapy, moving my bedtime up thirty minutes each day and more — you name it, I’ve done it. Even if I have early commitments in the day, whether it be doctor’s appointments or classes, I will always stay up late and sacrifice a full night of eight hours of sleep. 

Why, you may ask? Call me crazy, but I genuinely feel more awake past midnight and can cognitively process information much faster than I do during the day, which is when I almost always experience a constant head fog and drowsiness. I swear once the sun goes down I feel like a shot of preworkout is injected in my veins, and I’m roaring on all four cylinders. There’s no chance I’d fall asleep at 11 p.m. all hopped up on energy and wired to tackle my homework and daily chores. 

But there might be a logical reason for my flip-flopped internal clock. I once read that naturally delayed sleep rhythms can be traced back to the evolutionary past. Back in prehistoric times, certain tribe members were assigned to keep watch for predators and intruders all throughout the night, likely because this tactic yielded higher survival rates than tribes who did not undertake this venture. I like to think that I hail from a line of formidable overnight sentinels who protected their village through the daunting, pitch-black night until the crack of dawn when they would then hit the hay (literally). 

However, this prehistoric model obviously does not translate well in contemporary American society, which is why the nine-to-five working model does not and will not ever probably work for me. 

And now’s probably a good time to mention that my ‘late’ sleep schedule is exacerbated by chronic insomnia. And, no, my insomnia is not from ‘mismanaging’ my time by scrolling on my phone or studying too much — it has been diagnosed by many professionals. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always slept terribly; I’ll regularly wake up wide awake after 3 hours of sleep, be desperately counting sheep until 9:30 a.m waiting for a tide of sleepiness to finally wash over me or erratically wake up dozens of times in the night. 

Therefore, having my commitments in the late afternoon and evening gives me a much more room to squeeze in a full seven to eight hours of shut eye in broken up chunks before I need to be publicly perceived, and it allows me to work the most productively at the hours most suited for me: between 12-3 a.m. The traditional nine-to-five working model, however, fails to take into account the differences in people’s internal clocks and invisible conditions like insomnia or delayed sleep phase disorder that so many people like me must deal with on a daily basis. I’m tired of being punished and perceived negatively for things beyond my control — for genetic and physiological factors that I cannot change. 

Will I always be relegated to working overnight shifts at 24-hour gyms or hardware stores? Am I really spending my undergraduate days at one of the best universities in the state only to become an overnight Wawa worker serving starved, drunken teens the same chicken bacon ranch quesadillas I would eat after late nights out? Why should my options be so limited because I deviate from society’s norms of an ‘early riser?’ Because one of my ancestors stood outside of a cave at 3 in the morning and, somewhere along the line, the Hoang family DNA inherited a strain of sleeplessness that I now have? Seriously? 

Besides, as I alluded to in the beginning of this piece, time does not exist and is quite literally a manmade construction. Hours and minutes and seconds are only real because we choose to believe in them; there is no ‘right’ hour to eat dinner or exercise or, most importantly, go to bed. Any and all perceptions we have of a given hour in the day have been decided and perpetuated by ourselves.

So that means that we also have the power to change these perceptions. 

Folks, it’s time to end this heinous stigmatization of night owls because there’s more underneath our feathers than you realize — we’re a diverse bunch. Contrary to popular belief, nighttime can double as a time for sleep and productivity. Like the aforementioned mother of two, I’m a living example that not all night owls are simply unwise with their time. In the past few weeks, I’ve marinated chicken, cleaned the bathroom, made Valentine’s day cards, wrote cover letters and folded laundry around 2-3 a.m. when most of my peers were sound asleep because I was able to perfectly tailor my class schedule to my needs so that my day starts after 12 p.m.. I wasn’t half-asleep or forced to stay up because of prior procrastination; I willingly chose to do these things when I felt the most functional and mentally present. This is the model I wish society would better understand and open itself up to.

And, of course, society should also strive to be more inclusive of those who are predisposed to this nocturnal disposition and can’t help it as much as we try. 

So start treating us with more grace and sensitivity. Catch yourself before you ask, “Why the hell were you up so late last night?!” Let us night owls spread our wings and soar into the night sky because I promise, we get the worm just fine on our own.

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Vivian Hoang is from Fairfax, VA and hopes to use her History and Journalism & Digital Media double major to platform marginalized voices. She is the current Executive Editor of Flat Hat newspaper, a STLI Communications Partner, and a Reporting Fellow with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. She is especially passionate about topics related to race, ethnicity, community, displacement, and power. If she's not writing, she loves meeting new people, so say hi!


  1. Thank you for this! Been a night owl my whole life, long before smart phones or other backlit scapegoats existed. Cheers from a fellow night sentinel.


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