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People are sometimes said to be a morning person or a night person. I also know that the term for something related to night is "nocturnal".

Is there a specific word for a person who sleeps during the day and is active at night? I’m looking for an elegant word for night owl.

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I can think of nighthawk and nightbird, but they aren't substantially different than night owl. –  Gnawme Dec 9 '11 at 17:54
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Vampire....? ;) –  Guffa Dec 9 '11 at 23:45
    
@Guffa +1 for vampire. I am a hopelessly nocturnal, and I often refer to myself as a vampire. But, yes, I use it facetiously. –  sarah Dec 11 '11 at 10:24
    
There are two kinds of people in the world: morning people . . . and slackers. Then there are cats, who seem to be both, but are actually crepuscular. –  tchrist Aug 18 '12 at 11:54
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Your question already contains the best adjective: nocturnal refers to being active at night and sleeping during the day. I don't know about elegant, but this is certainly the most technically-correct word you're going to find. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a noun form, but that can usually be fixed by rearranging your sentences a bit.

Sally was a night owl who was always late to early-morning meetings.

Sally's nocturnal tendencies made her chronically late to early-morning meetings.

I do want to note that in most contexts, I wouldn't interpret either night owl or nocturnal (when applied to people) as explicitly sleeping during the day and working at night. Both words just imply that, left to her own devices, Sally would prefer to go to bed late and get up late, where "late" could have different definitions for different people. If you need to make it clear that someone sleeps during the day, then either you need to say that ("sleeps during the day") or refer to them working the graveyard shift (which admittedly is not the most elegant of phrases).

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I don't think I have my definitions backwards. –  Moshe Dec 9 '11 at 16:36
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@Moshe Yes, you do. Nocturnal animals are active at night and sleep during the day. Diurnal animals are active during the day and sleep at night. So, someone who is a night owl is a nocturnal person. There are also crepuscular animals, which are active primarily at dawn and dusk, which are further broken down into matutinal, those active only at dawn, and vespertine, those active only at dusk. –  Phoenix Dec 9 '11 at 17:11
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@Moshe : you don't have your definitions backwards - I think Martha just read the question too quickly. –  cindi Dec 9 '11 at 17:34
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@cindi I know. :-) –  Moshe Dec 9 '11 at 17:39
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There's nothing in the language to prohibit using 'nocturnal' as a noun: "Anne's a lark, up and about by five in the morning. Bob's an owl, hits his peak in the evening. But they're both diurnals; Charlie's a true nocturnal, works through the night and sleeps during the day." –  StoneyB Aug 18 '12 at 12:28
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Carly Simon sings, "I'm a night owl, honey, sleep all day long." Wiktionary defines night owl by "(idiomatic) One who stays up late at night or goes to bed late."

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It's not unusual to call someone a night or nocturnal person - normally it just means they "perk up" more in the evening, and don't tend to go to bed early. There's also crepuscular (of twilight, dusk), but that's not often applied to people. But as OP apparently knows, the standard term in common parlance is night owl.

It's not got quite the same meaning, but here in South-East England it's not unknown for parents to refer to their teenager as a troglodyte - meaning he spends all day in the darkened "cave" of his bedroom with the curtains drawn, only coming out to eat and socialise in the evening/night-time.

OP should definitely avoid referring to a female as a lady of the night, since that's generally understood to mean a prostitute.

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Calling someone a troglodyte is only slightly better than calling them a four-letter word. I wouldn't suggest it anywhere near a context where elegance is required. –  Marthaª Dec 9 '11 at 21:10
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@Marthaª: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Are there actually any contexts where we speaky positively of people who stay up late at night (and thus don't get up early in the morning)? –  FumbleFingers Dec 9 '11 at 22:40
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Unfortunately, I don't know of any. Our society has a definite prejudice against us nocturnal types. –  Marthaª Dec 9 '11 at 23:29
    
Marthaª: My point exactly. But I hardly think saying my son is a "troglodyte" is on a par with saying he's a "lazy c*nt", from his or other people's perspectives. Though I admit from my point of view they may both express much the same sentiment. –  FumbleFingers Dec 10 '11 at 4:32
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A late riser may be described as someone who "sleeps in." Or you may use the term "late riser" itself.

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protected by RegDwigнt Oct 27 '13 at 21:09

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