I’m Not an Early Bird or a Night Owl, I’m a Permanently Exhausted Pigeon

an introvert can't figure out if she's a morning person or night person

If you’re an introvert, you may not look like the typical “morning” or “night” person.

As a teacher, I would start each of my classes with a get-to-know you question, and one of my favorites was, “Are you a morning person or a night person?” Most people had clearly defined answers: They were a night person and wrote all their papers after midnight, or they were a morning person and actually made it to their 8 a.m. classes. Occasionally, one student would claim they were neither — they were tired all the time — eliciting laughter from their peers.

When I considered my own answer, however, I found myself agreeing with that student who always felt tired. I’m not an early bird or a night owl, I’m some form of permanently exhausted pigeon.* I don’t jump into things right away in the morning. I prefer to have a cup (or pot) of coffee, read the news, make breakfast, and only then interact with people and start the day.

Neither do I typically like to stay out late at bars or go to parties. It’s fun occasionally, or as a way to catch up with old friends, but like many introverts, I often find myself ready to head home and change into pajamas well before everyone else.

For years, this was perplexing to me. If I were a morning person, shouldn’t I be bright and cheerful as soon as the sun was up? Shouldn’t I be able to respond to people talking to me first thing in the morning? Surely the nonverbal groans that are my primary form of communication pre-coffee can’t be the language of a morning person.

On the other hand, if I were a night person, why does the siren song of my couch and Netflix call so strongly, even at 7 p.m.? Why does the idea of staying home all by myself sound better than a concert, bar hopping downtown, or any of the other “fun” things my friends do on the weekends?

So I set out to determine my morning or night person status. What I found surprised me — and had more to do with my introversion than I initially thought.

I Didn’t Fit Either Definition

The question of morning or night person fascinated me. I tried adjusting my sleeping schedule, staying out late or planning early mornings to see if one or the other felt more natural. I worked on getting more sleep in case sleep deprivation was interfering with my observations. I even took quizzes online to determine if I was more of a morning or night person. All were inconclusive.

Finally, it dawned on me that the definitions I was using for morning or night people were fundamentally flawed. In all my questioning, I had assumed that being a morning person meant being talkative and outgoing immediately upon waking, and that being a night person meant loving social occasions that continued well into the wee hours.

In other words, rather than considering when my brain was most alert, I was considering when I most wanted to be around people. I failed to think about how being an introvert interacted with my morning or night preference.

An Introverted Morning Person Looks Different

In hindsight, this isn’t a terribly surprising mistake. After all, many outlines of what it means to be a morning or night person also fall along these lines. The questions of many quizzes ask about the time of day when we are most likely to do things like work out at the gym, begin work, or do other similar activities that require some measure of socializing or stimulation. They focus on whether or not we jump out of bed or whether we’re inclined to linger under the covers, even though the latter might be a welcome morning respite from social demands — rather than a commentary on how tired we are.

People I lived with often commented on how quiet I was in the mornings, and they assumed I must be tired or in need of additional caffeine. The same thing happened if I bowed out of events early in the evening.

Once I realized that my introversion impacts this, however, I revised my understanding of what it means to be a morning or night person. Instead of thinking about when I am most prepared to interact with others, I focused on when I felt at my personal best.

When, if left to my own devices, did I get the most accomplished? When did I feel happiest? How would I structure my waking and sleeping if nothing else hinged on it?

Wanting to go to bed early to read a book didn’t necessarily mean I was a morning person, and needing extra time to get ready for the day didn’t necessarily mean I was a night person. In other words, an introvert who is a morning person could look completely different than an extroverted morning person, and the same applies to night people.

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Which One Are You?

You might be more of a morning introvert if:

  • You need to start your day with a cup of coffee or tea in silence, not necessarily because of the caffeine or because you’re not awake, but instead because you need the extra time to prepare to interact with others.
  • You wake up early on days off, even if it’s hard to leave the house on time on work days.
  • You find yourself highly productive in the mornings, whether at work or at home, as long as the projects you are working on allow for autonomy or independent work.
  • You think an ideal workout might be a long morning run or yoga in your home before getting ready for work.

You might be more of a nighttime introvert if:

  • You like to stay up late, even if you’re just hanging out at home by yourself.
  • You stay up after others have gone to bed because that is your ideal time to accomplish things and be productive.
  • You enjoy going on walks, getting groceries, or doing other tasks at night because the world seems less crowded.
  • You might be found packing your lunch, cleaning, or working out late into the night so you can sleep until the last possible moment.

Under this new framework, I’ve found that I definitely lean towards being a morning person. Once I realized I didn’t have to be chatty and social right when I woke up in order to be considered an early bird, I was able to see that I still prefer to wake up early and get things done over my morning coffee.

What about you? Are you more of a morning or night person? Let me know in the comments below.

*This article references artist Gemma Correll’s popular comic, shown below. You can see more of her work on her website, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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