How to Thrive as a Night Owl

Night Owl

It’s the same old story. Everyone in your family heads to bed at a proper hour but you’re just coming alive. You might get your best ideas at midnight, so you just have to stay up to see what will happen. You may feel as though you can live your whole life in the wee hours of the morning while everyone else is snoozing. And when morning comes, you hide away under the covers. For you, nothing productive ever happens before noon. You, my friend, are a night owl.

Why are you more awake at night?

Partially driven by genetics, your tendency to be active in the morning or evening will have a big impact on when you are most alert, productive and creative, and on how you (and your significant other) sleep. You’ve heard the saying “the early bird gets the worm?” Well, the way you sleep has actually been broken down into bird terminology. Each bird relates to a different chronotype, which signifies a propensity for daytime or nighttime activity.

If you’re an owl (or night owl), you tend to enjoy sleeping in, are more active in the late afternoon, and find that you can be productive working late into the night.[1] A lark (or early bird) can often spring out of bed with or without an alarm clock, are more active in the morning, and hop in bed relatively early each night.[2] If you’re a hummingbird, you fit somewhere in-between and can have tendencies in either direction without being a full-fledged owl or lark.[3]  Like most things, these tendencies are not black and white, but more like a scale. A minority of people falls to one or the other extreme—they are either larks or owls—while most people fall somewhere in the middle as hummingbirds.

What if your life won’t let you be an owl?

If you really struggle to sync your body clock with the schedule of the world-at-large, you may fall to one extreme of the scale. One study, in an attempt to understand how types of people differ, asked a group of owl and lark participants to obey their body clocks, then observed their performance on reaction tests (a general measure of alertness) at 1.5- and 10.5-hours after waking up.[4] They found that reaction times were similar in both groups during the early session, but that night owls performed much better later in the day. Based on this research, it might seem that night owls have the upper hand, right?[5] Not quite. This was an artificial situation where participants were directed to obey their internal body clocks. In the real world, night owls are often at odds with most of society, in terms of schedules. Work, school, and other obligations start early in the day, and many night owls can find themselves consistently short on sleep if they keep their late-night habits.

How to switch around your late-night ways

For years, you may have functioned on less sleep, averaging anywhere from 4 to 6 hours a night, or have to set four alarm clocks to wake up each morning or maybe you just occasionally pull an all-nighter?[6] If you have the choice, try for a better way. Not getting enough sleep can accumulate a sleep debt that can be hard to repay. The importance of getting regular and sufficient amounts of sleep can be beneficial to your health and longevity.

Although you might be genetically hardwired to be a night owl, there are some choices we can make that can make a difference when you dealing with a chronotype out-of-sync with the early bird world.[7]

If you’re looking for a way to survive with your late night status, try putting effort into making more time for sleep by following these tips.

  • Try streamlining your morning routine so you can sleep in as long as possible.
  • Do your best to make sleep sacred by following a pre-bedtime routine.[8]
  • Get some sunshine first thing in the morning and throughout the day, and limit electronic use and artificial light before bedtime to help keep your circadian rhythm in balance, and keep you on a healthy sleep-wake cycle.[9]
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Work backward by at least eight hours from the time you need to wake up and set a reminder to start shutting down and getting ready for bed at that time.

Where do you fall? Are you a night owl or an early riser? By making simple changes to your sleep habits you can help improve your performance and learn to thrive as a creature of the night.

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