Night Owls Versus Early Birds: Where Do You Stand?

by Tom Ewer 5 Minutes

NightOwlEarlyBirdNow that you set your own schedule, you’ve likely noticed that you tend to favor either your “morningness” (if you’re an Early Bird/Lark) or your “eveningness” (if you’re a Night Owl). In fact it makes perfect sense that we would cater to our early or late-rising habits now that we’ve got full control over how we run our businesses. And, I’d even go so far as to recommend it. But I’ll get into that later.

The Early Bird versus Night Owl debate is an old one. The Early Bird has been lauded for centuries. After all, they “get the worm” and are “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” But do they really have it better? After all, “the second mouse gets the cheese.” And who wouldn’t favor a late night cheese over an early morning helping of worm?

Personally, I’m an early(ish) riser. But I’ll put my bias aside in the name of accurate research. You can thank me later.

Without further ado, let’s see who really has it good: night owls or early birds!

Pros and Cons of Being a Night Owl

Pro: Night Owls are More Intelligent

Ouch. As a morning person (and, I’d like to think, fairly intelligent human being), this was tough to read. However, there has been extensive research done — time and time again — on the intelligence of late-risers. And, well, let’s just say that the correlation between (night) owls and wisdom isn’t without reason.

“More intelligent individuals are more likely to be nocturnal than less intelligent individuals,” states one study. Whilst another study concurs, delving into deeper details: “Those with a childhood IQ of less than 75 (‘very dull’) go to bed around 23:41 on weeknights in early adulthood, whereas those with a childhood IQ of over 125 (‘very bright’) go to bed around 00:29.”

Some even went so far as to say night owls are more highly-evolved!

Con: Night Owls are More Depressed

Night owls tend to be prone to a host of different health and mood disorders, including just a general sense of mental instability; however, depression was by far the most common shared trait next to obesity. This was mainly due to a phenomenon labeled “social jetlag.” The actual definition is a bit complex, but, at its core, social jetlag is what happens when your biological needs (waking up and going to bed late) don’t match with societal norms.

In other words, being a night owl in an early bird world can and likely will get you down.

Pro: Night Owls Have More Stamina

No, not “that” way. (Though, actually, night owls do have more sex). I’m talking about “stamina” in terms of overall focus. Research has shown that night owls can remain focused on tasks at hand longer and better than their morning lark counterparts.

Whilst early birds “buckle under sleep pressure,” night owls continue to stay alert long into the night. When it comes to tasks requiring sustained attention, night owls reign supreme.

Con: Night Owls Struggle with Non-Work Activities

Whilst freelancing night owls enjoy the quiet hours of darkened solitude that allow them to do their work with relative ease, they’re not so lucky when it comes to non-work activities. After all, how many grocery stores are open 24 hours a day? And what if your family and friends aren’t on the same “nights only” schedule that you are?

Night owls either have to burn the candle at both ends — attempting to squeeze in non-work activities during the daylight and staying up late to work — or do without. Night owls often suffer from loneliness and self-imposed isolation, adding to their risk of depression.

Pro: Night Owls are Generally More Productive

Though both night owls and early birds perform similarly toward the beginning of their work days, early birds tire out more quickly — leaving them less productive overall. (Note for my fellow morning larks: Make sure you’re maximizing your time during your waking hours!).

Not only do night owls sleep later in the day, they need less sleep overall. They also have the advantage of a sudden “burst” of energy once they hit their rhythm later on in in the night.

Pros and Cons of Being an Early Bird

Pro: Life Takes Place in the Day

Whilst night owls may be more intelligent, early birds are the ones who get better grades. Why? Because school — from kindergarten to college — takes place during the day, when night owls are sluggish both of body and mind. A 2008 study showed that early birds scored a full GPA point higher than their late-rising counterparts. This gave early birds an advantage not only when it came to furthering their education, but when it came time to choose a career.

Speaking of careers: night owls who aren’t freelancers are basically screwed. Whilst not all jobs take place during the hours of nine-to-five, most “normal” career options still vastly prefer daylight hours. This gives early birds a much better shot at catching the success “worm.”

Socializing also comes more easily for morning larks. Children, despite whether or not they would “prefer” to stay up late, are typically on a daytime schedule due to school. This means that, in order to spend time with your family, you’ll need to be awake during the daylight hours. (Not to say that night owls don’t make excellent parents! It’s just much more difficult).

Con: Early Birds Get No Sudden Burst of Energy

Whilst night owls wake up “fine” and gradually get better as the night progresses — with a sudden burst of energy during their peak hours — morning larks start out at their optimum capacity and gradually get worse. If you’ve ever woken up full of pep but thought “it’s all downhill from here,” you weren’t far off.

Throughout the day, sleep pressure begins to attack morning birds’ senses. As your initial wakefulness wanes, so does your ability to perform.

Pro: Early Birds are More Proactive

As one study stated: “Morning people anticipate problems and try to minimize them… They’re proactive. A number of studies have linked this trait, pro-activity, with better job performance, greater career success, and higher wages.”

Morning larks are more likely to set goals and make plans, enabling them to anticipate problems and eliminate them before they happen. In other words, they may not have that sudden burst of energy, but they know how to efficiently use the energy they do have.

Con: Early Birds Need More Sleep

Early birds need sleep. Really need it. Whilst the sleep they get tends to be better than what night owl’s receive, if they don’t get enough, their tails noticeably drag.

This makes early birds more likely to indulge in one of my favorite things: naps.

Pro: Early Birds are Healthier Overall

I may have been nicknamed “Cheeseburger” as a kid, but my early-rising tendencies (as well as a sudden growth spurt…) may have saved the day. You see, early birds are much more likely to exercise!

Whilst night owls are prone to depression, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease; early birds are typically the picture of good health. In other words, even though we didn’t snag “wise,” we’ve definitely got “healthy” under our belts. And, for non-freelancers, a better shot at “wealthy.” Two out of three ain’t bad.

So Who Won?

I’m going to call this one a draw. Or, if you prefer optimism: we’re all winners here!

We each have built-in advantage and disadvantages. Yes, “built-in.” More and more researchers are coming to the conclusion that our sleep habits are ruled by our genetics.

Whilst adjustments can be made if you’re up to the challenge, the more drastically you favor (by genetics or otherwise!) morningness or eveningness, the harder it will be — and the more slight the overall change. One researcher speculated that, if you’re a die hard early bird or night owl, you’ll only be able to adjust your schedule by about one hour in either direction. Worth it? Probably not…

No matter whether you rise with the sun or set with it, learn to maximize your time.

Which side are you on? Are you an early bird? A night owl? Or something in-between? Tell us in the comments!

Image by Voltphoto and aljabak.

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.