I’m an early bird and I’m a night owl. So I’m wise and I have worms.Michael Scott (The Office)
Does this sound like you?
It’s a typical weekday night… you finished your tasks for the day. You’ve had dinner, and hell, maybe even got your heart rate up for 20 minutes. You answered all the phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media messages from friends (and others). It’s around 11pm. What do you do? Are you tired? Or, do you find yourself still having energy… asking yourself… Am I night owl?
Let’s dig deeper into this. For me, it started in middle school. It was then that I started going to bed around 1:30 am. That pattern continued throughout high school, college, my first “real job” and is still in place today. Except that I go to bed later.
I did not consciously fight to stay up late. It was simple. I just wasn’t tired around 11pm when most middle kids go to sleep. Keep in mind… this is before the regular coffee routine and completely free of any meds.
Not sure about you… but for me, this was a problem. School started around 7:50 am. That meant that under the best circumstances I was getting 5.5 hours of sleep. Some adults can get away with that. But not me at 13.
The cost of all this is that my schooling suffered. I was not 100% awake for the first half of the day. In reality, I didn’t feel fully turned on until lunch. So yeah… 50% of my school day was spent at 50% focus capacity. Does this story sound familiar?
It’s not you… It’s your DNA
“Research is showing that the lark and owl personalities are actually coded in our DNA…”Nzinga Harrison
Physician and educator Nzinga Harrison points out that the Period3 gene or PER3, seems to play a role in the night owl vs. early bird debate.
“About 10 percent of people have two copies of the 5-repeat, or PER3(5/5), meaning they’re more inclined to be a morning person. While about 50 percent of people have two copies of the 4-repeat gene, or PER3(4/4), which tends to indicate a preference for later nights.” Learn more from the source on LiveStrong.com.
Night owls vs. early birds
Night owls vs. Early birds… Which is better? Like all complicated life questions the answer for this too is ‘it depends’. Each tribe has its own strengths and weaknesses. Society needs both.
- First to arrive and start
- Get things done in a predictable, consistent manner
- The pillars of society, on time
- Get the worms
- Get tired at the end of the day
- Typically need to follow their schedule
Night Owls Cons (there are many!)
Fact is, in most cases, life starts between 8-9 am; think school and work. To arrive to work or school on time, you need to wake up around 6-7 am. To help prove this point, a study of more than 10,000 people found that the average person wakes up at 7:05 am.
So in most cases, if you want to get ahead and be good at what you do you need to adapt your internal clock.
This is when being a night owl hurts. If you wake up at 7 am and routinely go to sleep past 2 am, that’s 5 hours of sleep per night. Sure, you can do 5 hours of sleep a night and be ok for a day, a few days, maybe even a week. However, in due time you will be sleep deprived. Let’s remember that neurologists routinely recommend 7-8 hours of sleep daily.
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Psychiatric problems, including depression and other mood disorders
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Mental impairment
- Fetal and childhood growth retardation
- Injury from accidents
- Disruption of bed partner’s sleep quality
- Poor quality of life
ALSO! You get VERY ugly eye circles. Nobody wants that! (Except for pandas)
That being said, some people do in fact need much less sleep than the rest of us. It is rare but in a few cases some people show no mental impairment or negative effects from a lack of sleep. This is rare, but it does happen.
The bottom line for night owls
Sleep deprivation is not a valid option. The bottom line for night owls is that we need to adapt. Not getting enough sleep is not a valid long term option. It will catch up and when it does problems will follow.
However! It’s not all bad news.
8 Benefits of being a night owl
Most inflammatory. Night owls have higher IQs.
Night owls’ strength peaks to higher levels at night. Early birds’ strength remains consistent throughout the day.
Night owls are more likely to develop original creative solutions to problems.
Night owls’ brain activity does not lower 10.5 hours after waking up. Early birds’ does.
Early birds often have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
May Need Less Sleep
Night owls may not need as much sleep as everyone else. 7 hours a night may be sufficient.
More Flexible w/Work
Night owls are finishers. They are able to work effectively at night and get things done.
Finish the Day On Their Own Terms
Night owls have more time to to have productive evenings and prepare for the following day.
Let’s back up some of these points…
Smarter you say?
In a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, researcher Satoshi Kanazawa discovered something interesting. “More intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be nocturnal adults who go to bed late and wake up late on both weekdays and weekends.”
In a second study, researchers from the University of Madrid examined the sleeping patterns of 1,000 teenagers. The results found that night owls scored higher on tests related to general intelligence than early birds. On the other hand, the study found that early birds get better grades.
Night strength? SWEET!
Researchers at the University of Alberta tested the leg strength of (9) early birds and (9) night owls. They found the leg strength of the early birds stayed consistent through the day. On the other hand, the leg strength of night owls peaked to higher levels in the evening.
A research study from the Catholic University of the Sacred Hart in Milan concluded that night owls are more likely to develop original and creative solutions to problems than early birds.
One possible explanation is that since there are few disruptions/distractions late at night. The mind can focus at full capacity – a very rare thing these days.
A study conducted by the University of Liege, Belgium, examined 15 night owls and 16 early birds during their normal sleep schedules. Brain activity was measured after participants first woke up. Then again 10.5 hours later. 10.5 hours after waking up the early birds had lower activity in the brain regions connection to paying attention.
While staying up late, you find peace and tranquility, The outside world is fast asleep and all is quiet. Downtime is important to gather your thoughts and catch your breath.
Furthermore, a study conducted by the University of Westminster tested the saliva of 42 volunteers several times a day for two days . Night owls and early birds. Early risers had higher levels of cortisol – the stress hormone.
May need less sleep
Research conducted in Belgium and Switzerland tells us after sleeping 7 hours a night, early birds started to get wearier. Night owls on the other hand, did not.
More Flexible w/Work
Night owls can stay up late to get things done with less of an impact on their work. Since they need less sleep and stay focused longer.
Finish the Day on their own terms
Since night owls don’t turn into pumpkins after midnight, they can maintain focus. Focus, that can be used to plan the following day, be more productive, or simply to relax.
Embrace the night!
Society needs us night owls! Back in the day, when we lived in caves and actually had predators… Who do you think kept watch overnight?
Next time you get crap for being a night owl, gently remind your antagonist one simple fact. When we lived in caves, their ancestors would get up at dawn to tend to crops, while yours fought vicious predators. Show some gratitude for being alive!
We are finishers! Early birds get started bright and early. But, when early birds run out of battery, we carry the torch over the finish line!
If All Else Fails, Adapt
Bottom line… We live in a world where we don’t fully control our schedules. Life has something to say about what we do and when. So rather than sleep 5 hours a night, adapt. The silver lining is that night owls have an easier time adapting to waking up early than early birds staying up late.
On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to stay up late and get enough sleep on a regular basis, enjoy! As long as you do what you need to do, don’t feel bad about it. Embrace it. Besides, where do you think the legend of the wise owl came from?