Sleeping In

I have a confession to make: I go to bed really late, and I tend to get up late as a result.

I call this a confession because over the years I have internalized the truism that “respectable” people get up early and go to bed “at a decent hour.” I have sometimes fudged my sleeping patterns when talking to friends, doctors, and church members, because it seems somehow shameful not to follow the up-at-dawn-and-to-bed-by-ten pattern. It makes me feel a little iniquitous. Especially sleeping late; after all, why would you sleep late unless you’re lazy?

Then there’s Benjamin Franklin: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a [person] healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Thanks, Ben. Now I’m not only lazy but also un-American.

It doesn’t help that a lot of early birds like to brag about how many metaphorical worms they get on a regular basis. “I get up at four-thirty and run six miles and read two books, a magazine, and the newspaper before breakfast!” The implicit message is that early risers are good people, whereas late sleepers like me are somehow immoral.

" The Greatest Button in the World " by  Sean McGrath  is a Creative Commons image, licensed under  CC BY 2.0

"The Greatest Button in the World" by Sean McGrath is a Creative Commons image, licensed under CC BY 2.0

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, however, suggests that genetic variances may account for one’s propensity to be either a morning person or a night person. Some people are simply genetically predisposed to stay up late and sleep longer in the morning. The majority may fit the dawn-to-dusk rhythm of our evolutionary forebears, but some of us don’t conform to that pattern. It’s not because we’re wicked or lazy (or undead, for that matter); it’s just who we are.

This research, while still a minority position, offers people like me at least a degree of solace. We have heard the real or imagined tsk-tsk enough times that we have become a bit gun-shy. It’s refreshing to think that we may not have to wear our nonconformity like a badge of shame any longer. We’re not bad, just different.

It makes me wonder how many other things that we take for granted as right and proper are just as subject to genetic quirks or other vagaries. How many of the virtues we celebrate in ourselves and the vices we condemn in others have less to do with morality than with our chromosomes?

Further, how much of what we consider to be upstanding Christian attitudes or behavior has nothing to do with the life of discipleship, but rather is a matter of custom, politics, or groupthink? Do the “family values” many Christians extol match up with the values Jesus expresses in the gospels? Sixteen hundred years of Christian ascendancy in western culture may have convinced us that power and dominance are our righteous due, but what would Jesus and the leaders of the early church say about that?

Anyway, that’s enough of this self-serving claptrap for the time being. I’ll see you later. And if it’s in the morning, much later.