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Early Birds & Night Owls – What's The Difference?

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Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Early bird and night owl

9 April 2024 5 min read

Some people wake up groggy and completely tired in the morning, while others have no problem waking up at the break of dawn. On the other hand, you might find yourself barely awake late at night, while others can withstand staying awake almost all night playing games, watching shows or going to a party. Have you wondered why is that? Does the early bird really get the worm? Or does that depend solely on your lifestyle? Here we are going to talk about the benefits and downsides of both early birds and night owls.

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Chances are, you already know. You can determine that by simply looking at your productivity levels during the day. If you don’t feel motivated, energetic, have difficulties waking up early and going earlier to bed, then chances are you’re a night owl. Night owls have peak creativity in the afternoon. Early birds on the other hand, get up more easily and can work from the very start – effectively. However, afternoon is where the spike goes down and many of those early birds start feeling less energized and might even take a late afternoon nap to get going.

early birds and night owls cartoon image

The science behind early birds and night owls

The chances of you being an early bird or a night owl are not only social and environmental – there are genetics in play, too. Many of our old ancestors had to keep watch over younglings, protecting the tribe from wild animals or attacks. This makes the descendants, or rather yet, us, more prone to feeling energy spikes as the sun goes down. It goes both ways – the main difference is of course, the time of the day that we feel most productive in.

Teenagers and adults

The most prevalent example of early birds vs. night owls can be seen with teenagers and adults. Teenagers are going through hormonal changes, growth, defining themselves as an individual and that can all contribute to them becoming night owls. It doesn’t help that they stay up late in wee hours playing games, watching shows, texting, or going out with friends. However, that doesn’t mean that all teenagers are going to stay night owls as they grow up.

The same goes for adults – many of us have 9-to-5 jobs and practically have no choice but to become early birds. However, you may notice that many adults perform wonderfully at jobs in the morning, while others excel after the lunch break. There is a stigma to night owls underperforming, but the truth is they can work as efficiently as early birds – just at a different time.

an image of a girl working on a computer at night

Social jetlag

The social jetlag is a term created by researchers who conducted experiments with early birds and night owl. It stems from the fact that night owls are put to a disadvantage because the modern society performs most of all of their social and work-related activities in a span from 9am to 5pm. Many night owls experience sleep deprivation in order to conform to the expectation of performing those obligation in that time span. This is especially hard, because this is the time that night owls are the least productive. Having that in mind, it’s not surprising that students who are night owls have lower grades.

Truths and myths about early birds and night owls

Myth: Early birds are smarter, healthier and more productive

As we’ve mentioned, there are no differences in performance abilities in both types. Although some might find it beneficial to be productive in the conservative work hours, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad that someone is performing better after dark. As for smarts and health – research concluded that there are also no differences between early birds and night owls.

Truth: Night owls are more intelligent

On average, there is a very slight lean towards night owls when it comes to problem-solving and cognitive abilities. This fact is directly connected with genetics. Our ancestors had to be assertive, dominant and ready to face danger, making their reaction time shorter and more efficient. So, if there is an emergency, you can bet that a night owl will react the fastest.

youngesters watching tv at night

Truth: Early birds are overall happier

This is due to the fact that night owls suffer from aforementioned jet lag. Early birds tend to fall into the social norms and daytime schedules. Therefore, they tend to be more satisfied with the results they bring and feel more accomplished.

Myth: Night owls are reckless

While it might seem that they are more prone to risk-taking behaviours, that is not it. Night owls are simply more assertive and act out quickly. However, research discovered that night owls do smoke more and drink alcohol more often than morning birds.

a woman sitting on the edge of a rock

Myth: You can change your rhythm

This still hasn’t been proven. However, in case you need to prepare for a big job opportunity, or you need to work extra hard for that exam, you might need to work on creating a different sleep schedule. Although you can change your sleep schedule completely, it is not a guarantee that you’ll wake up feeling jolly every morning (or afternoon).

Who gets the worm?

There are no crucial differences to being either a night owl or an early bird. Both have their pros and cons, and the most important thing is to take care of your health. It doesn’t matter when you go to sleep, as long as you get enough of it. There is much to getting good rest than just falling asleep at the right time.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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