There are two kinds of people in this world: people who delight in hearing birdsong first thing in the morning, and people who groan, and wish birds had a mute button.
Early birds, also called morning larks, fall into the first category. Most early risers enjoy waking up when the day is young and tend to fade quickly in the evening hours.
Night owls, on the other hand, tend to rise late and stay up late, since they find they’re most productive during the later hours of the day.
Michelle Worley, RN, director of clinical operations at Aeroflow Sleep, explains that the term “night owl” is inspired by the actual animal. The term describes people who have more energy at night and sleep into the day, like nocturnal owls.
The term early bird, says Worley, has its origins in a 17th-century proverb. You probably know the one: The early bird gets the worm.
So, are you an early bird or a night owl? Can your preferred sleeping patterns affect your health? Read on to get the details.
Early birds tend to:
- go to bed early
- wake up early
- feel their best as the day begins
- have less energy in the late afternoon and evening
- have a hard time staying awake past a certain hour
As a general rule, early birds find society more accommodating than night owls do. Early risers generally have an easier time adjusting to standard daytime schedules, which can make it easier to function at workplaces that operate during the day.
In fact, according to a 2012 research review, morning people report higher levels of positive emotions. It’s worth considering, though, that happiness and other positive emotions may come more easily when your sleep pattern allows you to easily nestle into society.
The flip side: Pursuing and maintaining relationships and other social connections might become somewhat more difficult if you have a hard time staying awake past 8 or 9 p.m. — unless you seek out other morning larks, that is.
Night owls tend to:
- stay up late
- enjoy sleeping in
- feel their best later in the day
- have more energy at night
- feel tired after waking up early
- have a hard time staying alert during the day
Being a night owl does have a few downsides. Since most of society is structured around a daytime schedule — like 9 to 5 workdays or daytime school and college classes — late risers might have a harder time holding a traditional job. Young night owls might even have trouble adjusting to a fixed school schedule.
Still, while early birds might get the worms, night owls aren’t always left bereft. A preference for the evening hours isn’t always a bad thing, in other words. Plenty of artists, writers, and creative professionals find they get their best work done as the world quietly sleeps around them.
At the end of the day, it matters most that you get the right amount of sleep to maintain good health.
Of course, chronotype doesn’t automatically translate to sleep duration, so sleeping for a longer period of time doesn’t necessarily make you a night owl.
Experts still have plenty to learn about sleep, and that includes sleep chronotypes like morningness and eveningness.
The study authors also found:
- evidence to suggest women seemed to prefer getting up early
- a potential link between morningness and the personality trait conscientiousness
The research review suggests that ambitious, highly motivated people are more likely to be active earlier in the day. Of course, your personality traits don’t necessarily cause your early rising. You could very well make a habit of rising early because that’s what society requires for success.
Study authors didn’t come to any conclusions as to whether physical activity levels can affect your chronotype, or vice versa.
The easiest way to figure out your sleep chronotype? Put your alarm clock away and experiment with when you naturally go to bed and wake up.
You might find it takes several days for your body to settle into its preferred pattern. Eventually, though, you’ll notice you go to bed and wake up at around the same general time.
- If you often don’t feel sleepy until well past midnight, you’re probably a night owl.
- If you usually find yourself yawning shortly after sunset and have trouble sleeping in (even when you want to), you’re probably a morning lark.
A 2012 research review suggested, though, that most people probably fall somewhere between the two chronotypes.
According to a 2021 research review on the genes that wind our body clocks, we may eventually have more control over our sleep patterns.
But for the moment, those interventions remain a distant dream, and no magic pill will make it easier for night owls to get out of bed in the morning.
Worley explains that changing your sleep pattern can make for a difficult transition, one that requires both changes in your typical sleep behaviors and patience as you make the switch.
If you want to adjust your sleep schedule, the key often lies in making changes in increments.
A few tips to consider
- Stick to the same sleep schedule, even on weekends and days off.
- Eat regular, balanced meals.
- Try a short nap if you feel sleepy in the late afternoon.
- Talk with a doctor or sleep specialist about trying melatonin to get to bed earlier.
- Experiment with light therapy.
- Improve your sleep hygiene.
- Recognize the ways technology can affect your sleep cycle.
- Enlist your housemates to help you stick to a sleep schedule.
Additionally, your sleep pattern can change as you age. As you enter middle age and older adulthood, you may find yourself becoming more of an early riser.
Quality sleep plays an essential role in physical and mental well-being, whether you love staying up until the wee hours of the night or thrive on early morning sunshine.
If you can’t seem to get enough restorative sleep, a doctor or sleep specialist can offer more guidance on possible causes and help you explore options for improving your sleep.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.