Early birds and night owls have innate differences based instinctual preference for morning or nighttime. If you are an early bird living in a household full of night owls (or vice versa), this may not come as much of a surprise. However, the differences might run deeper than you think!
Did you ever notice that most people are hardwired to prefer mornings or evenings? That some people are up with the roosters while others can’t go down before the late night TV shows are over?
Whether you are programmed to be wide-eyed at the crack of dawn or can sleep until noon is based on your chronotype. A chronotype is your genetic biological clock, controlling your body’s circadian rhythms. When researchers looked deeper into this notion, they found that our chronotype affects a whole lot more than how quickly we jump out of bed when the alarm goes off in the morning. It can affect your lifestyle, health, and wellbeing too.
Early Birds vs. Night Owls
Is it better to be a morning person or an evening person? Here’s what we know about early birds versus night owls:
Morning people make healthier food choices than nighttime people. They instinctively start off strong, eating healthier foods earlier in the day and then staying on course throughout the day. Evening types tend to eat more sugar and less protein overall. And in the evenings, they consume less healthy diets (more sugar, fat, and saturated fatty acids) than morning people.
One point for the early birds.
Can your chronotype make your more or less promiscuous? It sure looks that way. Night owls of both genders are more likely to either be single or in short-term romantic relationships than early birds. Additionally, male night owls report twice as many sexual partners than male early birds.
We’ll call this one a tie, depending on your preference. I won’t judge.
Nine o’clock seems to be the peak time for both morning and evening people. Morning people’s brains are the most excitable at nine o’clock in the morning and slowly decrease through the day. The exact opposite is true for evening people, whose brains are most excitable at nine o’clock in the evening.
This one is even too. The early birds are still up by one.
Not surprisingly, early risers work less efficiently at night than night owls do. By nighttime, they’re tired! They might still react quickly, but morning people don’t have the same level of focus, and tend to make more mistakes in the evenings. Evening people, of course, put more time and focus into tasks done in the evening when they’re at their best – and complete those tasks more accurately.
However, there is no difference among morning people and evening people when the tests are given in the morning. And the night owls get their first point!
By the way, these findings led researchers to believe that the amount time spent awake negatively impacts the brain’s attention system.
A large study of Australian kids ages 9-16 found that early birds stay thinner and more physically active than their night owl peers, even though both groups get the same amount of overall sleep. In fact, the night owls are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese and almost twice as likely to be physically inactive as their early bird peers.
Score another one for the early birds.
Self-handicapping is a form of self-sabotage, whereby people place a self-imposed barrier in their own way, so they can blame the barrier rather than inability if they don’t achieve success. One would assume that people are more likely to self-sabotage when they are not at their peak time of day, but in reality the opposite is true. Morning people are more likely to find potential excuses when they’re at their peak (in the a.m.) than later in the day, while night people self-sabotage more in the evenings.
This one is a tie, folks.
Believe it or not, whether you peak in the morning or at night can affect your driving performance. Evening folks pay less attention when on the road during the daytime, particularly early in the mornings. Yet morning people drive relatively well both in the morning and the evening, showing more stability during their off-peak hours.
Score another one for the early birds – and maybe the coffee maker.
About 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia, and it turns out that most of them are evening people. Night owls report more symptoms related to insomnia, even when they’re able to catch up by sleeping later in the morning. This could be a seriously important finding, given that sleep can affect a person’s physical health, emotional wellbeing, productivity, and performance.
Sorry, night owls. I feel your pain, but the early birds get this point.
Can’t find the time to exercise regularly? You may just be a night owl.
Your chronotype is related to the amount of exercise you get as well as your attitude towards exercise. Night owls have more perceived barriers to exercise, and are more likely to claim that they don’t have enough time for exercise. (Yes, this is even the case among active individuals.)
Then again, no matter what time of day you feel most alive, it’s arguably more gratifying to get that workout done before your friends are even awake than after a long day of work when you would rather be relaxing on the sofa. This one goes to the early birds too.
That makes four more points for the morning people. So the early bird really does get the worm in the end, doesn’t it?
Want to learn more? Check out these great books:
Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg
Of course, the takeaway from all this is not which chronotype is better than the other. If you know that you operate best at a specific time of day, you can determine techniques for optimizing your peak hours while maximizing those off-peak hours. Whatever time you are most alert, be sure to use it wisely.
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