Are You an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Knowing Can Make a Difference

Written by Melissa Breyer

The early bird catches the worm. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

We belong to a culture that prizes morningness and subtly chastises those who like to stay up late and sleep in. Which is really quite Puritan of us because in truth, whether you’re chirping like a lark at dawn or hooting like an owl at midnight largely comes down to a matter of genetics.

We are more or less divided into morning and night people; and that is set by our genes, says neurogeneticist Dr. Louis Ptacek of University of California. Ptacek and his colleague, Dr. Chris Jones, have been studying people’s chronotypes – a person’s propensity to sleep at a particular time – and found shared genetic traits in family groups of morning people (larks) and evening people (owls).

It’s all related to our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that the body relies on to schedule certain functions. This master clock is made up of thousands of nerve cells in the suprachiasmatic nucleus which lives at the base of the brain in the hypothalamus. Each day this internal clock is reset by light; but even though the dawning of light on the planet happens consistently, our individual clocks don’t run alike from person to person. Hence, larks and owls.

“If you have a fast clock you like to do things early, and if you have a slow clock you like to do things late,” says Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, Head of the University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre.

Scientists have come to recognize the importance of understanding one’s chronotype; and just knowing that this is a matter of genes – not a measure of eagerness or laziness – is a boon in and of itself. But genetics or not, much of western society is based around daylight-centered productivity, which means night owls get the short end of the stick.

Researchers have been mulling the implications of the lark lifestyle versus the owl’s to try and tease out which chronotype comes with the most benefits.

Some studies are a bit of a mixed bag – offering a variety of findings on how being a night owl or a morning person can impact a person’s life, writes Erinn Hutkin for the San Diego Union Tribune. Here are some of the findings she describes:

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada completed a study that indicated morning people’s strength tends to stay steady throughout the day – not just peak early – but night owls have peak performance during the evenings.

A study done at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Germany found when night owls follow the same time schedules as morning people, there’s a tendency to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder or depression.

Researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium conducted a study where night owls and morning people competed against each other to measure reaction and attention times. When given a task shortly after waking up, both groups did well, but 10 hours after their days began, the night owls were better at completing assigned tasks and were quicker and more alert.

You probably already know which camp of birds you fall into; if you have any doubt, you can take a quiz to find out. And while knowing one way or the other may not make that much of a difference if you are tied to a strict schedule, knowledge can at least make life more clear. Working with your chronotype can lead to better productivity and better sleep, potentially even eliminating the need for sleep aids and other assorted quick fixes. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Know that some who experience insomnia may be suffering from circadian-rhythm abnormality.
  • If you are an owl and can shift your work hours to later in the day, you will likely be more productive.
  • If you are an owl and can’t switch your schedule around, try to be strategic about light exposure: Professor Till Roenneberg of Ludwig-Maximilians University tell the BBC, “You should try to go to work not in a covered vehicle but on a bike. The minute the sun sets we should use things that have no blue light, like computer screens and other electronic devices.”
  • Larks looking to shift their sleeping to later can try spending time outside in the afternoon or early evening, as well as increasing general evening activity. Also try sleeping with black-out drapes.
  • Owls are advised to sleep with blinds or curtains open, and let daylight do the job of an alarm clock.
  • If you’re a lark and are able to nap, optimal napping time is around 1:00 p.m. or 1:30 p.m.
  • If you’re an owl, your afternoon napping window for ultimate rejuvenation is 2:30 p.m. or 3:00 p.m.
  • Don’t get mad at sleepyhead teens. Research shows that late sleeping of the teen set is a real thing. Kids sleep later and later throughout childhood and reach peak lateness at 19 and a half for women and 21 for men.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you have tricks to help cope with a life that doesn’t match your bird style?

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla1 years ago

I am a night owl because I function best at night, but I can sleep like a baby!

Crystal G.
Crystal G2 years ago

Being a night owl does not mean you have insomnia. This was a stupid article. What do you have against the night time anyway? What about people who were only able to get 'night jobs'? Should they sleep through them, 'cause you said so?

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I'm an early bird! I knew that before though. I always go to bed about 10 pm. Hubby on the other hand is a night owl! Never gets up until about 10 am

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

I am Moderately Owlish, per the quiz. I couldn't answer some questions the way I wanted because I had to select from the list. Such as " how hungry are you in the first half hour after waking". Some days I wake up starving, some days just a little hungry and some days not hungry at all. It really depends on what time and how much I ate the night before or if I had a late snack.
I used to be a Night Owl but since I'm older now, not so much of one (except occasionally).

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

I am, and always have been, a night owl. I would rather be an early bird but, this article is right, you really can't change it. You learn to live with it and work around it.

Maggie Welch
Maggie D3 years ago

I'm definitely a night owl and I usually sleep for about six hours. Being an owl in the Summer is a drag because I need to get up at 4:30 AM to work in the yard before it get's too hot. Once it get's over 80 degrees I'm done.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege3 years ago

Night owl or early bird, depending on what I have to do the next day. When my elder son was a baby, he woke me up at 1 a.m., 5 a.m., 9 a;m; 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 9 p.m.

Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.3 years ago

interesting ty

Gene Jacobson
Gene J3 years ago

"Moderately Lark-like
You tend to rise between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. You’re not likely to wolf down a big breakfast daily, but you do tend to eat before school or work. You have a slight preference for morning workouts at the gym but you could go at 7 p.m., too. You tend to go to bed between 9:30 pm and 11 p.m."

That was my thought as I read the first part of the article. What about those of us who are both? I think, if I had my druthers, I'd be up late, reading, wake early, be active, nap, then be active or read again until tired, then go to bed. I think I'd do better with two or three, two to three hour naps than with one unbroken nights sleep, of which I have had exactly ONE in the last 25 years. I fall asleep fast, wake after three hours, either toss and turn until dawn or get up, then am constantly exhausted as I can't nap during the day. A 9 to 5 world just doesn't suit me and never has, not even as a child from what I'm told and what I remember. The world does not operate on my circadian rhythm that much I have always known. I think I was born on the wrong planet. :^)