Who’s More Productive: Early Birds or Night Owls?


EarlyBirdEarly birds might get all the praise, but night owls stay sharp longer.  So says one study that seems to contradict the social approval for people who wake up early.

A study at the University of Belgium suggests that night owls and early birds do equally well on tests in the morning, but 10.5 hours into the day, early birds slow down. In fact, night owls pulled ahead by 6 percent.

According to sciencemag.org, the human day is governed by the circadian rhythm of the body’s master clock. That clock is in tune with the earth’s 24-hour cycle of light and dark. But exactly what time we go to sleep, depends on sleep pressure, not the master clock. Sleep pressure is all about how long we have been awake. The longer we have been awake, the more pressure to sleep.

People can have sleep-wake cycles that are slightly longer or shorter than this period, and it is those with longer cycles that identify most closely with the night owl moniker.  This cycle can also change over time as a person ages.

Belgium researchers initially speculated that it didn’t matter if we were night owls or early birds, they thought both test groups — who took the test on their own schedules — would do better right after they woke and do less well as the day wore on. Not so.

In fact, night owls were equal with early birds upon waking and got better as the day went on. Researchers concluded that sleep pressure seems to build faster in early birds.  Even if night owls are more productive longer, they still have to cope with a world that goes to work at 8 a.m.

Entrepreneur magazine highlights a few strategies that night owls can use to adapt to the mainstream:

  • Follow a disciplined night routine: Plan to take care of all essential activities, such as family time, by a certain hour and then plan to be productive during your hours of inspiration.
  • In the early morning, do just enough: Don’t get discouraged by your lack of work in the morning by remembering what you accomplished the night before.
  • Execute during the day: Daytime is the time to complete mundane and practical tasks that don’t require the dynamic creativity present in the later hours.
  • Follow inspiration at any hour: Staving off sleep is not always the healthiest idea, but don’t be afraid to stay up for that extra half hour if lightning strikes.

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