Is it better to be a night owl or early bird?

Early to bed, early to rise. If you’re an early bird, you probably agree whole-heartedly. Nothing gets you more motivated than waking up just in time to catch the sunrise. On the other hand, if you consider the night young at midnight, the thought of waking up at 5 a.m. is likely akin to psychological torture.


Even though you probably have an idea of which kind of sleeper you are, it’s still important to understand the pros and cons of both types and understand why you choose one sleep style over the other.


Here’s everything you need to know about early birds and night owls.


What are chronotypes?


When you were younger, you might have stayed up late and were still able to wake up early in the morning. However, as you get older, you might not rebound as easily. In fact, you might feel horrible the next day.


But why? The answer is simple: Chronotypes.


There are two types of people in the world: Those who are up before dawn, and those who go to sleep when the sun comes up.  Your chronotype determines whether you’re an early bird or night owl. It affects how your body responds to different times of the day.


In general, there are 2 chronotypes: morning and night. (1)


Early birds


Morning people are considered early birds or larks. They wake up early and are most efficient in the morning. Unlike their night-owl counterparts, they usually don’t stay up late and prefer to go to bed before 11:00 p.m.


Early birds may also be more social than night owls. That’s not to say night owls are anti-social; however, early birds tend to adapt better to traditional daytime schedule changes. (2)


In turn, they have an easier time adjusting to daylight savings time when compared with night owls. Early birds also tend to be happier overall. It’s important to note that happiness may be easier to maintain when you have a consistent sleep schedule. (3)


While getting up early does come with a variety of benefits, there are potentially a few negatives as well.


Early birds might have trouble socializing later at night, especially when they are awake before dawn. In addition, people who wake up early may have higher stress levels than people who sleep in. (4)


Night owls


People are night owls for a variety of reasons. In addition to working the night shift, maybe you simply feel more alive after dark. You probably feel your best when you sleep in and aren’t up before the sun rises.


If you do fall into this category, it’s again largely due to your chronotype. Interestingly, it also has a lot to do with genetics and possibly how you were raised as well. If your parents were also owls, you’re more likely to be one, too. (5)


Even though most owls thrive after dark, there are several disadvantages to think about.


Since society is tailored for daytime schedules, owls may have trouble maintaining a regular 9-to-5 job. Being an owl could negatively affect your health as well. Research shows that people who prefer to stay up late may be at increased risk of mental health conditions and may not eat as healthy as early birds. (6)


Physical and psychological effects


The hours you keep can have both physical and psychological effects.


Let’s dig deeper.


From a physical perspective, when you sleep is just as important as how well you sleep. All of us have a circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm influences your physical and mental health, in addition to your eating habits and hormone regulation. (7) Since everyone’s circadian rhythm is different, it determines whether you’re an early bird or an owl. An early bird’s circadian rhythm usually runs a little faster than a night owl’s.  If you’re more of a night person, your internal clock (circadian rhythm) is slower.


Sleep patterns


It’s important to note that chronotypes are not always set in stone. As you get older, your circadian rhythm can change (8). And while it may take some time, it’s possible to become an early bird if you’re currently a night owl.


To begin with, you can set your alarm 15 minutes earlier each day. You should also limit screen time at least an hour before bed. Even if you can’t sleep, blue light can make it difficult to doze off.


If you’re switching from the night shift to a day schedule, you should rest when needed. Since your body is used to sleeping during the day, you need to work on changing your circadian rhythm prior to starting your new job.


Is your pattern working for you?


Whether you stay up late or rise before dawn, know that it’s more about your internal clock and less about personal preference. We’re all hardwired differently, so as long as your sleep-wake patterns work, you don’t need to rush to change.


If you struggle with being a night owl or early bird, which stems from sleep disturbances, like nightmares or insomnia, then consider reaching out to your doctor.  They may even be able to refer you to a sleep therapist to help you make the switch.

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