The Benefits and Pitfalls of Being a Night Owl or a Lark

Author: Kate Baggaley

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For many, being a night owl can feel like a huge drag. Those of us who favor a later bedtime expend a Herculean effort each morning on prizing our eyes open long before we're ready, and continue to feel foggy when we should be energized for the day ahead.

Scientists call this social jetlag: the mismatch between the body's clock and the one society runs on. And night owls are particularly vulnerable to it. But while the timing of our daily schedules seems to favor larks, there are actually advantages to both chronotypes.

On the one hand, morning people are more proactive, as well as more resilient and optimistic. They may also be less prone to health problems like insomnia, mood disorders and addiction. As students, they tend to have better grades than those with very late chronotypes.

Yet, while early birds may have better grades, night owls are more likely to do well on tests of working memory, processing speed and cognitive ability. They may also be more creative. Night owls are also better at staying alert for longer after they've been roused.

So what's a sleep-deprived night owl to do? Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do to change our sleep preferences, which are likely decided by our genetics. Scientists have found that our chronotypes are reflected in differences in brain structure. For example, gray matter density in some brain regions seems to be linked with morningness-eveningness. Studies have also found differences in the brain's white matter. However, it's less clear whether night owls and larks start out with these differences, or their lifestyles mold their brains differently.

But night owls (and many others) can benefit from maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, limiting screen time late at night and getting lots of sunlight in the morning. And if that's too much of a hassle, evening types can also just sit tight and wait to get older. Chronotype varies a bit across the lifetime, with kids tending to be early rising, teens and young adults staying up late, and those over 50 sliding back towards morningness.




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