I have long been an early riser, or an “early bird” if you prefer. I can’t seem to shake it, and it’s causing me problems. Night hawks don’t understand early risers. At times when I have voiced objection to some late-night plan or other, night hawks have often advised me to “Just sleep in the next morning.” Simple. Not so simple! When you are an early bird, changing one’s circadian rhythms is difficult if not impossible, and it most certainly cannot be done on a day-by-day basis. If I go to bed at 2:00 am, I will still awaken at 5:00 am, thereby garnering a total of three hours sleep, while my nighthawk friends loll on in comfortable slumber until 10 am, after eight hours sleep.

There have been times in my life when I was facing a long series of days in which late activities were required and early rising was not required. During those times I was gradually able to shift my sleep patterns by a few hours. But it only takes a single requirement, a single day, for an early rising time to put me firmly back into the pattern of early rising, thereafter taking many days to return to late rising. Early birds are early birds. There’ll be no changing of feathers here, thank you very much.

Is it genetic? I don’t think so. Both my parents were early risers, and though both my brothers have endured periods in their lives of having to cope with early rising, I don’t recall either of them being okay with having to rise early. Both seemed to be able to sleep late if they so desired, by inclination or by sheer force of will. Oh, to be like them!

It’s true that nighthawks are exceedingly grumpy upon rising, especially when it is the early bird’s morning cheerfulness and general joy expressed in greeting the morning that has caused the nighthawk to awaken. But for the early bird, the morning is their element. It is a time when everything seems right with the world, when opportunity to accomplish things peaks and when there is little crowding anywhere to be seen. Then rush-hour comes and things begin to jam up. Starting in early afternoon, stores are crowded, roads are crowded, everything is crowded because that’s the time when the schedules of earlybirds and nighthawks overlap. Everybody seems to want the same things all at the same time. I’ve done my level best to avoid afternoon shopping, but it can’t always be done, so I just line up with the rest and try to exude what’s left over from my early morning cheerfulness.

This tendency to be an early riser is actually quite pleasant most days but it is a serious detriment to me when it comes to attending functions that begin in the middle of the evening. Many older folks have watched with awe as their young growndren departed the parental abode to begin their night’s fun just as the folks were turning in for the night. Sometimes that early-to-bed behaviour was not done because they had to get up and go to work the next day. Instead, it was the force of years of having to do just that and the habit seemed impossible to break and eventually became not worth trying to break.

I’m retired. It is rare that I must be up early. I could try to change my life-long habit. I could try to become a nighthawk. But it only takes that one medical appointment at a hospital that is scheduled for 7:30 am, or some such time to put me right back into rising at 5 am, not just on appointment day, but on the next day and the day after that. Early bird!

I’ve noticed that people have similar attitudes about the evening meal. In all of Europe people eat their evening meal late compared to North American traditions. In Venice there was a delightful tradition of going out for the “Passagiatta,” before dinner. It seemed to be a neighbourhood-based phenomenon of going to a nearby bar or gelateria, buying a soda mixed with an aperitif, then strolling around, soda in hand, just being out there, seeing others and being seen by others. In pedestrian-friendly Venice, it seemed to me to be a very friendly, agreeable tradition.

In Canada, I have met people who generally wouldn’t consider eating before 7:00 pm, while others target 6:30 and person-by-person, family-by-family, dinner time can work its way forward in time to 6:00, 5:30, and even 5:00 pm. Sometimes this early schedule is the result of needing to be elsewhere at 6 pm, other times it is only because that is when the family prefers to eat.

So what time is the right time to eat? Eat when you are hungry. Eat at a time that feels right to you. Do not bear the burden of feeling that there is even such a thing as “the right time” to eat, or for that matter, “the right time” to sleep.

But be warned! If your eating or sleeping schedules stray too far from the norm, you’d better have compatriots who share your schedule or you will suffer a degree of ostracization, possibly even ridicule. And make no mistake about it, we live in a time of instant judgment even without context being considered for any reason.

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A philosophical writer, Ekhardt Tolle, once told a tale about two groups of Buddhist monks. One group came to their master with excitement in their hearts and in their voices as they proclaimed that the master of the other group was said to be able to walk on water! They pleaded with their master to tell them what extraordinary thing he could do. The master took a long time to answer. He sat in silence, poured his tea and drank it. His students waited for his response. He washed his cup, put it away then said to them, “When I am hungry, I eat. When I am tired, I sleep.” It seemed that his extraordinary power was that he had peace of mind.  End of lesson.

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