Opposites often attract in relationships, and that includes people with different circadian rhythms.
A relationship between an early bird and a night owl can be challenging when partners function best at opposite times of the day.
If you’re wondering whether these pairings can ever work, the good news is that they can! They just need some flexibility and adaptation.
Below are 9 tips on how early birds and night owls can share a living space—and a life together—harmoniously.
The main relationship challenges faced by early bird and night owl couples.
Couples who run on different schedules may have to deal with some—or even all—of the following issues:
- Conflicts with household management: an early bird may want to play music and get chores done first thing, but that’ll wake up the night owl who needs to sleep in.
- Unequal responsibilities: the early bird may find that they’re taking on more than their fair share of things like childcare/teacher meetings, grocery shopping, and so on because they’re the one who’s more functional during daylight hours.
- Intimacy preferences: one partner may be raring to go in the morning, while the other prefers evening romps.
- Personal space needs: tensions may arise if one partner is winding down with quiet reading or journalling while the other is just ramping up with high energy.
- Weekend activities: one might want to go on early morning bike rides or thrift shopping while the other would rather stay up late to watch movies or go out dancing.
- Miscommunications: if one of you is alert and focused while the other is in a groggy brain fog, you may have misunderstandings that wouldn’t have occurred if you were equally well rested.
- Social expectations: people may feel unsupported if their partners either don’t attend social/family functions with them, or are grumpy and resentful from low energy or fatigue.
9 Tips To Make A Relationship Work When You And Your Partner Favor Different Schedules
Just because you don’t have the same schedules doesn’t mean you can’t make things work! Here are some of the approaches you can take:
1. Have your own bedrooms.
If the two of you are on completely different sleep schedules, then sharing a bedroom can cause a lot of tension—especially if one of you is a light sleeper or has trouble falling back asleep if woken up.
By sleeping separately, you ensure that you both get the healing, rejuvenating rest that you need without the risk of waking each other up.
Be sure to have good earplugs handy for added sound dampening!
Having your own bedrooms is also ideal if you’re both solitary creatures who like to have a lot of alone time. You can both retreat to your spaces to immerse in your own pursuits without the risk of disturbing or waking the other.
This is particularly true if one likes to read late into the night and the other is kept awake by light, for example.
By having your own spaces, you can both focus on the things that you love and then catch up with each other during the blessed liminal times in between.
(Speaking from experience here, this also works well if one of you likes a good, firm mattress and the other likes to sleep in a back-destroying marshmallow fortress thronged with 100 pillows and stuffy animals.)
2. Respect each other’s schedules.
One of the most important things the two of you can do is to protect each other’s peace.
As such, once you’ve figured out your individual schedules, you can support one another by respecting them.
For example, I do my best writing work late at night while my partner functions best in the early afternoon. As such, we refrain from being noisy or interrupting each other while we’re focused and concentrating so we can both work well when we’re at our best.
I’ll do work on the land outside while she’s writing, then we’ll have dinner together, maybe watch a terrible movie, and then she retreats to read and go to bed early while I work.
The keys here are balance, compromise, and respect for each other’s individual needs.
3. Find the middle ground.
Although your rhythms may be opposite, there will be some overlap as far as scheduling goes.
For example, let’s say one of you thrives best from 5 am to 9 pm, and the other functions well between 10 am and 2 am. That still gives you several hours of overlapping time that you can use to schedule various endeavors together.
Determine when it is that you both peak energetically, and when your energy starts to wane. When you discover the time slots in which you’re both functional and enthusiastic about various activities, then you know when’s best to schedule things together.
It’s not fair to either of you if one person is eager to go while the other one just wants to rest.
Since you’re respecting one another’s individual needs and preferred schedules, you can also work together to find the best times to do things together as a couple, without any hurt feelings or resentment.
4. Let go of the idea of how things “should” be.
If the two of you have very opposing circadian rhythms, you may feel like there’s something wrong if you aren’t eating meals together or sleeping in the same bed.
Don’t feel that your life has to be constrained by someone else’s expectations of what a relationship “should” look like.
You may get hungry at different times of the day and need to sleep on different schedules, but that’s fine.
Leave notes and snacks for each other to find, and make the most of opportunities to share coffee or cuddle time together.
There’s no right or wrong way to have a relationship, so sleeping and eating separately doesn’t mean that your relationship is “in trouble.”
