Healthy Lifestyles: Night Owls or Early Birds
June 12, 2017
The battle between the early birds and night owls seems to be endless. There are a lot of preconceived notions about how waking up early is “better” for you, which can leave the night owls in a somewhat negative light. Each side claims to have lots of advantages to their particular sleep schedule, but do these claims hold up for either lifestyle?
This article is going to take a closer look at both the positive and the negative sides of these sleep patterns as well as what you can do about your own tendencies.
What Determines My Sleep Schedule?
While obvious factors like your job and family life can dictate when and how much you sleep, your natural sleep schedule is actually part of your body’s overarching, natural time cycle. This time cycle spans roughly 24 hours and is called a circadian rhythm. 
Everyone’s circadian rhythm is regulated by an “internal clock” that is controlled by certain structures in your brain and specific chemical signals.  This internal clock is something that is established around six months of age and is responsible for controlling your body temperature, blood pressure, sleep cycle and hormone release.
Your body uses natural time cues like sunlight and artificial time cues like clocks and calendars to keep that internal clock set.  Other things that can affect your internal clock are exercise and medications.
For some people, their natural circadian rhythm falls just short of 24 hours.  These are the people we typically refer to as “early birds” or “morning larks.” Other people have circadian rhythms that stretch a little bit longer than 24 hours, and these are the people we know as “night owls.”  The rest of the population tends to have a cycle that is exactly 24 hours.  These people are neutral and tend to rise with the light and sleep when it’s dark. These three groups of people make up what are called “chronotypes.” 
Let’s take a look at the first two chronotypes: the early birds and the night owls.
What Are the Benefits of Being an Early Bird?
In keeping with the bird theme, early birds are most often called larks. These people are sunny and energetic in the mornings, which leads most people to think that being an early riser is “better” or healthier.
Here are a few of the regularly cited benefits to being a morning lark:
1. They are happier.
Researchers have found a noteworthy link between positive emotions and morning-type people, but they are not certain exactly why this is.  One theory is that early risers may naturally feel happier and healthier because the regular nine-to-five schedule of life fits in with their internal clock, leading to less stress.  Another theory is that early birds get more exposure to sunlight, which is known as a mood enhancer. Morning people are also less prone to depression and procrastination. 
2. They are more productive and alert during the day.
Early birds can wake up feeling clear-headed and energetic, which allows them to be more productive and high-performing in the morning and early afternoon.  This can lead to better grades and better job performance compared to their night owl counterparts. 
3. They are less likely to be sleep-deprived.
This goes back to the societal norms mentioned earlier. Because so much of day-to-day life happens in that nine-to-five timespan, those with shorter circadian rhythms have an advantage when it comes to getting enough sleep.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Night Owl?
Believe it or not, there are perks to being a late riser as well. Those who feel the most alert in the evenings and go to bed late are often called night owls, and they are sometimes portrayed in a negative light. It is important to note that a night owl is not the same as an insomniac.  Insomnia is a sleep disorder that keeps a person awake later than they should be, and it requires urgent care.
Here are a few of the perks associated with being a night owl:
1. They are able to stay alert longer.
While early birds can be alert more quickly, night owls are able to stay mentally alert for hours longer on average. Night owl brains are able to remain active even after 11 or more hours of wakefulness. 
2. They tend to be more creative.
This isn’t to say that early risers lack creativity, but researchers have found that night people are more likely to be creative and develop original ideas.  In fact, there are even groups like The Night Owl Society that have been created to unite creative people because of their tendency to work late at night.
3. They could have a physical and cognitive edge over early risers.
Night owls regularly score higher on intelligence tests and inductive reasoning problems than their early bird counterparts.  In addition to this, studies have also found that night people possess what researchers are calling “night strength.” Night owls’ physical strength actually seems to peak later in the evening, while early birds’ physical strength remains at a constant level throughout the day. 
Is One Lifestyle Better Than the Other?
There are benefits and drawbacks to each lifestyle, so there is not a clear choice in regards to which one is “better.” Early birds tend to have a slight advantage over night owls simply because societal schedules tend to favor waking up early, but if you are happy and healthy in your current sleep schedule, it is not enough of a benefit to consider shifting your sleeping patterns.
Can I Change My Circadian Rhythm?
This is another question that does not have a simple yes or no answer. While it is possible to shift your internal clock forward or back, it must be done gradually and with great care.  It can be difficult to do as well. If you have a legitimate reason for needing to alter your natural biological clock, it might be best to consult with a sleep specialist who can help you make healthy lifestyle changes to accommodate your new sleep schedule.