Are you a morning lark or night owl? I must confess that I am one of those annoyingly pleasant and immediately wide awake type of people. Just the other day my husband asked me if I was always this way? I guess after twenty-six years of marriage it finally got to him. Yes, I had to admit, I have always been this way. It's a blessing and a curse.
When I was little and slept over at friends' houses, I hated the mornings. My friends would be sound asleep for hours in the morning (or at least it seemed to me) as I had to lie there completely quiet. I felt that I couldn't turn on a light to read or even turn over too many times in bed for fear of waking up my host. It was excruciating.
Even as a teenager I was an early riser which really put me at a disadvantage in college. I just couldn't stay up all night and then sleep in the next morning like my peers. My body would get me up even if I only had a couple of hours of sleep. Needless to say, I was in a perpetual tired state the entire four years.
So, it was with interest I read an article in the Atlantic magazine describing the findings for different individuals' chronotypes, meaning "people are programmed or wired to sleep earlier or later in any 24-hour period". Or as some chronobiologists (people who study such things) call it; "social jet lag" - a "“misalignment of biological and social time.” German chronobiologist, Till Roenneberg has a classic book, Internal Time that declares, "early birds and night owls are born, not made. Sleep patterns may be the most obvious manifestation of the highly individualized biological clocks we inherit, but these clocks also regulate bodily functions from digestion to hormone levels to cognition. Living at odds with our internal timepieces can make us chronically sleep deprived and more likely to smoke, gain weight, feel depressed, fall ill, and fail geometry. By understanding and respecting our internal time, we can live better."
Some chronobiologists are behind the movement to have high schools start later so that teens can get a full night sleep. With their studies they have noted health consequences with people who don't fit societal wake/sleep patterns; the individuals who are not tired and can't go to bed yet still have to align their waking schedules to a societal pattern. Just think about high schoolers who start their three homework at 10 or 11 pm and then have to be in class, ready to participate at 7:20 am. There is no way that they are receiving their seven hours (the very least) of sleep.
Another psychologist, Michael Breus has capitalized on this idea of sleep and ideal times to be productive with his book, The Power of When. You can take an online quiz to determine your chronotype. He categorizes people into animal types: dolphin, lion, bear or wolf. I took the quiz. No surprise that I am a lion- the morning person type. In reading the characteristics it reminds me of a horoscope- pleasant and positive generic statements. In some ways I didn't need a quiz to figure it out. But, if I buy his book I can find out when it is the best time to do anything. "'When' is the ultimate life-hack. If you didn’t change a thing about what you do and how you do it, and only made micro-adjustments to when you do it, you’d be healthier, happier and more productive, starting right now!"
It seems that if you boil down the psychology, what is really being reviewed are people's sleep patterns and habits. It doesn't matter if you are a morning or night person but how much good sleep you get.
Makes sense. If you are well rested, you can be productive when you are awake whether that is early morning or late at night. The problem arises when our sleep and wake times don't jive with others.
If we didn't have interact with others and could just do our individual thing, it wouldn't matter when we slept or woke. But because we live in this world with lots of people with different habits and chronotypes, it does matter. And, when we suffer from social jet lag, we can suffer physically: gastrointestinal problems, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, headaches, poor psychomotor coordination.
We need to maximize how we live and how we sleep so that we stay as healthy as we can. Here are some tips to get started thinking if you are a morning person, mid-day or night person:
- Know yourself. If you haven't figured out your best times of day to be creative, to exercise, to socialize, etc. you can try Michael Breus' online quiz. While I wouldn't change my entire life based on the findings, it does give you a basic assessment and can start you thinking. Click here.
- List the things you need to do. List out all that you must accomplish during the day: physical activity, intellectual pursuits, work meetings, etc. List when they normally occur during the day. List the time when it would ideal for you based on your chronotype rhythm- early morning, mid-morning, afternoon, etc.
- Determine a schedule with your ideal time. If you can, try to design a schedule so that the things that you have to do can be done during your ideal, "at your best" time. Of course, sometimes we don't have any say in the matter. Our jobs may dictate that we do a task at a specific time regardless of our "best" times. But maybe things are scheduled because they have always been done that way and nobody had ever asked to try something different. Who would've guessed that certain school systems are changing the start time for high schoolers based on their sleep and life cycle.
- Practice a small change in your schedule. If your best time to concentrate is after lunch, try blocking that time for your creative projects or intellectual pursuits. See how it goes. Are you more productive? Do you enjoy the task at hand because you were fully engaged? How is your sleep pattern? Can you get eight hours of good sleep? Do you need to change some of your sleeping habits to accommodate your chronotype? Ensuring you go to bed earlier or rising later?
- Revel in your blessings of how you are made. I always thought my early morning chipper-ness was a curse but I have come to accept it and to be grateful for it. I can get a lot done in the early morning hours- almost a full day of work by 10 am.
What about you? Are you a morning lark or night owl? More importantly, how did you sleep last night?