Do you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning?
Is it hard for you to concentrate shortly after sunrise, but in the evening you’re more productive than ever?
If so, odds are that you’re a night owl.
Though it’s often blamed on poor sleep habits, being a night person is actually genetic, studies suggest.
It can be difficult to be late to bed, late to rise in an early-bird world. You’re forced to get up for your 9 – 5 job, but your brain operates on a different time altogether.
Though “larks” are praised while “owls” get the bad rep, don’t feel pressured to change your ways. There are benefits to staying up late and hitting the snooze button in the morning.
Benefits of Being An Owl
1. Procrastination actually helps
Rather than being exhausted after work, night owls are more likely to feel recharged and be able to concentrate in the evening, according to one study.
Though you’d think that early birds have this in the morning, they actually don’t have this peak at all—their energy slowly decreases at a constant rate throughout the day starting at 9 a.m.
Take advantage of this timed burst of energy—you have an excuse to procrastinate your work until late after the sun sets!
Related Article: How to Turn Procrastination into Action
2. Higher intelligence
Maybe there’s a reason why owls are considered a wise bird. According to The Scientific Fundamental, night owls are more likely to be more intelligent than the early risers.
Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors only operated in the daylight, and working at night is quite novel—leading scientists to believe that owls are more developed.
The study supported their hypothesis: participants who had a low IQ of less than 75 went to bed early, while those who has a high IQ of over 125 went to bed considerably later.
3. Need less Z’s
Night people may not even need as much sleep to function well as early birds, according to researchers from Belgium and Switzerland.
In their study, after sleeping 7 hours a night at their respective bed times, early birds started to get weary, and their brain activity suggested that they were having a harder time paying attention.
This didn’t happen with the owls, leading the researchers to believe that they need less sleep.
Related Article: How to Sleep Better
4. More creative
If you’re a night owl, you are more likely to be able to think outside the box than the rest.
According to Professor Jim Horne, sleep expert, “Evening types tend to be the more extrovert creative types, the poets, artists, and inventors, while the morning types are the deducers, as often seen with civil servants and accountants.”
For this reason, owls tend to be more successful, being linked to more prestigious jobs and higher incomes.
5. Flexible sleep patterns
That being said, if night people need to conform their sleep for a 9 – 5 job, they certainly can. In his book, Sleepfaring: A Journey Through the Science of Sleep, Horne claims that larks have a more difficult time adapting their sleep schedule to that of a night owl, while owls have a much easier time forcing themselves to be early to bed, early to rise.
Related Article: 5 Benefits of Waking Up Early
Night owls, don’t fight your genes. Though society constructs like work and school may be largely suited for early birds, embrace your body and your brain. Though you are capable of getting yourself up early and going to bed early if need be, recognize the strengths of working with your rhythms instead of against them. Take advantage of your nocturnal productivity, and think about career paths that might be suitable for you to be the happiest, healthiest owl you can be.
Sammy Nickalls is the Content Manager at Inspiyr.com. She is an avid health nut and a lover of all things avocado. Follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.
Image by NBB-Photography
Originally published in 2013 and updated in 2014.
early bird, featured, health, hot, night, night owl, sleep
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If you had a choice, what time slot should you select for your next big audition?
9am? Noon? 3pm?
Or 6pm, even 9pm?
Put another way, at what time of day are you most likely to perform your very best?
Larks and owls (and otters)
Researchers at the University of Birmingham recruited 121 competitive athletes to complete a comprehensive inventory of their daily activities, ranging from sleep/wake patterns to food intake, training schedules, and more.
The results were used to categorize the athletes as morning “larks,” intermediate folks, or evening “owls.” (Why didn’t the athletes in the middle get a bird nickname? I don’t know, so I’m just going to call them “otters.” Because otters are awesome . And do cute human-y things, like hold hands ).
From that pool of athletes, the researchers selected 20, who were all field hockey players at approximately the same age and fitness level (1/4th were larks, 1/2 were otters, and 1/4th were owls).
