Email by Moonlight


    Is there etiquette for sending work-related emails in the middle of the night? What's allowable and what's not?

    Dear Miriam,

    I’ve been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. Having a smartphone has been great in the middle of the night because I don’t have to get out of bed or turn on a light to catch up on the news, do some work, add to my to-do list or otherwise distract myself. My question is whether it’s O.K. to send work-related emails in the middle of the night. I’m concerned that the timestamp will raise eyebrows, and also that someone might get woken up by a phone beep. What do you think?

    Email by Moonlight

    Dear Email,

    People who keep smartphones on their nightstands have the responsibility to turn off any notifications at night that might be bothersome. If there’s an email you really want to send at 3 a.m., I don’t think you need to hold off because of the potential beep, especially if you’re emailing friends rather than co-workers. Your friends probably know your sleeping habits and won’t be shocked to hear from you in the middle of the night. People at work probably will notice the timestamp, though, and it may be easier to wait until morning than have to explain your insomnia to your boss. You could compose emails and save them in draft form, or you could just find other things to do.

    I suspect people are more likely to turn off notifications for emails at night rather than those for texts or calls simply because most of us get more emails than anything else. Also, texting and, even more so, calling, have a different feeling of urgency about them. A call or text in the middle of the night often means there’s an emergency (or a wrong number). As much as our phones do everything now, there’s still something about getting an actual call that grabs my attention and makes me answer. If I get an email, it can almost definitely wait until morning, in which case, you may as well wait to send it.

    Should you decide to send emails when it’s convenient for you, and that continues to be 3 a.m., be prepared to answer questions. If a colleague asks what you were doing awake, answer confidently that you work best at night, or that you may as well use the time when you’re awake productively. If you have kids, feel free to blame them, since that’s a pretty common and commonly understood reason to be awake at strange times. If anyone does criticize you for being a bother in the middle of the night, simply apologize and move on, and remember to cross that person off your middle-of-the-night list.

    My bigger question for you is whether doing email at these hours is helping or hindering your overall sleep habits, and whether there may be something better you could be doing for yourself. As tempting as it is to use all of your spare minutes to work, 3 a.m. really is sleep time. Speaking of kids, just like you’d sleep train a baby by keeping the room dark in the middle of the night and not playing at odd hours, you may need to do something similar for yourself. You don’t want to find yourself being so productive that you’re no longer tempted to try to sleep. Fortunately, I don’t have much personal experience with insomnia, but I do know that email is less conducive to sleep than lying down with the lights out.

    Be well,