6 Weird Ways Early Birds and Night Owls Differ

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl says a lot about you. Your inclinations to be either a morning person or an evening person are known as chronotypes. Morning people, also known as larks, tend to go to bed early and wake up early, reaching their peak performance early in the day. Evening people, on the other hand, also known as owls, are inclined to go to bed late and sleep late. Your chronotype can greatly impact your life, including personality, lifestyle and even your health. But while science can tell us a lot about human behavior, people vary greatly on an individual basis. So if consider yourself a night owl, it’s possible that not all of these chronotypes will apply to you. Read on to learn what your sleep schedule says about you and how you can use that to your advantage.

1. Their Doctor Charts

“Larks tend to have lower heart rates, half as much sleep apnea and lower body weights than night owls,” says Jo Lichten, registered dietitian and author of the book “Reboot: How to Power Up Your Energy, Focus, and Productivity.” Owls, on the other hand, often have lower levels of HDL cholesterol, are snorers and have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, says Pam Peeke, senior science advisor for Elements Behavioral Health. Owls are usually more anxious and depressed than larks, have a higher incidence of ADHD, consume greater amounts of caffeine and alcohol, and experience higher rates of addiction, Peeke says. “Morning people are more stress resilient and have a higher level of life satisfaction, with less substance abuse.” Owls, she adds, can stay better focused throughout the day, however, while a lark’s attention wanes by mid-afternoon.

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2. Their Eating Habits

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“Larks typically eat breakfast sooner after waking than owls, who tend to like to consume late-night meals,” says nutrition scientist Pam Peeke. “After 8 p.m., owls consume twice as many calories as larks,” she says. “But these meals may not be as satisfying or filling because the hormone leptin is typically at its lowest level in the evening, decreasing the sense of satiety.” As a result, it’s easier for owls to overeat, which can lead to issues with obesity and weight management. Further, because owls often stay up late yet must rise early for work, they are more likely to be sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation, Peeke says, can lead to dysregulation of leptin and ghrelin, the appetite and hunger hormones, resulting in the overeating of carbohydrate-rich foods, especially refined sugar.

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3. Their Social Personalities

Larks are more inclined than owls to stick to a plan and achieve it, says Scott Weiss, owner and clinical director of Bodhizone for Human Performance & Wellness. “These types tend to have less depression and less disruption of focus.” Larks also often have more self-control and a better ability to delay gratification. On the other hand, “owls tend to be fun folks,” says nutrition scientist Pam Peeke, “more impulsive, outgoing and risk takers.” Owls also tend to be more creative. A study in the journal Learning and Individual Differences showed owls to be positively related to cognitive ability and negatively related to academic achievement, while larks were negatively related to cognitive ability and positively related to academic indicators.

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4. Their Career Paths

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Larks seem inclined toward more conventional lifestyles, while night owls often gravitate toward the arts and entrepreneurial endeavors, says Ben Michaelis, clinical psychologist and author of “Your Next Big Thing.” “I’ve definitely seen a pattern with people getting more creative inspiration at night,” he says. Physician and educator Nzinga Harrison suggests that in the corporate world odds are stacked in favor of larks. “If an individual is a night owl, but working in corporate America where early meetings and future-orientation are the rule,” she says, “job performance can suffer [and] work relationships can be fraught with difficulty,” bringing on low self-esteem and a general unhappiness with life. Conversely, “if an individual is a lark, but trying to adapt to a present-oriented, risk-taking, late-night lifestyle, they may disproportionately suffer from fatigue, exhaustion and difficulty keeping their thoughts straight -- with the self-esteem effects and general unhappiness that can develop as a result,” Harrison says.

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5. Their DNA

While studies are continuing, some “research is showing that the lark and owl personalities are actually coded in our DNA,” says physician and educator Nzinga Harrison. The Period3 gene, or PER3, seems to play a significant role in determining who is genetically a lark or owl. The PER3 gene can have either four or five repeats of the gene sequence. “Each of your genes, except the X and Y chromosome, is paired,” she says. About 10 percent of people have two copies of the 5-repeat, or PER3(5/5), meaning they’re more inclined to be a morning person. While about 50 percent of people have two copies of the 4-repeat gene, or PER3(4/4), which tends to indicate a preference for later nights. The remaining 60 percent are mixed.

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6. Their Body Clock Over Time

While the preference one has for waking early or late appears to be linked to genetic markers, the situation is not quite that simple, says David Greuner, surgical director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. “Your circadian rhythm -- or your body’s clock -- sets your cycle for the day and typically does change throughout life.” In general, he explains, children are early risers. “As we reach teenage years, the vast majority of individuals switch to become later risers and more active later at night. These sleep patterns may or may not persist into middle age.” Our peak owl years are 20 to 21 in men and 19 in women, says nutrition scientist Pam Peeke. “As we age and sex hormones decline, men and women become more like larks.”

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Don’t Try to Fight It

With your DNA and time of life factoring into your preference for mornings or evenings, it can be a challenge to make changes. “While individuals can successfully shift their sleep schedule about an hour in either direction without too much consequence,” says physician and educator Nzinga Harrison, “shifting more than an hour can be fraught with difficulty most often evident in irritability and impaired cognitive functioning.” Clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis agrees that changing a sleep schedule can be difficult. “So rather than forcing yourself through multiple alarm clocks and Rube Goldberg-like devices,” he says, “try to adapt your lifestyle to your sleep cycle. For example, one prominent business leader I know doesn’t schedule any of her talks or meetings before 10 a.m.”

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What Larks Can Learn From Owls

While neither chronotype is better than the other, larks might benefit from taking a few notes from owls. “Free your mind,” advises physician and educator Nzinga Harrison. “Let your hair down. Be mindful and enjoy this moment right now, rather than being tethered by thoughts of future implications.” Focusing too much on the future often leads to anxiety, which can make it difficult to sleep, Harrison says, adding that sleep deprivation makes everything much worse for larks. “A practical way to intentionally focus on the present is to engage in mindfulness activities,“ she says. Mindfulness -- most often described as a state of active, nonjudgmental attention on the present moment and one’s current thoughts and feelings -- has long been believed to promote well-being.

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What Owls Can Learn From Larks

Owls could learn a few things from larks too. “Being carefree and living in the present is great,” says physician and educator Nzinga Harrison, “but it needs to be balanced with thinking about the future.” Harrison suggests a practical way to intentionally focus on the future: an exercise called “playing the tape to the end.” When an owl gets an impulse to take a risk, he should think about as many possible outcomes of the action as he can, Harrison says. “This creates a space between thoughts and behavior in which the owl can make a purposeful decision rather than being prey to their impulses.”

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What Do YOU Think?

Are you more of an owl or a lark? Has that changed over time? Do you feel forced to live an imposed schedule that doesn’t quite fit your chronotype? How does your evening or morning preference affect your relationships? Do you and your partner have clashing chronotypes? How do the two of you deal with it? Share your suggestions and questions with the community in the comments section below.

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