Wake up sleepyhead. Or don't.

In a society where so many people are struggling to get enough shut-eye, can we really afford to judge people for sleeping in?

The Herald asked sleep researcher and clinical psychologist Bronwyn Sweeney from the Sleep Wake Research Centre at Massey University whether Kiwis are being shamed into waking up earlier than they should.

"We all have an internal biological clock. Some people are biologically wired to go to sleep later and wake later, some earlier," she said.


"Getting up earlier, it's seen as a good thing. It shows that you're focused and you're hard working ... sleeping in or getting up later can be seen as lazy, not as focused, not as motivated or driven."

But work schedules and social expectations mean some people are ignoring their natural patterns, despite the fact sleep is important for long-term health.

"Often people like to pose broad judgments on others, but [they're] not really understanding that person's unique needs," Sweeney said.

"I feel like there's not a one size fits all when it comes to sleep."

People who didn't have a strong sense of self could find these societal messages feeding into a sense of shame or guilt, she said.

Tauranga woman Mariko Withrington regularly feels shamed by others for sleeping late.

"My dad is an early riser and all of his three daughters are not," she said.

"He will, like, go to bed at 9.30 or something. We will all stay up talking, reading."


They would often wake to him banging on their doors, telling them they were wasting the day.

Mariko Withrington prefers to sleep between midnight and 9.30am, but has to get up at 6am for work. Photo / Supplied
Mariko Withrington prefers to sleep between midnight and 9.30am, but has to get up at 6am for work. Photo / Supplied

Withrington is used to snide comments from people when she sleeps in.

"Every day it's like 'look who's finally emerged'."

Her natural instinct is to sleep from about midnight to 9.30am, but due to work hours she has to get up at 6am.

"It's pretty uncomfortable," she said.

Withrington can usually last for a month of not getting enough sleep before she starts to feel the effects, and needs to catch up.

"Then like one weekend I'll get 13 hours sleep ... I will sleep until my body tells me it's fine."

Withrington doesn't feel it's fair to see late risers as lazy.

"I feel like we all achieve the same amount of stuff, just at different times of the day ... but somehow we [late risers] have chosen 'the wrong path'."

Waking up early seems to be particularly on trend, she said, noting there's no shortage of articles online, such as "five secrets from CEOs on how to be successful", which claim getting up at 5am is the way to go.

"You're like 'oh hell no'," she said.

Mt Maunganui music teacher Leah Carroll feels she needs about eight or nine hours a sleep each night to function at her best.

Leah Carroll needs more sleep to function properly, but says she often feels judged for sleeping in. Photo / Supplied
Leah Carroll needs more sleep to function properly, but says she often feels judged for sleeping in. Photo / Supplied

She is now self-employed, partly because it allows her to work from home and set her own start time of 9.15am.

"I know my body and I know that I need, like, I can cope on seven but ideally I need eight or nine [hours]. Some people find that strange.

"Apparently we should rise with the sun, and I'm kind of down with that, but I don't think I should be made to feel lazy and I have had that a few times, whether people use the word lazy or whether they imply it.

"You know they're probably just joking but sometimes it feels a bit like they're trying to make a disapproving point at your getting up time."

Carroll sometimes feels like she's "not a normal person" due to her sleeping patterns.

"I've always grown up thinking there must be something a bit wrong with me."

Why is sleep so important?

The immediate effects of lack of sleep included poor decision-making, poor communication, being grumpy and irritable, slower reaction times and being less productive at work, Sleep Wake Research Centre sleep expert Karyn O'Keeffe says.

"In the long term we know that missing out on sleep leads to type 2 diabetes, obesity, increased risk of stroke and heart disease. There's some quite serious health effects if we miss out on sleep on a regular basis for a long period of time."

However, it isn't just about quantity, the quality of sleep matters too.

While waking once or twice during the night was normal (although at times annoying), rousing more than three times wasn't ideal, O'Keeffe said.

How to improve your sleep

• Have a regular bedtime routine that helps you relax, such as reading a book.

• Try to wake up at the same time every day, this will help you set a regular bedtime.

• Make sure you're exposed to bright light during the day, this helps to set your circadian body clock.

• Avoid screens and coffee a few hours before bed. Some people think if having a coffee before bed doesn't wake them up, then caffeine doesn't affect their sleep, but O'Keeffe says it reduces the amount of deep sleep we get, causing us to reach for another cup in the morning.