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I’m a Night Owl Married to an Early Bird. Here’s How We Make it Work.

When one partner is up and at 'em in the a.m. and the other is staying up late and slamming the snooze button, troubles can occur. Here's how six couples adapted.

Getty Images/RubberBall Productions

Bedtime preferences aren’t featured on dating profiles. Likewise, they don’t factor into first-date conversations. Or second, third or fourth dates, for that matter. In fact, as a general rule, they go undiscussed long into the courtship process, setting up couples for a rude awakening if one is an early bird and the other is a night owl and they find that their schedules don’t sync. Or at the very least it sets up a rude awakening for the night owl. The early bird is cheerfully flitting around the house with coffee brewing, NPR blaring, and the day’s Wordle completed as dawn has just started breaking. 

Often differences in sleep patterns don’t matter until they do. By the time couples with clashing schedules realize they have to hash out their bedtimes and alarm clock settings, they’re past the point of no return, i.e. they’ve fallen in love. So despite the off-beat in circadian rhythms, they have to make it work. And that’s not always easy, especially when kids come into the picture. But sometimes it is! So how do couples with mixed sleep schedules make it work? We spoke to six individuals who have different patterns than their partner, about their experiences, how it was or wasn’t a problem, and how they’ve made it work. 

1. It Was a Problem. Now, I Really Appreciate It

I’m the night owl in the relationship. My husband is basically useless after 9 p.m. and I’m that way before 9 a.m. In the beginning, it was an issue and led to a lot of pissy conversations. I was so annoyed when I’d be finishing up dinner at 9 and he’d be half asleep on the couch. And forget trying to stay up to watch a movie together. We moved in together in 2007 and married in 2009, and he tried to hang.

But since our first was born, we realized it’s way easier if I do “night stuff” and he does “morning stuff.” He heads to bed shortly after the kids, usually around 9, while I stay up to clean the kitchen, feed the cats, set the alarm, etc. That’s also my TV time. When we had kids, I really started to appreciate how my husband is up with the sun naturally. He took care of the kids when they were toddlers waking up at ungodly hours. They’re older now and wake up around 7, but that’s still way earlier than I prefer. Everyone in my house knows to be quiet until around 9 on weekends because mommy is sleeping. — Kristin, Night Owl, Georgia 

2. It’s Not a Challenge If You Make Sure to Carve Out Quality Time

I’m a morning bird while my wife is a night owl. We also work different shifts so often we don’t spend more than a few hours together during weekdays. We keep our chores separate. I run an outdoors and camping website and find it easier to do my part after work while she does hers before. That way we can focus on doing fun things when we’re together. This actually turned out great once kids came into the picture, as one of us would take care of them while the other one was sleeping. Different schedules aren’t necessarily a challenge, as long as you make sure to spend some quality time together, even if it’s just an hour of watching TV. — Mike Miller, Early Bird, Texas

3. We Don’t Talk About Anything Important After 8 p.m. or Before 10 a.m.

I am a morning person who never sets an alarm. It’s not a humble brag; it’s just how my body is wired. My husband of 19 years is a night owl. That’s when he watches his B-Grade horror movies, reads science fiction novels, and makes creative sandwiches with whatever kind of bread he can find. 

Here are some things we’ve figured out to make it work. We wake each other up (a little bit) when we come in and out of bed. Usually, it’s just a sleepy kiss and a reminder “I’m here now.” or “I love you and am ready to start my day.” We don’t talk about anything important after 8 p.m. or before 10 a.m. and we try to remember to ask the other person if they’re awake enough to talk. I’m really bad at this one and mess up by throwing all kinds of caffeinated questions at him the moment I hear his footsteps. When I remember it really makes all the difference.

Sometimes we judge each other. We’re both couples therapists, so we absolutely know this is wrong, but we can’t help feeling like our way is the best way to be. He loves me for my high energy and ambition, but sometimes sees me as a workaholic who jumps out of bed when he wants me to stay at least until the sun comes up. I respect and envy his groundedness and feel comforted by his calm demeanor, but I also sometimes just want to pour cold water on top of his head to wake him up so he can take a walk with me at the times when I’m awake and want to share my happiness with him. — Laura, Early Bird, Pennsylvania

4. Our Schedules Flip-Flopped Over the Years

I was an early riser and my wife was a late-night person when we got together. But we flipped schedules over time, which I think is the interesting part of my experience. I would go to sleep 2-3 hours before she did in the early years of our relationship. She’d always want to stay out at parties later than I would or start serious relationship conversations late at night, which felt like absolute torture for me. The first big change was when we both changed jobs. She started getting up earlier and earlier while my job started late and I had to work later into the evening. That was the beginning of the change. Once we had kids our schedules went all topsy turvy then fell more or less into sync. We never talked about our schedules or did anything to change them. Life just kind of happened around us and we adapted to it. — Robert, Early Bird, Connecticut

5. Kids Resolved the Issue For Us

My wife and I are high school sweethearts, and we’ve dealt with this challenge for the last 15 years. Those early days before kids were the most difficult. I’m a morning person. I love to start my day around six and have that hour with my phone and a cup of coffee before I hit the gym and get the day started with my DIY home repair blog. My wife was a partying night owl who’d close bars out and sleep in until noon. We both would get frustrated but found a way to make it work. If there was something I wanted to do together early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, she would call it earlier the night before. If she wanted a night out, I slammed some coffee or Redbull when 8 p.m. rolled around.

When kids came, it actually resolved this issue for us. The children wake up around 7 a.m., so I go to sleep around 8 or 9 p.m. while my wife stays up until midnight or so watching television, working, or reading. I wake up around six, get my morning coffee in, and then wake up with the kids until she gets up around 8 or so. So, in the end, it’s worked out great. — Jake Brandon, Early Bird, Arizona

6. It Frustrates Me, But We Found a Work Around 

My husband and I got together young, at 17 and 18. At that point in our lives we were both somewhat of night owls.  The shift happened when our jobs, schooling, and careers evolved. His work shifts started a few hours before mine, so he turned into a morning person. Up at 4:30 a.m. during the week, “sleeping in” until 6:30/7 on the weekends, and always ready for bed or asleep on the couch by 8 p.m. I’m a parenting blogger and I have no problem staying up a bit later.

Since having kids it’s definitely gotten to be a little more of a challenge. With a 7:30/8 bedtime, any time after that was the only couple time we got, but with my husband always falling asleep so early it felt like we hardly had any time to just be a couple. It started to bother me as I felt like I didn’t have time to sit and chat with him, so I told him how I felt. I understand that he’s so tired from getting up early and having a long day. We found a couple TV shows we like, and one or two nights a week we grab snacks and watch an episode of our show after our toddler is down for the night. We take time to talk about our day and other things too. It’s nice to have that time together. — Ashley, Night Owl, Ohio