If you had to choose, would you say that you are more of a morning or an evening type?
Partially driven by genetics, your tendency to be active in the morning or evening will have a big impact on when you are most alert, productive and creative, and on how you (and your significant other) sleep. Me, I’m a night owl, even though work, community, and culture encourage otherwise.
Which bird are you?
Each bird relates to a different chronotype, which signifies a preference for daytime or nighttime activity:
- Owls (or Night Owls) tend to enjoy sleeping in, are more active in the late afternoon, and find they can be productive working late into the night
- Larks (or Early Birds) catch the worm. They often spring out of bed with or without an alarm clock, are more active in the morning and hop in bed relatively early
- Hummingbirds fit somewhere in-between, and can have tendencies in either direction without being a full fledged owl or lark
Like most things, these tendencies are not black and white, but more like a scale. A minority of people falls to one or other extreme – they are either larks or owls – while most people fall somewhere in the middle as hummingbirds, according to epidemiological research. If you don’t already have a good idea of where you fit, take this quiz to find out. I am definitely an evening type.
The challenges of larks and owls
There are some people who really struggle to sync their body clocks with the schedule of the world-at-large. These people tend to fall at each extreme of the scale. In an attempt to understand how these types of people differ, one study asked a group of owl and lark participants to obey their body clocks, then observed their performance on reaction tests (a general measure of alertness) at 1.5- and 10.5-hours after waking up. They found that reaction times were similar in both groups during the early session, but that night owls performed much better later in the day.
Based on this research, it might seem that night owls have the upper hand, right? Not quite. This was an artificial situation where participants were directed to obey their internal body clocks. In the real world, night owls are often at odds with most of society, in terms of schedules. Work, school, and other obligations start early in the day, and many night owls can find themselves consistently short on sleep if they keep their late-night habits.
Life as an owl
For years, I functioned (at least partially) on less sleep, averaging anywhere from 4 to 6 hours or sleep, using up to four alarm clocks (no joke) to wake up each morning (college roommates and neighbors always enjoyed that one), and occasionally pulling an all-nighter. If you have the choice, I wouldn’t recommend any of it. One of our articles “Sleep by Night of the Week,” talks about sleep debt and the importance of getting regular and sufficient amounts of sleep.
I’ve made a few changes related to my propensity for the night shift, including:
- Putting effort into making more time for sleep; getting creative with a mix of earlier nights, sleeping in or napping
- Trying my best to protect my bedtime, by following my pre-bed routine
- Upping my exposure to light when I first wake up and on my way to work. Exposure to light first thing in the morning helps to keep your circadian rhythm in balance, keeping you on a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Where do you fall?
What about you? Are you a night owl or an early riser? By making simple changes to your sleep pattern you can help improve your performance.