The age old saying “the early bird gets the worm” is drilled into us at a young age in an attempt to encourage us to start our days early to get things done. But not all of us are early risers as some of us prefer to burn the midnight oil.
Researchers at the University of Surrey found that it boils down to our genes whether we’re an early riser or a night owl. In short, if you have a long version of the Period 3 gene, you are more likely to prefer very early mornings. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a shorter version of the gene, your preference will sway towards enjoying longer evenings.
However, there are many other factors that play an important role in determining what type of sleeper you are.
Related: When do the clocks go back and why does this happen?
“Your day or night preference is obviously a complex behavioural trait. It is not solely down to one single gene” Dr Simon Archer, talking to the BBC.
There have been countless articles and studies on why staying up late is bad for you and why we should try to avoid it. But not everything is doom and gloom. Studies have also suggested there are huge benefits, so here are 11 reasons why it’s great to be a night owl.
A study performed at the University of Madrid looked at the circadian rhythms of around 1,000 teenagers to get a better understanding on their natural body clock. These tests determined whether they were classified as night or morning person by looking at their sleeping patterns and when they seemed to be at their intellectual peak.
The study found 1 in 4 of the teenagers were deemed morning people, while around 32 percent were perceived as night owls. The rest of the teenagers could not be classified as either early bird or a night owl.
What followed was a series of tests that measured intelligence and school performance. Night owls scored highly on tests for inductive reasoning compared to morning people which often serves as an estimate of general intelligence.
Although the night owls grades were shown as 8 percent lower than larks. It should be pointed out that this may be down to the fact that school tests tend to be during the mornings, a time where night owls tend to perform worse.
While this may not be useful for everyone, in some lines of work it could be quite beneficial.
A study at the University of Alberta found that night owls saw an increase in leg strength at night as they seemed to hit peak performance during this time. On the other side, the early birds leg strength seemed to remain constant throughout the day.
Early birds’ brains were found to be most excitable around 9 a.m. which then slowly decreased throughout the day. Night owls saw their brain excitement peak around 9 p.m. giving them an increase in strength. Athletes who are night owls that train and compete in the morning however, may be at a disadvantage compared to early risers as their performances on average should be about the same, regardless of time of competition.
Many of us have been there, metaphorically hitting a brick wall trying to think creatively in critical moments. But for those night owls, you may have an advantage when it comes to being creative.
A study carried out by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan found that night owls aced the tests which looked at their creative thinking. The early birds however, struggled with the test and found it hard to score over 50%.
The lead author of the study, Marina Giampietro, said this creativity for night owls could be accredited to the “development of a non-conventional spirit and the ability to find alternative and original solutions.”
There are many famouses who proclaim to be night owls. From Winston Churchill to Bob Dylan. Their sleep schedule was accredited to a lot of their success.
Churchill had such an irregular sleeping pattern that it was said that he held War Cabinet meetings in his bath.
Barack Obama, back in 2009, told Newsweek that he is a self proclaimed night owl and that he likes to stay up late to relax and read.
“I usually have about a half hour to read before I go to bed… about midnight, 12:30a.m. - sometimes a little later.”
In 2009, a study was performed by the University of Liege in Belgium. This study monitored the brain activity of extreme early risers and extreme night owls. The early risers were happy to go to sleep at 11pm and rise at 7am while the night owls had no trouble staying up until at least 3am and happily rose at 11am.
Both the early risers and the night owls had their brain activity measured as soon as they awoke, and then again 10.5 hours later.
What was found was that on the first test, both sets of participants scored very similarly, but on the 2nd test, 10.5 hours later, the early birds had significantly lower brain activity than night owls in regions linked to attention and the circadian master clock.
So night owls can be tasked with jobs that require sustained focus for more than 10 or so hours, while early risers’ performance may dwindle.
This point relates back to being able to remain mentally alert for longer. Studies have shown that even though early birds and night owls both got 7 hours of sleep, it was the early birds that began to deteriorate in brain activity much quicker than the night owls.
Both the early birds and night owls went to bed at their respective bedtimes, but early birds had a harder time paying attention as the day wore on.
This study lead researchers to believe that night owls needed less sleep than their counterparts.
A night owls flexibility when it comes to work far exceeds that of an early riser. We’ve already found out that night owls can remain mentally active for longer periods, as well as being able to function properly on less sleep.
Within a working environment, this can prove to be invaluable - especially when you’re a business owner with unpredictable working hours.
Night owls are able to get through the normal 9 - 5 working day, while still having the mental activity afterwards to carry on and pursue other projects. Early risers tend to dwindle towards the end of the working day and this carries on throughout the early evening.
This is especially advantageous for night shift workers who won’t be bothered by the late nights. Early risers will find it extremely hard to cope with such working conditions and may not even be able to hold down a night shift job due to their gene setup.
Deadlines can creep up on us without us really knowing. They’re the bane of any workplace, but night owls are genetically more equipped to deal with them.
Work that has to be done before the next morning can spring up on us from time to time and this may require us to stay late to get it done.
With their ability to stay mentally active for longer periods of time, night owls thrive when it comes to deadlines.
After a long, hard days work, many people emotionally shut themselves off and unwind in front of the TV. Night owls however, still have the physical and emotional reserves to visit friends, attend classes at the gym or go out for drinks.
Early risers tire easily during the early evenings and may find themselves lagging behind their night owl friends when it comes to social gatherings after work.
The general consensus is that you shouldn’t exercise too late as this could impair your ability to sleep. This does not necessarily apply to night owls though as you will be heading to bed much later than those early risers.
By exercising later in the day, you will miss the morning rush and you may experience an overall better workout. You may find yourself not performing to your maximum early in the morning, but during the early evening, you’ve been awake for most of the day and you’ll have the energy to perform at your best.
I hope after reading this you may be more comfortable with the fact you’re a night owl. Some people are genetically built to feel and work better during the evening hours, whereas others love an early rise.
The best thing to do is listen to what your body is telling you and act accordingly. Try not to push your body into being an early bird or night owl as this may not work.