It’s just different.
5. Learn to be flexible and adapt as needed.
There are going to be times when you’ll need to go against your innate nature to get things done, so it’s important to learn how to adapt as necessary.
For example, an early bird may have to stay up late to help their partner soothe a feverish toddler, or a night owl may have to wake early for a couples meeting with the accountant, and so on.
Fortunately, coffee (or strong tea) and willpower can help you get through what’s needed, and then you can get back to your regular schedule.
This is markedly different from being borne along by someone else’s preferences—in other words, fighting against your own biology because your partner insists that you go to bed with them when they’re tired, or waking early to get a table at their favorite brunch place.
6. Make subtle adjustments to align better with one another.
If the two of you love each other dearly and want to spend more time together, you can make small adjustments to align with each other’s rhythms.
This doesn’t mean going completely against your innate nature, but it does mean shifting things slightly via strength of will and course correction.
For example, one of you can get up one hour earlier while the other goes to bed an hour later so you have more overlap in your daily lives.
The key here is to work within parameters that still allow you to function, rather than destroying yourselves trying to mimic someone else’s schedule.
If you’ve always functioned better at one particular time of day, then adopting the opposite cycle won’t be feasible or healthy in the long term.
That said, it is possible to make temporary, short-term changes for the sake of spending more time together as a couple.
Just ensure that you aren’t going against your own nature or harming yourself solely for someone else’s benefit, or in defiance of your programming.
For instance, in not wanting to emulate the parent you loathed, you might force yourself to live differently from the circadian rhythm you inherited from them.
7. Take advantage of each other’s strengths.
If one of you is an early bird and the other is a night owl, this can work out remarkably well when it comes to childcare.
Many couples end up totally exhausted by nighttime feedings or bed wetting, but if one of you is naturally up half the night anyway, then they can easily deal with whatever may arise in the wee hours of the morning.
The same goes for the kids’ early morning school preparations, hockey practice, dental appointments, and so on.
If one of you will be comatose until 11 am, then the early bird can chirp their way through morning prep and be back home in time to hop into the shower with the one who’s groggily just getting through their first coffee of the day.
8. Get the best out of the time you do get to spend together.
How do you generally respond when you know you only have a short time to work with to enjoy yourself?
Like when you’re just starting to date someone: if you know you have a three-hour window of time to spend with this person, then you try to make the most out of it, right?
The same goes for night owl/early bird pairings.
Quite simply, if harmonizing your schedules is entirely out of the question, it’s not the end of the world. What this can be is an opportunity to focus and enjoy the time you do get to spend together.
Plan things ahead of time (e.g. when you’re not together) so you can leap into action as soon as together-time presents itself.
Ensure that these plans are adaptive and flexible so nobody feels stressed out, pressured, or resentful.
Have everything prepped so you can start as soon as you’re together, and focus on getting the most out of the window you have.
You’ll be able to focus entirely on the good times you’re sharing without wasting a single moment.
Furthermore, you’ll likely value this time together much more than those who take one another for granted with 24/7 togetherness.
9. Consider living separately.
Contrary to popular belief (and expanding upon not caring about how things “should” be), many couples find that their relationship thrives best if they don’t live under the same roof.
Look at Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, who have been together 40 years and don’t live in the same house. Similarly, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter lived in adjacent houses for their entire 14-year relationship.
Many couples do very well when they have their own spaces—especially if they’re both introverts and have opposite circadian rhythms.
Not only can they decorate their homes in the manner that they prefer, without a need to compromise, but they can also wake and sleep on their own terms instead of being forced to adhere to someone else’s schedule.
If you have a large enough house, then the two of you can have your own spaces that you can retreat to as needed, but if you don’t, aim to either have a guesthouse or adjacent property that one of you can use to live as neighbors instead.
You may find that your relationship becomes a lot smoother and remains healthier for longer when there’s no resentment from conflicting sleep schedules!
Resentment and ill feelings flourish when relationships turn into obligations, rather than things we want to nourish.
When love is present, we try our best to make it work, right? So, take a good, long look at the one you love and decide to work with them to ensure that you both feel appreciated and supported.
Love often finds a way, and if you two love each other enough to try and make things work despite your early bird/night owl leanings, you can work as a team to find the solutions that are right for you.