Being a night owl isn’t all bad
Today, larks have a distinct advantage because they run on society’s schedule. Owls, by contrast, abide only the laws of their own bodies. Still, owls do have a few advantages. Studies have found them to be smarter, more creative and more consistent in their work than larks.
One such study, in 2009, monitored larks and owls over two nights in a sleep lab. Researchers at the University of Liège in Belgium let the participants choose their own sleep and wake times, and required them to take a test when they first woke up, and a second one 10 hours later. On the first test, both groups performed roughly the same. But on the second, owls significantly outperformed larks, suggesting they were better equipped to maintain a baseline level of mental performance throughout the day.
Another study of more than 20,000 adolescents and teenagers found that those who reported a later sleep schedule were more intelligent and creative, on average, than those who went to bed early. The findings applied across a variety of demographic variables, including ethnicity, education and religion. However, while the study was broad, it relied on self-reporting as opposed to objective observation.
It’s not you, it’s society
Katherine Sharkey, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University, believes that going against the body’s natural tendencies may be the real culprit behind the health issues some owls experience.
“An owl’s internal body clock prevents him or her from falling asleep early enough to get enough sleep before they must wake to meet their obligations,” she said in an email. “I would speculate that if night owls were allowed to follow their preferred schedules, there would be fewer risks associated with being an owl.”
Daniel Gartenberg, a sleep coach who once gave a TED Talk on the benefits of deep sleep, agreed. “In my opinion, the problem isn’t when you sleep, but the natural misalignment in the sleep schedule of those who work a 9-to-5 job,” he said.
For owls, this is a bit of a problem. While their bodies might not be ready for sleep until the wee hours, society remains steadfast in its belief that earlier is better. “It’s these societal pressures that contribute to a growing number of sleep-deprived individuals,” Dr. Gartenberg said.