Why Night Owls Are Better Than Early Birds, Backed by Science
Sleeping late is considered bad by many. But we’re here to argue that being a night owl has its advantages too.
Updated 18 Sep 2020
How many times have you heard that waking up early is the secret to success? Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, Virgin Group’s founder Richard Branson and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey all reportedly start their day at the crack of dawn. Surely there must be some correlation?
While morning larks get plenty of praise, being a night owl isn’t all that bad. In fact, late-night sleepers have an edge compared to morning larks. Here’s what some of the science says.
#1. You’re proven to be more creative
Have you ever felt like all your best ideas come to you at 3am? Could it be that the quiet, peaceful night provides solace compared to the hustle and bustle of daytime?
Perhaps, though early research tells us that there is a positive correlation between late-night sleepers and creativity. In a study by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, researchers found that those who preferred to sleep late had higher scores in creative thinking, displaying better originality, fluidity and flexibility compared to their morning counterparts.
One of the reasons could be that staying up late, which is unconventional, encourages the “development of a non-conventional spirit” and the ability to find alternative and original solutions.
#2. You could be more intelligent
Yes, it’s true — there is a correlation between intelligence and being a night owl.
Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, found that intelligent individuals are more likely to adopt evolutionarily novel behaviours, one of which is being nocturnal.
In an analysis of over 20,000 adolescents, it was found that the higher a child’s IQ, the more likely they are to grow up to be nocturnal adults who go to bed late and wake up late. This link remained even after the researchers controlled for other factors such as parental status, education and earnings.
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#3. You might have more mental stamina
You’ll never win the argument that “sleeping at 5am is sleeping early”, but you definitely have the upper hand when you need a mental boost to survive a long day of classes.
Researchers from the University of Liège studied 30 extreme-early and extreme-late sleepers to see how their attention span varied throughout the day, measuring cerebral activity twice — once at 1.5 hours after their usual waking time, the second at 10.5 hours after waking.
Initially at 1.5 hours after waking, both performed equally well. However, after 10.5 hours of waking when the pressure to sleep is greater, night owls actually showed an improvement in performance, which was not the same for early risers.
This shows that early birds seem to get tired quicker compared to night owls when they have spent the same number of hours awake, garnering another win for the owls!
#4. You can reap the benefits of physical “night strength”
If you ever want to challenge a friend to a badminton match, do it at night — ideally, at 9pm.
A small study by the researchers from the University of Alberta found that night owls showed a peak in physical performance at night, especially around the 9pm mark. Morning people, on the other hand, never achieve such peak levels of performance. Instead, their strength is consistent throughout the day.
So if you’re a night owl looking to tone up and get in shape, try hitting the gym at night instead of dragging yourself out of bed in the morning.
#5. You may be better at logical thinking
When it comes to logic and reasoning, you may have the upper hand compared to early risers.
Researchers from the University of Madrid tested the various skills of 887 teenagers and found that night owls scored higher in inductive reasoning (the ability to observe, recognise a pattern and offer an explanation or theory) compared to morning risers.
This is key as inductive reasoning has been shown to be correlated to prestigious occupations and higher income.
Being nocturnal has always been viewed as a handicap, especially since our society is built around the early morning workday. But there are scientific signs that having a preference for the night has its advantages. So the next time you think that being a night owl has no benefits at all, think again!