July 21, 2010

Map of night owls across America

In the comments to the last post about how pastoralism should have selected for more night owlish schedules, pzed points to a study of American sleep patterns which shows that whites, Hispanics, and blacks follow similar hours but that Asians wake up and go to bed a bit later. I'm not sure this is the best test of whether pastoralism affects circadian rhythm since pastoralism vs. farming vs. hunting and gathering is a sub-racial distinction. That is, there are all sorts of other things that differ among the three major races that could affect sleep schedules. Ideally we'd want to compare pastoralist vs. non-pastoralists within Europe, within sub-Saharan Africa, within South Asia, within East Asia, etc., to try to compare apples to apples.

Luckily GameFAQS recently polled their users about when they wake up, so at least we can compare the different states of the U.S. I took the "noon or later" response as the cut-off for night owls. Nationally 13% chose this answer. Here is a map of how each state compared relative to this national average, where browner states wake up later:

This is pretty close to a map of Scottish, Irish, and Scotch-Irish (Ulster Scots) ancestry. (Type any into google images along with "map.") Pastoralism, of course, has historically played a larger role in these people's homelands than in most other European areas. For example, look at the regions featured at the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism.

The English Puritans in the Northeast -- aside from the heavily Scotch-Irish far Northeast -- wake up earlier than the national average, as do most of their ethnic off-shoots further out west. The Southeast and upper part of the Mountain states, along with bits of the Pacific Northwest, are late risers. But the most night owlish by far are the hillbillies in West Virginia, followed closely by their brethren in Kentucky. The various Celtic groups who moved to Appalachia found an ecology fairly similar to that of their homelands, and their pastoralist-influenced traits (such as the "culture of honor") have probably remained strongest there for this reason -- they didn't have to adapt to a wildly different environment.

When we take a finer-grained look at which groups keep later hours, it looks like the ones with a stronger history of pastoralism are indeed more nocturnal.


  1. good point about race possibly encompassing too many other factors. and the west virginia and kentucky data definitely back up your theory. still, i wonder if the gamefaqs poll is biased by the type of work and traffic conditions prevalent in each state.

    i might expect workers in new york, virginia/maryland and california to rise earlier just to make it to the office in time rather than being farmers or hunter-gatherers. i mention this only b/c plenty of the ppl i've met there seem to be used to late night parties/clubbing/karaoke/eating etc and wake up very late the next day, but only on weekends.

    it's also strange to me that alabama and mississippi have such different sleeping schedules. i would have thought they would be more similar with both either being early risers for farming activity or late risers for being scotch-irish descendants.

  2. I'm surprised that Nevada is not at the very top of the night-owl list.


  3. There was a great old rock song by the Little River Band called "The Night Owl". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3IwJ6E413Y

    Some of em' are just insomniacs who refuse to go to sleep until their body forces them to, because notions, various entertainments, and little plans keep percolating in their brain when they should be in bed snoozing. My mom told me that when I was a baby, I only would sleep for about 8 hours a day, just like an adult. I asked her why she thought that was, and she told me, "you were afraid you'd miss something" and "you liked being right in the middle of everything, and would play until you were too tired to do anything else and would curl up into a ball and fall to sleep wherever you were in the house".


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