Morning People vs Night Owls: Is One Better Than the Other?

As someone who considers themselves absolutely not a morning person, it feels fair to say that morning people seem to have it easier. They're better suited to the eight-hour workday, and they're more likely to have a healthy circadian rhythm—which we know is an important factor in our overall health and wellbeing.

Night owls may find it difficult "switching on" in the morning, as though they're awake before they should be. (See also: sleep inertia.) They may find that as the day goes on and evening rolls around they'll start having one bright idea after the next and sudden bursts of energy that are hard to suppress (even if that energy is then expended on the couch streaming Netflix for way too many hours).

It's a morning lark's world and us night owls are just struggling through it. And on top of the physical and behavioural differences between the two, morning people are also assigned a sense of virtue not afforded to night owls.

When a night owl has been awake since early morning then they might feel mentally more stimulated at night, but physiologically they really should be getting some sleep, ASAP. Similarly, even if a morning person stays up late they're probably going to wake up naturally at their normal time, despite not having gotten enough sleep. Sounds a bit annoying, especially if it seems like you've got a birthday drinks or engagement party or wedding every single weekend, but if you can avoid making a habit of late nights then you're pretty much golden.

Before we look at the pros and cons of life as a morning person and as a night owl, let's consider the factors at play.

Why are you like this?

Everyone has their own natural internal clock that determines when we're most alert and when we're most sleepy. We can train ourselves to adopt different sleeping rhythms, sure, but for some people it just won't work. The research says that age, gender and genetics all work together to determine whether we're night owls or morning people. According to a 2016 study by genomics company 23andMe, older people and women more likely to identify as morning people in contrast to younger people and men.

Meanwhile, stats collected by the Sleep Cycle mobile app in 2015 people found that people in New Zealand, Netherlands, Finland, UK and Australia were found to sleep the most each night. Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Philippines and Kuwait were among the countries whose people slept the least.

If you want to become more of a morning person, the best thing you can do is increase your exposure to sunlight. Put simply, daylight helps us feel alert while darkness prompts the body to produce hormones that make us sleepy.

Now to the pros and cons. (Apologies in advance if you sense some hostility towards morning people, it's not personal.)

Morning people

Pros

  • More likely to start the day in a good mood
  • More likely to have precious alone time before anyone else wakes up
  • More likely to arrive to work, school or other social engagements alert and with a full tank of energy
  • More likely to spend more time planning, and therefore more likely to eat well and spend money carefully
  • More likely to spend time outdoors, and therefore more likely to get enough sunshine and have good circadian health
  • Steady release of energy throughout the day (rather than sudden bursts), and therefore more reliable
  • More likely to be healthier physically with a happier disposition

Cons

  • Highly annoying to night owls
  • Too tired for late-night shenanigans

Night owls

Pros

Cons

  • Often late in the morning (to work, school, too-early breakfast dates with morning people)
  • Often grumpy, confused, forgetful or disorganised (or all of the above) in the morning
  • Apparently don't live as long
  • More likely to be negatively affected by technology and screen addiction

If you feel that you're too intensely one or the other, the best you can do is to make adjustments to settle somewhere closer to the middle. Get a decent amount of sunlight, don't go to bed too late, time your meals to optimise your sleep, and don't beat yourself up too much if you're struggling to realign your body clock. Tomorrow is a new day.

Struggling to stay awake when your alarm sounds? You're likely experiencing sleep inertia—here's more.

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