G'morning, sunshine

A society built for morning people, and what to do about it. Also, Understandably Live! And 7 other things worth your time.

I am a night owl: happiest, most alert, most effective while working on projects at 2 am, when the rest of the world is fast asleep.

Only, it turns out, I’m also a morning person: creative and effective in the early dawn hours.

I realized this during the middle days of the pandemic, when I’d sometimes awaken at 4 am and be unable to get back to sleep.

I’d fire up the laptop, and next thing I knew, it would be 8 am. I’d have done a full day’s work without noticing the time.

Where I stink, however, is the middle of the day. I’m useless during the third-inning stretch, from, say, noon till 4 pm. Don’t ask me to get anything done; heck, don’t even ask me what my name is.

(Lockdown has been a boon for me in that way—I can sneak in a midday nap when my body demands it, without having to snooze in my car on my “lunch” break.)

Now, chances are, you might have noticed some changes in your own sleep patterns during the pandemic. Some people are unable to get to sleep; others are unable to stay asleep. Yet more have been going to bed later, and getting up later.

And these changes have been associated with a greater risk of depression. Turns out, there’s a relatively easy fix for all that. And it’s…exactly what you might think.

massive new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard Medical School suggests that you can lower your risk of depression by a whopping 23%, simply by shifting your sleep and wake times back an hour.

It doesn’t seem to matter what you do with that hour—no prescriptions to take an icy-cold shower and journal for an hour, just to throw an example out there—so long as you get up on the earlier side of things.

The study indicated that the optimal sleep schedule is about 11 pm to 6 am, which seems pretty doable.

But the most interesting part of the research—at least to me—isn’t the prescription for sleep and wake times. Instead, it’s the realization that up to 42% of variation in sleep timing preference, or chronotype, is purely genetic.

That means that the greater risk of depression isn’t necessarily from when you’re sleeping, but rather from trying to fit yourself into a mold that just doesn’t work with your biology.

If you’re a true night owl, no amount of cajoling or fancy alarms will make you happy to get up at 4 am, and your risk of a major mood disorder seems to increase when you try to force yourself into that pattern.

“We live in a society that is designed for morning people, and evening people often feel as if they are in a constant state of misalignment with that societal clock,” said lead author Iyas Daghlas of Harvard Med.

As we come out of lockdown and some of us head back to the office and that more formal schedule, the benefits we may have seen from a more flexible work pattern evaporate, leaving us even more likely to experience at least a short bout of depression, if not longer-term mood disorders or anxiety.

If some of that can be eased with a simple shift back an hour? It’s worth a go. One of the study’s senior authors, Celine Vetter, assistant professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder, offers a few tips:

“Keep your days bright and your nights dark. Have your morning coffee on the porch. Walk or ride your bike to work if you can, and dim those electronics in the evening.”

As for me, I’m going to try to continue leaning into my dawn-and-dusk habits, rather than beating myself up for needing a nap at 2 pm. Might still have an extra cup of afternoon coffee, though.

This is the part where you click the comment button below and share if you’re a morning person, or a night owl, or neither—and why.

Leave a comment


In case you didn’t notice the byline, today’s newsletter was from the desk of Kate “Katya” Sullivan. (This is Bill Murphy Jr., interrupting and taking over.)

I’ll be doing an Understandably Live interview with Kate today at 1 pm Eastern over Zoom, and you’re invited to join in. We’ll talk about her very interesting background, how we wound up working together, the future of Understandably, and all kinds of other good stuff.

Thanks to everyone who already signed up for this; you should have received a special calendar invitation putting you at the front of the line. Everyone else: if you want to be part of it, just click the blue button below for the link. Kickoff is 1 pm ET today.

In case you can’t make it, I plan to share the video afterward.

Join the 1 p.m. ET Zoom call


Oh, and speaking of “planning to share the video afterward,” I have to admit: I sometimes forget, quite illogically, that not everybody reads every single installment of this newsletter.

So here are some of the earlier links to Understandably Live editions, along with our new, custom-branded YouTube channel:

And then, a few installments so far, in case you missed them:

We’ll talk about this during today’s interview, I’m sure, but I think Understandably Live represents a big opportunity for some really cool things down the line. I’m excited.


7 other things worth your time

  • The Biden administration is admitting it probably won’t quite hit its 70% vaccination goal for July 4, but 16 individual states have met or exceeded it. With the exception of New Mexico and possibly California (your call), they’re all in the North. At the top of the list: Vermont, Massachusetts, and Hawaii have partially or fully vaccinated more than 80% of their adults; while Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey have all partially or fully inoculated more than 75%. (Forbes)

  • Hotels are scrambling to recruit and retain employees amid a labor shortage, and some of the perks are eye-opening: beyond expanded healthcare access and higher wages, one hotel is offering $1,345 in connected fitness incentives, another is offering free rooms, and yet another cited by Business Insider is offering a set of knives for kitchen staff. (Business Insider)

  • Microsoft is now worth, like, $2 trillion. (Bloomberg)

  • This is nuts. (Sorry, not sorry.) Police in California say they’ve cracked the case of 42,000 pounds of pistachios that went missing earlier this month. The alleged thief, 34-year-old Alberto Montemayor, had been planning to resell his looted cargo. The region's lucrative nut industry has been the target of heists in the past. (BBC)

  • There’s something highly comical to me about the idea that Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are apparently in a sprint to see which billionaire can reach the edge of space first. Also striking: When government agencies send astronauts, they usually announce it months or even years ahead of time. Bezos and possibly Branson are taking off with less fanfare than I need to go to Cape Cod with my family. (Axios)

  • Citizen, the notorious location-based safety alert mobile app, repeated its pattern of disturbing errors on Saturday in Los Angeles, notifying 60,000 residents that a plane had crashed into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)—only clarifying later that it was a training exercise. It’s like what happened in May, when the app named the wrong man during a vigilante hunt for an LA-area arson suspect. (DailyDot)

  • The CEO of a Texas chicken-restaurant chain says it’s promoting workers in their late teens and early 20s to managerial positions paying more than $50,000 per year because of a staff shortage. Its CEO told The Wall Street Journal: "We're so thin at leadership … I've got a good crop of 16- and 17-year-olds, but I need another year or two to get them seasoned to run stores." (Business Insider)


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.