What Is a Night Owl vs. Early Bird?
Night owls, also called an eveningness, is someone who sleeps late at night and wakes up late in the morning.
Early birds, also called a morning lark or morningness, is someone who wakes up early and goes to bed early.
You’ve probably heard that early birds are “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” while night owls are unproductive and unhealthier.
But how true is this? Being a night owl or early bird isn’t just a personal preference, it’s genetically predetermined and written in your DNA. That makes the battle over bedtime a tough one to call. To better understand what causes early birds to rise with the sun and night owls to dance in the moonlight, let’s unpack what causes sleep patterns in the next section.
What Causes Sleep Patterns?
By now, you’re probably asking yourself one question: why? Why can’t I stay up past 9 pm and watch my favorite late-night comedy show? Or why is waking up at 6 am the bane of my existence? This has to do with something called your internal biological clock, also called your circadian rhythm or chronotype.
Your circadian rhythm is the 24-hour clock your body runs on and is influenced by the Earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle. The circadian rhythm regulates not only your sleeping pattern, but also your hunger and eating patterns, your body’s hormone levels, and even your mood. However, when it comes to sleep, your internal clock is heavily influenced by external factors, such as sunlight and temperature, which dictate when you begin to feel sleepy and awake throughout the day. Some sleepers have a longer natural wake-sleep cycle, which can make them night owls. Those with shorter natural wake-sleep cycles are often early birds.
But your body’s circadian rhythm isn’t the only factor that determines whether you’re an early riser or nighthawk—we have to go way back to the Paleolithic Eras. As we’ve alluded to, your sleep schedule is also genetically predetermined and written in the code found inside your DNA, thanks to evolution. In the Paleolithic Eras, hunter-gatherers had to keep their groups protected throughout the day and night. So, some members would spend the daylight hours awake, while others would stay up during the night to fend off any suspecting threats and predators. Over time, the genes of these two types of group members were passed down, resulting in early birds and night owls.
Today, the traditions of our ancient ancestors are long gone. Instead, most of us are now accustomed to the traditional 9 to 5 workday. While this isn’t a problem for most early birds, it can be disruptive to natural night owls. This is because night owls experience something called social jetlag. Social jetlag is the sleep deprivation people experience trying to acclimate to social norms, such as the 9 to 5 workday or traditional school schedules. For night owls, it can feel as if they’re waking up in a different time zone every morning because they tend to go to bed late at night while being forced to wake up early in the morning, resulting in sleep deprivation.
Pros of being an Early bird
No rush: When you feel like you have the upper hand on time, you will feel less rushed. This has a slew of advantages. Not feeling rushed creates the sense of ‘slow living’ first thing in the morning. You can eat your breakfast in peace, have a proper conversation, and choose how you want to look for the day.
Be more prepared: In how you look, in what you eat, in how much your body gets to move, and in other ways too, such as being better-prepared for meetings.
Better ability to handle pressure: Waking up early gives you time to shake off the drowsiness of the night and gain energy gradually, so by the time you’re at work and someone hits you with a load of pressure, you’ll be ready for it.
A time to set goals — Set goals for the day, the week, or the month. Early morning is also a good time to see how far you’ve come so you can keep your motivation fueled.
Cons of being an Early Bird
Tiredness - If you are trying to get up early to be at work first thing, you may find yourself becoming extremely tired throughout the day. This is particularly the case if you are not used to getting up early. Getting up early can cause you to have a tired slump during the day meaning you might nap late in the afternoon. This can then make it hard for you to get to sleep later that night. Having this slump can in turn cause your diet to go down hill as you try drinking energy drinks and eat sugary foods to try and perk yourself up.
Less socializing - Taking the step to get up early for work means you need to be going to bed early to make sure you do not deprive yourself of sleep as mentioned above. This in itself, however, can have negative consequences. Firstly you are cutting down your spare time. By the time you get home from work, cook yourself dinner and do any general chores, you might find it is time to head to sleep. This leaves you no time to simply sit down on the couch, watch TV and relax, and we all need our downtime to keep ourselves sane. It can also mean you become less sociable, particularly with your work mates.
Pros of Night Owls
Night owls are more creative - A study conducted by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan shows that people who had a habit of staying up late also had the most creative mind. The participants of the study were of different age groups and were given activity that required to complete a picture with straight and curved lines. Night owls passed the test with no problem while morning people struggled even to achieve an average score.
Night owls are more mentally alert - People who get up early in the morning are also seen to get tired sooner mentally than those who stay up till late. According to a study conducted by The University of Liege in Belgium, there is a striking difference in the mental alertness of the two groups. Despite the wake-up times, night owls were seen more able to sustain a sense of mental alertness for longer than those who went to bed early.
Night owls have better reasoning skills - A study conducted by the University of Madrid tested different skills of around 1,000 teenagers. It was found that night owls scored the highest in the inductive reasoning.
Night owls are smarter - Night owls have an upper hand intellectually as well. A study conducted by Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science examined the wake and sleep time of 80 middle class and high schools. The sleep habits of these students were recorded on the days they had to go to school and on the days they had an off. It was found that brighter students had both later bedtime and wake time, while those with less intellect went to bed earlier and woke up earlier.
Cons of being a Night owl
Health problems: Basically because the brain is programmed to sleep at night. When the sleeping pattern is disturbed or completely changed, your body will understandably feel tired, which can cause stress and irregular heartbeats. Working on the computer can also lead to eyestrain. Moreover, night shift work increases the risk of diabetes and breast cancer.
Late Mornings: Working at night means you will need to sleep for longer hours in the morning, which your body might not be able to do since it is not used to it.
Alienated: Family and social life is disrupted because you would basically be following a routine that is the complete opposite of that of the people around you.
Monday Blues: Weekends seem awkward and when your body finally starts getting used to staying up late, you’ll find yourself sleepless on Sunday nights. The result? A very moody and cranky you the next morning. (Now we know where the Monday blues come from!)
While both the school of thoughts have their benefits and some side effects, it is purely an individual's choice to follow what works best for them. As long as an individual is able to manage the professional and personal duties simultaneously taking care of mental and physical health, both night owls and early birds emerge as winners!
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