From Early Bird to Night Owl

early bird to night owl
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Do you know what type of bird you are?

Most people don’t. They work the typical 9 to 5 without considering when they are most productive.

As biohackers, that is not okay. We want to work smart and play hard with maximum results.

A biohacker’s goal is to pinpoint times when creativity flows and focus is dead on.

The catch is–everyone is different. Being a night owl or an early bird depends on personal preference… at least somewhat.

This is makes sense, right? If you prefer working at a certain time of the day, then work at that time! After all, studies may say one thing, but the defining factor is how you feel and when you produce.

However…your optimal productive time is often associated with your genetics.

According to Lamberus Klei of Carnegie Mellon and Patrick Rietz of the University of Pittsburgh, your sleep preferences are genetic.(1) In 2008, studies at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry demonstrated sleep-time preferences are often inherited, and subsequent data indicates that 50% of sleep-time choices are dictated by genetic factors.(3)

However, other studies contradict these results. Many scientists interpret productivity, mood, and alertness in early birds and night owls in different ways. This post is to help you figure out which time is most productive for you.

If you’re like most productive people, you’ll want to upgrade how you work so you have time for other important things in life! Here are the studies:

The Early Bird

  • Scientists from the University of Bologna infer that early birds are more conscientious people.
  • A 2008 study by psychologist Marina Giamnietro et al. indicates evening-people tend to be less reliable, less emotionally stable and more apt to suffer from depression, addictions and eating disorders.(1)  (From a personal perspective, “doh!”)
  • The American Psychologist Association agrees that ‘morningness’ is associated with greater positive emotions in all age groups.(6) Measuring happiness is subjective, but it does show ‘morningness’  is associated with positive emotions.
  • Published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Christopher Randler, a professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany reported that early birds are more proactive than evening people, and so they do well in business. “They tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They’re proactive,” he says.(6)

The studies that say evening types are less reliable and stable, but that could be the result of night owls trying to fit the early bird way of life!

Let’s see what the night owls have to say about that.

The Night Owl

  • Research by Satoshi Kanazawa et al. at the London School of Economics discovered significant differences in sleep preferences, and found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be night owls. They found an evolutionary shift from being active in the day towards nightly pursuits and that those individuals who preferred to stay up late demonstrated “a higher level of cognitive complexity.”(2)
  • Researchers from Belgium and Switzerland studying sleep habits found that early risers needed more rest than their nocturnal counterparts and didn’t focus as well later in the day as those who slept in.(2)
  • Functional MRI studies were used to judge homeostatic sleep pressure- the body’s need for sleep- in night owls and early birds. The morning birds woke up between 4 and 5:30 a.m and went to bed by 9 p.m. The night owls went to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and rose at noon.
  • In the night owls, increased activity was seen in two parts of the brain at 10.5 hours that are involved in regulating the circadian signal. Essentially, the circadian signal was winning out over the pressure to sleep.
  • For the early birds, on the other hand, “the sleep pressure prevents the expression of the circadian signal,” so those individuals were less able to keep their attention focused, says study coauthor Philippe Peigneux. The study is the first to show that circadian rhythms and sleep pressure interact to govern behavior.(4)
  • The early birds also felt sleepier and didn’t react as quickly during tasks. Researchers say early birds could be more sensitive to sleep pressure than night owls. (5)

Which Bird Are You?

While choosing your time of productivity, it is important to remember that your sleep also plays a big role. If you lack GOOD sleep, then you will not perform ideally.

Since I have made almost every possible mistake when it comes to hacking sleep, I’ve documented the most effective methods for sleeping better in less time. Here they are.

As a bird, I am a night owl. I prefer getting work done at night.

In combination with the Bulletproof Diet, and being a night owl, I definitely feel less sleep pressure than my early bird friends. It helps that I’ve also got several biohacking toys that let me get the most out of my sleep when I really need it. Knowing my ideal times for focus allows me to prioritize work and play, go until the wee hours of the morning and still feel refreshed when I wake up in the morning.

That said, I spent a year rising at 5am to do an hour of meditation every morning, and I found it worked for me too. I was rested and productive, but I went to bed earlier (between 11 and 1:00am). An hour of meditation can replace two hours of sleep, and you can function as a morning person even if it’s not your natural state.

There is an awesome article at FastCompany.com that gives you insight on how top executives get their work done at night too. It shows you how they have narrow focus, avoid clutter, boost creativity, and think big as the midnight oil burns. It may also help that the early birds are all asleep!

For you biohackers, choose what works best for you. Look at your family history, your work setting, your home setting, and how you feel at these times. And experiment! Hack your body so you can optimize your work at the time you want.

Using Bulletproof Coffee at times when you are not used to working will allow you to experiment with your BEST productivity time. The studies show there are benefits to both sides, and it is your job as a biohacker to see what suits you best.

How have you figured out what kind of bird you are? Got any tips for working with birds of the opposite feather? If you have any questions, share them in the comments below.

References:

Click to read the complete list of references.

