What Does Night Owl Mean?

Night Owl Meaning

Definition: A person who enjoys staying awake late at night.

The opposite of this is early bird, a person who likes to wake up early in the morning.

Origin of Night Owl

This expression comes from its literal meaning: owl. An owl is a nocturnal bird, meaning it is awake during the night rather than during the day. In the past, owl and nightowl (one word) were used interchangeably.

Nowadays, owl is used for the literal animal, and night owl is used for the figurative person.

Night owl had a figurative meaning by as early as the 1500s. The English playwright William Shakespeare used it his poem The Rape of Lucrece from the year 1594 to refer to a person up late.

This said, his guilty hand pluck’d up the latch,

And with his knee the door he opens wide.

The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch:

Thus treason works ere traitors be espied.

Shakespeare also used night owl literally in two of his other words as well, Richard II and Twelfth Night.

Nowadays, it is common for people to ask questions such as, “Are you an early bird, or a night owl?” in order to determine each other’s preferences for hours of activity.

Examples of Night Owl

night owl definition In the following example, two friends are discussing a stressful situation.

Kerry: I love my child, I really do, but he is driving me crazy.

Christine: Why? What is he doing?

Kerry: Well, as you know, I’ve always been an early bird. My son, however, is a night owl. He stays awake until well past midnight. This keeps me awake as well, which means I can’t get up as early as I normally do. Since I work better at night than in the morning, my productivity levels have decreased so much.

Christine: Hmmm. That sounds awful! It’s too bad you aren’t both night owls!

a night own idiom In this dialogue, two friends are discussing whether or not to go to a party.

Arlena: Hey! I’m going to a party this weekend. Would you like to come?

Nyima: That could be fun. I’ve been sort of bored lately. When and where is the party?

Arlena: It’s at that dance club and it starts at 11 p.m.

Nyima: Oh, then, sorry, I can’t come. I have to wake up at 5 a.m. the next day. Even though I wish I could be a night owl, my new job is forcing me to be an early bird.

More Examples

The example below is about a golf player who stays awake late.

  • In a statement last week, Woods said he also would seek help for a sleep disorder. He is a notorious night owl, someone who needs sleep for only a few hours each evening, but it’s unclear whether that status is related to his use of prescription pain medication. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is about parties that will occur in the late evening.

  • There will also be tours of local corporations and plenty of evening hobnobbing at dinners and “night owl” cocktail parties, according to the event’s agenda. –Chicago Tribune


The term night owl refers to someone who goes to bed late and wakes up late. It’s the opposite of an early bird.