The 20 participants then completed the standard “bleep” fitness test at six different times of day – 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm – to see at what time of day they would perform their best.
Overall, performance was worst at 7am, and best at 4pm and 7pm. Performance at 10am, 1pm, and 10pm was somewhere in the middle.
So at first glance, it would seem that the best time for us to schedule an audition or performance is somewhere in the 4pm-7pm range.
However, the story gets a little more nuanced and interesting when you look at the larks, otters, and owls separately.
When separated by their circadian phenotype (or internal “body clock”), the researchers found that athletes’ performances varied quite a bit during the course of a day.
- Early larks performed their best on the bleep test around mid-day.
- Intermediate otters performed their best around mid-afternoon.
- Evening owls performed their best in the evening.
Furthermore, the consistency of each group’s performances varied quite a lot too. Larks’ and otters’ best and worst performances varied by about 7-10% on average. Meanwhile, the owls’ performances varied pretty wildly, with an average difference of 26% between their best and worst performances.
Sure, 7% may not seem like much, but as the authors note, a 1% gain/loss in performance is easily the difference between medaling and not medaling in the Olympics, and in some events, can even be the difference between 4th place and 1st place.
What time do you wake up?
The researchers also looked at athletes’ performances relative to their “entrained” wake-up time, or the time athletes reported waking up naturally without an alarm clock.
Because even if an early riser and late riser are both up and about during most of the same parts of a day, they do keep very different hours and have different biological days.
For instance, studies have found that larks have higher levels of cortisol in the morning (a hormone, too much of which isn’t good, but is essential for muscle function), and a particular pattern of cortisol levels during the day, relative to owls who have lower cortisol in the morning and also a distinctly different pattern of cortisol levels during the day.
So consider the 10am bleep test. The early larks’ average natural wake-up time was ~7am, giving them 3 hours to clear their heads and get revved up a bit. The otters’ entrained wake-up time was ~8am, so their body clocks would have been up for 2 hours before the test. The owls’ natural wake-up time, on the other hand, was 9:45am – only 15 minutes before their 10am bleep test! So it’s not surprising that the owls would perform more poorly in the morning/early afternoon bleep tests – their body clocks were still just getting out of bed, in a manner of speaking.
Using the athletes’ natural wake-up time (or the biological start of their day), and the time at which they had their best performances, the researchers then calculated the athletes’ average time to peak performance. For the larks, the average time from entrained wake-up to peak performance was 5.5 hours. For the otters, it was 6 hours. For the owls, on the other hand, it took 11 hours from their biological start of the day to get to peak performance levels. So on average, it took the night owls much longer to get to an optimal level of performance – great if you have a performance in the evening, but not so terrific if you have to perform during the daytime.
A few things to consider, before you turn your sleep schedule upside down. For one, this study used cardiovascular fitness as a measure of performance. Though the results are pretty interesting, and probably jibe with your own experience of jet-lagged performances or early morning vs. afternoon/evening auditions, the results may or may not translate directly to musicians in the same way. Plus, there are probably going to be differences between, say, a cellist and a trumpet player, which have very different physical demands.
Also, the study doesn’t necessarily prove that simply changing our entrained wakeup time will improve performance. There might be more to it than that.
But at the end of the day, it does seem like it’s better to be a lark or an otter than an owl when it comes to daytime performances. So with audition season right around the corner (and the inevitable morning auditions times that someone is going to get stuck with), it wouldn’t hurt to get into the habit of going to bed a bit earlier. After all, you can always use the latest Facebook meme as an excuse to get out of bed in the morning, rather than getting sucked into the internet black hole at night when our willpower is waning and microwave pasta cookers and kitchen knives that can cut through beer cans, nails, and logs seem like the best thing ever.
Are performances frustratingly inconsistent? Try the 5-min Mental Skills Audit, and find out the specific mental blocks that might be holding you back.
Frustrated that audiences rarely get to hear the real you? Try the 5-min Mental Skills Audit, and find out the specific mental blocks that may be holding you back.