Are early birds truly happier than night owls?

Mornings. You either hate them or love them. If you wake up at a fixed hour because of work, surely you have already noticed your relationship with mornings. But do you know what this preference tells you about yourself?

It’s easy to figure out whether you are a night owl or an early bird based on your attitude towards mornings. But this is not the only difference that we can observe between them. The biological and physical differences between those two types are quite sizeable and can, in fact, influence many surprising areas in your life.

Why do you hate (or love) mornings?

Let’s first take a look where this difference comes from. The sleep and wake up time is regulated by a mechanism called ‘circadian clock’. It’s kind of a body clock that dictates when our organisms should be awake and when they should go to sleep. It controls us by influencing many of our physiological processes such as body temperature, hormone levels, and blood pressure. Theoretically, this body clock should be adjusted to a 24-hour day, but for most of us, it will vary slightly.

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Being a night owl or an early bird heavily corresponds to this clock. A person who calls themselves an early bird doesn’t just wake up early but also tends to feel sleepy and go to bed early. They feel most energized in the morning – just after waking up. They also might find it hard to sleep in, even after going to bed later than usual. Their opposites, night owls, prefer to go to bed much later and thus wake up significantly later too. They don’t feel very energetic or refreshed in the morning – although can be very productive in the evening. If your ancestors were known to be either night owls or early birds, it’s very likely that you are just like them, as genes influence your circadian clock and sleep patterns.

Is it good to be a night owl?

Being a night owl in our society might be slightly harder, considering the 9-5 nature of a huge part of the job market. Many owls, who have to get up early to go to work, tend to experience the so-called ‘social jet lag’. It’s caused by the disruption of their natural sleep pattern and can be in fact compared to living in a different time zone every day. The main effect is, of course, feeling sleepy and not being able to fully concentrate during your workday. What might seem even worse, the more you experience it, the more likely you are to take up unhealthy habits, such as smoking or drinking too much coffee and alcohol. That’s why night owls are much more prone to addictions than their opposites.

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However, being an owl also has its benefits. Staying up late and sleeping in is linked with increased creativity and aptitude for reasoning and logical thinking. What’s more, owls usually tend to have higher cortisol levels – they are dauntless risk takers who are much more resistant to stress. Also, more than a few studies, including the one conducted by The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, show that night owls have statistically higher IQ than early birds.

What about early birds?

On the other hand, being an early bird isn’t that bad either. Larks’ IQ might be lower, but their overall academic performance tends to be much better than owls’. They are more social and active during the day and the tend to have a very optimistic and positive attitude. This allows them to thrive in activities that require attention from the very beginning of the day. Their health is also superior, especially as their proneness to addictions or depression is much lower. Early birds’ brains contain much more white matter which is a pathway for all the feel-good hormones like serotonin or dopamine, which may explain their proactivity and optimism.

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On the negative side, they don’t get as many bursts of energy as the owls do. Larks’ energy levels tend to gradually lower during the day, making them unable to be very efficient in the evening. Meanwhile, owls’ energy tends to increase during the day.

Correlations?

Interestingly, there is a statistical correlation between each type and gender- more men tend to be night owls while more women tend to be larks. It’s also worth mentioning that no matter which type we identify with in adulthood, most of us go through a ‘night owl phase’ in our teenage years anyway. Our sleep patterns adjust as our organisms develop, so becoming an early bird only in your twenties is nothing unusual.

After all, the most important thing here is (as always) being aware of your needs. No matter which type you are, your goal should always be getting enough sleep every night. Only well-rested birds, no matter which type, can truly fly high!

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References

  • Epstein, L. (2010). Improving sleep: A guide to a good night’s rest. Boston, MA: Harvard Medical School.
  • Goodman, B. (2012, May 10). Do You Have ‘Social Jet Lag’? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20120510/do-you-have-social-jet-lag
  • Kanazawa, S., & Perina, K. (2009). Why night owls are more intelligent. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(7).
  • Oakely, C. (2012, September 12). Why You’re an Early Bird or a Night Owl. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/early-bird-night-owl
  • Wittmann, M., Dinich, J., Merrow, M., & Roenneberg, T. (2006). Social Jetlag: Misalignment of Biological and Social Time. Chronobiology International, 23(1-2).