Does the Early Bird Really Get the Worm?
The Early Bird V. The Night Owl
For decades we have asked the question: who is more successful, the early bird or the night owl? The research on the issue is highly polarized and often contradictory. Many studies show that morning people are more successful in their careers than evening people, while other research shows that night owls are more intelligent and creative and thus have the advantage over their early bird peers.
Why Is Sleep Important?
• ~45% – Insufficient or poor sleep affected their activities at least once in past 7 days.
• ~35% – Report sleep quality as “poor” or “fair” despite sleeping recommended number of hours.
• ~25% – Estimated percentage of population with sleep or wakefulness disorder.
• 23.2% – Trouble concentrating on things.
• ~20% – Reported they did not wake up feeling refreshed on any of past 7 days.
• 18.2% – Trouble remembering things.
• 13.3% – Trouble working on hobbies.
• 11.3% – Trouble driving or taking public transportation.
• 10.5% – Trouble taking care of financial affairs
• 8.6% – Trouble performing employed or volunteer work.
Drowsiness Causes Car Crashes
(2005-2009 5 year period Fatal Car Crashes)
• 2005: 1,033 (2.6%) of 39,252 caused by drowsiness
• 2006: 995 (2.6%) of 38,648 caused by drowsiness
• 2007: 926 (2.5%) of 37,435 caused by drowsiness
• 2008: 746 (2.2%) of 34,172 caused by drowsiness
• 2009: 730 (2.4%) of 30,797 caused by drowsiness
4430 total fatalities caused by drowsiness in that period = over 2 deaths a day. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests over half of drowsiness related accidents are not reported.
The History of Sleep: How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?
Ancient Times: Two groups. Members of tribes had different sleep schedules. Some stood guard at night slept during the morning and some stood guard during the day and slept at night.
Pre-Electricity: People went to sleep after dinner as the sun went down, woke up around midnight to procreate, check on family, or farm animals, and then went back to sleep and woke up with the sun.
Modern: Two groups: We are divided into two groups, those function around the 8am-4pm workday, and those who are most productive at the evening hours 4pm-12am
Early Birds and Night Owls of History
Night Owl: Sigmund Freud: Did the majority of his work from 3pm-9pm and then from around 11am-1pm.
Early Bird: Maya Angelou: Did the majority of her work between the hours of 7am and 3pm.
Who Has It Better, the Early Bird or the Night Owl?
School schedules and the 9-5 work day give an advantage to the morning person.
Chronically sleeping on an unnatural sleep cycle leads to Social Jet Lag, where individuals feel exhausted even if they have had recommended hours of sleep. Researchers found this to be responsible for why Night Owls often have lower GPA in school than early birds.
Though early birds tend to have more energy in the morning they tend to lose energy quicker than Night Owls, who maintain energy and wakefulness longer overall. After 10 hours of being awake, night owls perform significantly better on reaction time tests.
Early birds are less prone to depression than night owls.
Early birds are Less prone to addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and food than night owls.
Night owls tend to be much more creative and have higher cognitive abilities than early birds.
-Night Owls are more likely to explore the unknown and are more curious by nature.
-Night owls are known to be risk takers. This often translates to more success and higher salaries in the business world.
Early Bird’s Brain: More white matter, which is what helps neurons communicate. Researchers believe this is responsible for Early Birds being more optimistic, proactive, and resilient towards depression and anxiety, though they have less cortisol than night owls.
Night Owl’s Brain: More cortisol, which is the stress hormone, which helps prepare the body and mind for high-stress situation. Researchers suggest this is responsible for Night Owl’s heightened cognitive abilities and performance in the high-stakes business world, though they have less white matter than early birds.
Predicting Time of Death
Researchers have found a link between chronotype and time of death. Early Birds are more likely to die around 11 am while Night Owls are more likely to die before 6 pm.
Changing Your Cycle: Quality, Quantity, and Timing
Research suggests that the sleep duration has little to do with morning alertness. The timing of sleep is what determines how proactive and alert one is upon waking. In order to experiment with new sleep cycles, shift the timing by one hour each night until you reach the timing you desire. If you experience feelings of jet lag you have moved out of your natural sleep cycle determined by your chronotype.
• Chronotypes are likely to change over a person’s lifetime.
• Children show a marked increase towards eveningness from 13 to late adolescence
• People under 30 are more likely to be night owls.
• From the ages of 30 to 50 the population is evenly split.
• Above the age of 50 most people are early birds.
Teenagers are much more likely to be Night Owls, but researchers suggest this is largely due to fluctuating hormones and is temporary if they are genetically predisposition to be early birds.
Teens who stay up too late, however, are more likely to gain weight as they age than their early bird peers.
The Jury is still out on whether the early bird or the owl is more successful overall. The reality seems to be that both populations have their strengths and weaknesses, and while the 8 to 4 workday seems best suited for the early bird, the night owls have skill sets to overcome their aversion to such early mornings. So does the early bird really get the worm? The answer is yes, but the night owl gets his as well.