15 Aralık 2019 Pazar

Night Owls and Early Birds: Surviving in the World of Morning People

What can you tell about a person by looking at how many times they hit the snooze button on their alarm clock before they finally wake up? If you are setting your alarm with such short intervals to 07:00, 07:03 and 07:07 in the morning, thinking “any minute counts,” you are not alone. Or, interestingly, if you are the first one to rise when you sleep over at a friend’s, and find yourself looking for things to do, even though it is a Sunday, you are not alone, either.
Don’t worry, it happens to us, too.
Our circadian rhythm, which is our inner body clock, determines when we are asleep and when we are alert; and it is claimed that circadian rhythm is encoded in our DNA just like eye colour or height; that is, we are born with a certain “chronotype.” [1]
German psychiatrist Emil Kreapelin, who carried out extensive research into sleep at the turn of the 20th century, noticed that his patients had adopted two distinct sleep patterns, which led him to describe the concept of chronotype, representing the natural tendency dictating when a person is energetic or sleepy throughout the day. Some of Kreapelin’s patients preferred to go to bed early and rise early even when they did not have to do so, while others chose to stay up late and wake up late the following morning in order to be more productive. Consequently, years of clinical research, psychological experiments and sleep studies conducted by Kreapelin and his team revealed that there are actually two separate worlds within the same society : one populated by people with “night owl” chronotype and the other populated by “morning person” chronotype. [2]
Although chronotype is a physiological characteristic, it can change; in fact, chronotypes evolve over a person’s life cycle. For instance, teenagers are dominantly evening people, while 30–50-year-old individuals are evenly distributed between morning and evening people. Those over 50, on the other hand, are generally early risers. [3]
Furthermore, several sleep studies carried out in recent years have claimed that chronotypes are not only limited to these two opposite ends of the spectrum as “morning” and “evening” people, and that there are in-between chronotypes as well. For instance, “afternooners” and “nappers” are two new chronotypes that are being discussed in the literature.
While “afternooners” have the highest level of sleepiness when they wake up early, they become completely alert at around 11:00 and remain so until 17:00, and become sleepy afterwards.
“Nappers,” on the other hand, wake up early. They are alert upon rising and continue to be so until about 11:00. However, they experience a serious drop in energy in the following hours until 15:00. Afterwards, they have another period of alertness when they can be productive again, until 22:00. The study claims that if afternooners were to have a chance to have a quick nap in the late afternoon, their lives would be much easier. Similarly, if nappers were given a chance to get 10–15 minutes of shuteye around noon, they would be much more productive.[4] (Their words, not ours.)
However, “morning” and “evening” types, the ones in the two extreme ends of the spectrum, are affected the most as their different sleep patterns have either positive or negative implications in their social and professional lives. The clear-cut distinction of “night owls” and “early birds,” to which we have been accustomed for centuries still remain dominant in our generalizations.
Although being an early riser does not in itself mean you are truly efficient and have a stronger willpower, there are still widely accepted biases along those lines: you know, the early bird catches the worm, or nothing good ever happens after midnight.
A representation of a night owl trying to catch the worm.
The existential struggle of night owls in a world dominated by early risers is similar to being a foreigner in a different time zone. A study published in early 2019 may be regarded as the scientific ground for this analogy: a typical evening person regularly manifests clinical symptoms that are similar to jet-lag in a standard working day. Biologically speaking, connectivity remains low in the brain’s network except in ideal times. Therefore, night owls are at a great disadvantage in terms of demonstrating their full performance during a normal working day. [5] Expecting full performance in the early morning hours from an alienated night owl is like forcing a left-handed person to use their right hand.
We had previously discussed the value of good sleep in this article. In addition to the burden these individuals carry as they have to live with a misaligned biological timing, this condition represents a huge millstone hanging on the neck of the society in terms of lost efficiency. Problems caused by sleep disorders amount to 1%-3% lost GDP according to conservative estimates.[6]
In our age obsessed with efficiency, there are of course brands and employers who have woken up (pun intended) to this reality and have taken steps along these lines. A global pharmaceutical company, AbbVie of Denmark, is one of the prime examples. Ten years ago, the company initiated a program where employees undergo a thorough chronotype training so that they can analyse and design their work programs consistent with their individual chronotypes. Company meetings are held only at times when all employees are present at the office.
In the 10 years since the start of the program, employee satisfaction, which used to be around 39%, has reportedly reached almost 100%. Similarly, efficiency rose significantly as well.[7]
It is evident that the business world, even under ideal conditions, will take decades to undergo a complete transformation in terms of circadian rhythms. Therefore, we may ask the following question: Should night owls try and modify their circadian rhythms as much as they can in order to become morning people? This is a matter that has been debated since the concept of chronotypes was first proposed. However, so far no consensus has been reached. [8] Although ultimately it is your own decision, specialist have a couple of suggestions for evening people who want to survive in the morning people’s world by manipulating their circadian rhythms with minor tweaks: taking melatonin supplements under the supervision of their doctors and using lighting strategically. After all, being sleepy or alert depends on the delicate balance between sleep hormone melatonin and light. It is claimed that while melatonin supplements trigger falling asleep in the dark, special lights that can simulate sunrise and sunset prepare our bodies for falling asleep or waking up.[9]
Still, you have to remember one thing: just deciding to do so is not enough for waking up half an hour early, your bedtime has to move to half an hour earlier as well :-)

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