For years we’ve been told that the early bird gets the worm, and I, the late sleeping freelancer, have had enough! As early as kindergarten I was having problems showing up bright-eyed and bushy tailed at a harrowing 9am.
For many of us non-morning-people, there comes an innate sense of guilt or feeling of being lazy or sans ambition. To all my 9am and later risers, I say, relax. Here are five fun facts about the differences between people who get up early and people who stay up late!
1. Later hours aren’t slacking. They’re genetic.
Human beings have been sleeping in rotations for as long as we’ve been around as a species. Having diversified natural sleep patterns within a given population helps protect it against the monsters that go bump in the night. And by monsters, I mean lions, tigers and bears. If all humans were programmed to sleep uniformly over the course of the same eight hours all a predator would need to do to kill us is wait until the middle of the night when all of us are relatively defenseless.
2. Early birds are Happier Overall…BUT…Owls tend to be more creative
I’m not going to argue with the studies that tell us larks are generally happier overall than owls. Morning people are, on a whole, more optimistic and less prone to depression or addiction than night owls. Fine. In defense of owls, we may not be as happy or stable, but we do tend to have slightly higher cognitive ability, we take more risks, and we are more creative. While larks have more white matter in their brain which helps them absorb serotonin and other feel-good juices in the brain, owls have more cortisol, which makes us better at dealing with immediate danger, such as, oh I don’t know, a midnight lion attack, perhaps.
3. You can't force it, and shifting your habits all the time is bad for you.
Because owls will never naturally be on a cycle where waking up early is intuitive, trying to do so will result in lower quality sleep, and you’ll still most likely feel out-of-it for most of the day. Those who shift their sleep often, or work split shifts or tend to have a drastically different wake up time on weekends than on week days (social jet lag) have a lower resting metabolism in their sleep, which could lead to 10-12lbs of weight gain in a year! That's not good. If your body naturally wants to sleep in, you can’t force it to want to wake up earlier. You can physically force it to wake up earlier, but doing so leads to less restful sleep over time.
4. Morning people poop out at parties. Night Owls feel the (circadian) rhythm of the night
People with longer circadian rhythms, like night owls, start our waking cycle later in the day and take significantly longer to wind down from wakefulness to asleep. One hour after waking, birds and larks perform cognitive tasks equally well, but ten hours after waking, owls gain a significant advantage. One’s circadian rhythm ebbs and flows throughout one’s life. When we are young, we are morning people, as teenagers we are not, and as adults, we can go either way—aka, no high school should start at 8am. That’s science. Start school later, and students perform better. Boom. Oh, and party like a night owl to avoid FOMO.
So, it isn’t that morning folks are better than non-morning folks. It’s more that we schedule too many things early in the morning. If half of meetings were at 11pm at night, I’d be a CEO! The ultimate solution, as with most things in life, is for us to give up on trying to be all the same. Flexible work hours, yes. Less throwing shade, more sunshine slash night lights for everyone, bring it on!