  1. Alison, Robert. “Smart People SLEEP LATE.” Winnipeg Free Press. N.p., n.d. Web. Sept. 2012. <http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/smart-people-sleep-late-82486792.html>.
  2.  Dishman, Lydia. “What Successful Night Owls Get Done Before Bed.” Fast Company. N.p., n.d. Web. Sept. 2012. <http://www.fastcompany.com/3000732/what-successful-night-owls-get-done-bed>.
  3. Mindfulness and mind-wandering: Finding convergence through opposing constructs. Mrazek, Michael D.; Smallwood, Jonathan; Schooler, Jonathan W. Emotion American Psychological Association Jun 1, 2012
  4. Thompson, Andrea. “Night Owls Stay Alert Longer than Early Birds.” LiveScience.com. N.p., n.d. Web. Sept. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/7723-night-owls-stay-alert-longer-early-birds.html>.
  5. “Morning Birds Buckle Under Sleep Pressure – Science News.” Morning Birds Buckle Under Sleep Pressure – Science News. N.p., n.d. Web. Sept. 2012. <http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/43198/title/Morning_birds_buckle_under_sleep_pressure>.
  6. Biss RK, Hasher L. Happy as a lark: morning-type younger and older adults are higher in positive affect.Emotion. 2012 Jun;12(3):437-41. Epub 2012 Feb 6. PubMed PMID: 22309732; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3399900.
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By Dave Asprey

  • tlk616

    We are humans and not owls, birds, or bats. We function best when being productive in the DAY TIME. If it weren’t so, the statistics on unhealthy attributes by those who work the night shift wouldn’t be so obvious.

    • Phil Tomlinson

      But nature isn’t perfect, and for some of us our best hours are at an inconvenient time, biologically speaking. What is best for us doesn’t change when I and others feel at our peak.

  • James

    Dave great article. I have a question. I know you where orange tinted glasses in the evening to reduce the blue light. What brand do you recommend?

  • I have to disagree with that, tlk616. While there surely are people who function best in the day, it’s dangerous to paint all of humanity with a single brush.

    The biggest problem with all those statistics is the lack of standardization of expectations. Do early birds fare better in typical classroom settings? Of course they do! But I suspect if one were to construct a school that functioned as any full-time institution, but shifted their schedules by twelve hours (or some other arbitrary amount), the early birds would suffer. They would be upset at having to force themselves to stay up late to go to their classes, being unable to sleep adequately when the sun is up, having difficulty scheduling their social lives… oh look, all the problems that night owls complain about right now!

    If one could set up an institution with a day shift and a night shift, and allowed people to pick, some better statistics might arise. It’s unfair to judge a night owl by any criteria except the expectations they impose on themselves and each other. In a day-centric society, it is almost automatic to assume they have a problem and just need to change, but perhaps a level of flexibility would unlock their true potential.

    • Big Mike

      Dan, your comment was as useful to me as the article. Cheers both.

    • Patrick Giyan

      Sorry to necro the thread, but I feel the need to add something. I am a text-book night owl, yet I earned a 4.0 nearly every semester in college. I knew better than to take morning classes, for many of the mentioned reasons that were both stated by you and by Dr.Asprey, so almost all of my classes were from five to nine PM or online.

      I also work second shift these days, which is a benefit for the company because I’m running at 100% from about six pm till Midnight, while most of the second shifters seem to peter-out at about five o’clock. The detriment for me, is that by living in a small town, I don’t have the ability to entertain any quality of life and my own pursuits outside of work by being a second shifter – but that’s another issue for another thread. :/

  • You have some guts for citing Satoshi Kanazawa!

    • Big Mike

      I had to Google the name to get what you mean, haha.

  • Reka

    Sure, early birds have more energy, they are more proactive. anticipate problems and feel happier… in the morning! Guess what the results would have been if they tested them in the afternoon. Of course they are getting better grades, come on, school starts early in the morning and ends early afternoon. Night owls don’t get a chance to wake up… I used to suffer a lot from this until I got used to get up early. I was irritable, found it hard to face challenges, and often felt blue, but only because I almost never felt fully alert. Thank God I have the energy now… but I believe many of those studies are biased.

    • Dave Asprey

      Great point!

      Sent from an iphone. That means it’s spelled wrong…and I’m probably lost. You understand… -Dave

  • I’m definitely a night owl. I struggled in elementary, jr. high, and high school because of this. Being late all the time, falling asleep in class, feeling sick and throwing up in the mornings. I get depressed when the sun is on the east side of the sky. Even if I do somehow get my sleep schedule to match what is expected of a person, I get depressed and I go back to what feels best very easily, which is being asleep from 5-noon. I’ve always done well in school otherwise, except when I’m absent because I couldn’t wake up. Now that I have control over when I go to school, it not even a problem! It’s lovely, really. I no longer have many problems associated with me being a night owl. That is until I get out of college are start searching for a job that will be appropriate for me -.- That’ll be a task since you can’t exactly be choosy.

  • Ethan

    Found this by chance. As an early bird surrounded by late owls at work, I have to agree that I have seen both types at work :D.

    Whether or not one can assign certain traits to one type or the other I think it is questionable because there is a lot of subjectivity on the matter. Even the very notion of what a smart person is is very subjective. Every year tens of thousands graduate from out best universities but very few of those will make it big in a “Bill Gates” or “Einstein” sense. Richard Feynman allegedly had an IQ of only 125 yet he was considered one of the best physicists of the XX-th century.

    With that said, yes, there are early birds and there are late owls. And boy, I have a tough time understanding late owls :D.

  • jaochim

    Not getting anything done the whole day, just rolling around; not feeling motivated, not feeling inspirated. Around 21:00pm, without even thinking about it, picking up the computer and starts doing what i was supposed to do the whole day. 6 hours later, starting to feel finished with todays to-do. 03:00am stumbles upon this article before going to sleep.

    I’ve been like this since I was a teenager. My dad is the same.

    If you are a night owl, you just know it.

    (And you do not want to talk to me early mornings)

  • Phil Tomlinson

    I start every work day sluggish as all hell, and by the end of the day I’m racing through my work like a bat out of hell. This falls on entirely deaf ears, though, as I am asked every single day why my hours are down, despite me pointing out that I end each day well ahead. My team leader just says “I have to ask this”. It’s ridiculous.

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