I am the sort of person who could easily sleep to midday, beyond even, and it was something I have often been told I will grow out of. But I fall asleep late, so in my mind, it works out pretty evenly. Many of us know an early bird and night owl, many of us might be one ourselves. But what are the real differences between them, and which one is better to be?
Most of our working hours remain governed by the agricultural world. Rise with the sun, work the land, go to bed when the sun set. Makes sense. But in the post-agricultural world, with many us working odds hours, late shifts and these days, from home, we no longer rigidly stick to that schedule. In a lot of cases, being a night owl is thought of rather poorly, but there are benefits to being a later sleeper, as much as there are to getting an early night.
What is the difference between an early bird and night owl?
Early Birds (Larks)
- Go to bed early/struggle to stay up late.
- Wake up earlier.
- Have more energy in the morning.
- Are better suited to working day shifts.
- Go to bed later.
- Wake up later.
- Have more energy in the evening.
- Are better suited to working night shifts.
Inspired by familiar birds, other terms include A-people (early birds) and B-People (night owls) in Scandinavia.
Researchers attribute these characteristics to a person’s chronotype, which is our propensity to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour cycle. These in turn are what dictate our circadian rhythms.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Night owls have often been called lazy or unpunctual and are likely to struggle to adapt to standard daytime working hours. According to psychology, night owls are more likely to suffer in academic performance, eating habits and have higher rates of smoking. But from a study done at the University of Madrid, are shown to be more intelligent and better in creative thinking and inductive reasoning.
Being a night owl is itself a spectrum, with people being higher or lower tendencies to being a night owl, with extreme cases relating to sleeping disorders such as insomnia. This tendency can change over time and there are different factors which influence this such as:
Genetic predisposition (you might come from a long line of night owls.), age (teenagers and young adults are more likely to be night owls than the elderly.), and environment.
Night owls are likely better suited to careers that do not require early morning. Working late shifts in hospitality, emergency services, entertainment, or managing their own hours from home. Often these undesirable hours are better paying than daytime shifts.
There is a romance about all those who are abroad in the black hours.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
As well as having a better reputation, being an early bird makes an easier fit for standard working hours. Early birds are likely to work in careers that begin early, such as teachers, farmers, bakers or radio hosts. Whilst suiting the working hours well, early birds might struggle with more social timeframes, with late-night social gatherings or entertainment being a difficulty to adapt to.
Larks, contrary to night owls, are likely to do better academically, have healthy eating patterns and more options when it comes to careers that suit. But it is believed that they are not as creative or intelligent as night owls.
It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” – Aristotle
Which Is Better?
Well, in a world where productivity attitudes are evolving to allow body clock differentiation, there is no particular need to wake up before you’re ready. In fact, in forcing adolescents to wake up early leads to low mood, negative academic performance and social skills.
The bias that so many of us know about rising early does not always apply. People suffer from negative effects when they force their body into a rhythm they are not adapted to. There are pros and cons to being both an early bird and night owl, but the best thing to be is whichever you are. Lean into your natural circadian rhythm and build your schedules around it. Productivity depends on you, not the clock.
Learn more about getting enough sleep here!