Benjamin Franklin once said, “early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
This adage has polarized the two chronotypes and made early birds more favorable. Society is biased towards early birds. They love them! Extensive articles tout the health benefits of being an early bird and they are often portrayed as go-getters and successful leaders in mainstream media. Night owls, on the other hand, are perceived as lazy and self-indulgent.
However, Franklin’s saying does not apply to all of us. Approximately 40% of the population are morning people, 30% evening people. Most of us fall in the intermediate range. Though our genetics are mostly responsible for our chronotype, our sleep patterns can change depending on our schedules, moods, and age.
Despite the countless articles against nocturnal behavior, recent research suggests that being a night owl may have its perks.
Here are five signs and the benefits of being a night owl.
- Doing your best work late at night.
Night owls are accustomed to working late. It’s what classifies us as night owls.
There are two factors responsible for this. One is that our bodies are hardwired to be more active at night. The other has to do with sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is the amount of time someone has spent awake. From this, we can deduce that our brain activity should be sharper when we wake. However, for night owls, that is not the case.
Researchers Christina Schmit and Philippe Peigneux from the University of Liege conducted a study with a group of 31 people (16 early birds and 15-night owls). They found that night owls were more alert even after 10.5 hours of sleep pressure, and their reaction times improved by 6% compared to early birds. Neurologically, night owls had more activity occurring in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The result of this study proved that those with evening chronotypes have greater mental stamina.
Additionally, night owls are believed to be more intelligent. A study conducted by Satoshi Kanazawa and Kaja Perina from the University College of London hypothesized that night owls would be more intelligent due to their evolutionary acquisition of a nocturnal rhythm. Using data collected by Add Health, they found bivariate associations between childhood IQ and chronobiology. Though they found minute differences between bedtimes, the differences were significant when calculating IQ, especially between “bright” and “very bright” categories.
- You feel foggy or tired in the mornings.
Most activities, such as school or work, run on a morning schedule. Thus, night owls commonly suffer from a phenomenon called social jetlag. The term was coined by Till Roenneberg, a chronobiology professor at the University of Munich. Social jetlag causes fogginess, low mental performance, sleep deprivation, and poor sleep quality.
However, this mental fog could be the secret to creativity. A study conducted by Giampietro and Cavallera, Italian researchers at the University of Milan, found that out 120 participants, those who were evening types were more creative (2007). A 2011 study confirmed this. Psychologists Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks studied 428 participants to determine their prototype by assigning them a set of random problems during morning or afternoon times. They found that people had higher solution rates during non-optimal times (downtime). For example, an early bird doing the task later at night and a night owl performing the task early in the day. This points to the incubation theory of creativity, but most importantly it explains why night owls experience higher levels of creativity later on in the day.
- You find it hard to get to sleep
It’s difficult to find sleep when your mind is running at 100mph, it’s no wonder night owls have trouble sleeping. Chronobiology is not the only factor that affects our sleep schedules, but also our brain’s structure. Scientists at Aachen University in Germany scanned the brains of early risers, night owls, and intermediates. They discovered that night owls had less white matter ( fatty tissue in the brain that facilitates communication among nerve cells) in the frontal and temporal lobes, cingulate gyrus, and corpus callosum. Researchers speculate that this is the cause for night owls not being able to fall asleep earlier.
Despite the side effects of being a night owl ( social jetlag and depression), there is one perk. You are more mentally alert. This means that night owls are more productive throughout the day and have greater reasoning and analytical abilities.
- You sleep when (and where) you can.
As a night owl, you are used to being labeled “unconventional.” Just because you find it hard to get to sleep, it does not mean that you do not indulge in a long nap. Night owls, myself included, fall asleep anywhere. This ability developed as a result of our socially imposed schedules, but there may be a benefit to mid-afternoon cat naps–extra strength.
Though it is not enough to turn us into a Hulk, night owls boast of extra strength. According to Olle Lagerquist and researchers at the University of Alberta, evening people are at their peak strength after 9 pm. The reason is due to excitability in the motor cortex and spinal cord.
- You run on coffee
Coffee. The nectar of the gods that keeps you functional. Because there is so much pressure to be present in our everyday lives, night owls need the extra energy boost early in the mornings.
Other than being delicious, coffee has many health benefits. It contains nutrients, is a great source of antioxidants and it can lower your risk of Parkinson’s.
Though you probably know which chronotype you have. Whether you are a night owl or an early bird, having healthy sleep hygiene is paramount to a good night’s sleep.
Hope this article has helped! Let us know in the comments below which chronotype do you identify with and what are some of the interesting characteristics you’ve learned.
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