Everyone knows that getting enough sleep at night affects us greatly during the day. But does it really matter when we are getting those precious hours of sleep? Does it make a difference if we sleep from 10pm-6am or from 2am-10am? Well, science shows that it just might!
When it comes to sleeping and waking habits among humans, there exists a strong distinction between those who identify as a “morning person” and those who would categorize themselves a “night owl”. While there are some questions about whether this is nature or nurture, based on personality or simply on circumstances, most people fall into one camp or the other. This is referred to as a chronotype.
While some people fall very far on the spectrum, others may fall in the middle but still probably have tendencies that lean one way or the other. Early risers often think they live the right way while late risers tend to think their way is best. So which one is better?
The Difference Between Early Risers and Late Risers
Although society might stigmatize late sleepers as lazy or less responsible, the science behind whether a person gets up early or stays up late is much more complicated than that. In fact, research has now shown that early risers and late risers actually have different brain structures which impacts their sleep patterns. Some research has also linked genetic factors that may influence a person’s individual preferences for sleep and wake times.
In a study performed in a German University, it was discovered that people who identify as night owls were more likely to have diminished integrity of the white matter (fatty tissue) that facilitates nerve cell communication. The lack of integrity in white matter can also be related to disruption of cognitive function and possibly even depression. The question remains about what causes this but it may be related to the fact that night-owls have a tendency to be sleep deprived. Even so, this physical evidence is a good start into understanding that early risers and late risers are actually biologically different.
7 Differences Between Early Birds and Night Owls
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons related to being an early riser vs. late riser:
1. Late Sleepers Are Often More Creative
Research has shown that people who are evening-oriented may be more creative. No one can say exactly why, but some think it could be related to the non-conventional spirit of those who don’t conform to cultural norms. The unusual habits of night owl seems to help them find creative alternatives and solutions to problems.
2. Early Risers Are Often Healthier and Live Longer
In fact, science has shown that early risers may be almost 10% less likely to die a premature death than those who are naturally prone to waking later in the day. In an analysis study including more than 400,000 British people, people who were self-described ‘evening people’ were much more likely to die during the 6 ½ year duration of the study. This could be related to sleep deprivation that causes accidents in late risers and are avoided by early risers. From a health standpoint, early risers are 30% less likely to have diabetes, 22% less likely to suffer from respiratory problems, and 94% less likely to struggle with psychological problems.
3. Late Sleepers May Be Smarter
While late risers may be less likely to climb the corporate ladder, that doesn’t mean they’re dumb! In fact, some studies have shown that late risers tend to perform better on intelligence tests involving reading comprehension, mathematics, memory, and speed of processing.
4. Early Risers May Be More Successful and Driven
Getting that promotion and doing their work in the hours that fit in the world of economic commerce often means that early risers will be more proactive and “get the worm”. Many top CEOs and important heads of state are early risers. Of course, this is completely dependent on how success is measured.
5. Late Sleepers Tend Toward Bad Habits
Maybe it has to do with the connection of night life, but late risers are more likely to engage in negative activities, such as smoking, heavy drinking of alcohol, less healthy eating, and drug abuse. The general idea of a night owl as a partier may hold some truth. These habits may also be connected to depression and other psychological problems that can sometimes be linked with late risers. But these things can also be linked with intelligence and creativity, so it is a trade-off.
6. Early Birds Wake Up Happier
While late risers are more likely to hit the snooze button and wake up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed, early risers often hop out of bed with a spring in their step. Late risers will find their peak time of day sometime in the mid-afternoon—about the time that early risers are beginning to fade. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but if you live with a partner who is the opposite of you, you may need to make some adjustments!
7. Late Sleepers are Affected by Age
An important factor to note is the age difference among early and late risers. Older teenagers are especially prone to staying up late at night and sleeping late into the morning. This then begins wane after the age of 20, when some biological changes happen and also people begin acclimating to the social constraints of society. And as people grow into older retirement age, their bodies need less sleep and they tend to wake up earlier in the morning.
When it comes to comparing early risers vs. late risers, as it turns out there is really no way to say that one is right and the other is wrong. One tendency or the other might fit better within certain professions or certain cultures, but each comes with its own set of pros and cons. And many people don’t fall into the extremes but fit more into the middle—which is okay too. For late sleepers who need to get up earlier, there are certain habits and disciplines that may help with getting better sleep and fitting in. All in all, however, you can’t change your genes and brain biology! So try to work with what you have.