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From Early Bird to Night Owl

By: Dave Asprey

From Early Bird to Night Owl

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:

  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.