Do you rise with the sun or hit snooze a dozen times before dragging yourself out of bed? Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, there’s no denying most cultures condition us to believe that waking up early is the way to go.
But is this an antiquated idea? Or are there actual benefits to rising early? Our very own Dr. Schlesinger starts his days at 4:30 in the morning, when he manages to fit in an exercise routine, making coffee for his wife, and business calls before most of us are even out of bed—all before heading to the Breast Implant Center of Hawaii for a full day of consults and procedures.
They say ‘the early bird gets the worm,’ but it’s not as simple as that. Studies show benefits but understanding your chronotype is key.
While we know Dr. Schlesinger is a motivated, successful physician, we wanted to get to the bottom of the early to rise vs. late to bed debate and find out if there are proven reasons to start your day early.
1. Early risers have been shown to have more motivation & success
In 2008, Texas University performed a study to determine if when you wake up has an impact on grades. They focused the study on 824 ungrads who self-reported whether they were early birds or night owls. By and large, students who considered themselves to be “morning people” had higher GPAs. This is backed by research showing memory is improved by sleep—meaning you may find improved success by waking early even if you aren’t a college student.
People whose performance peaks in the morning are better positioned for career success, because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.”
Harvard Biologist Christopher Randler
Furthermore, research published by Harvard biologist Christoph Randler found that those early to wake are more proactive, better able to define long-term goals for themselves, and more likely to anticipate—and then minimize—potential problems.
Because proactivity is linked with better performance at work, more career success, and higher wages, it’s safe to say that early birds may be optimally suited to more traditional work schedules or corporate environments.
2. Morning people are generally happier & more satisfied with life
Research has found that early risers report feeling happier than their night owl counterparts, which could be one reason why older adults are happier than younger ones, who typically favor going to bed later. In addition to being more optimistic, it’s also been shown that morning people are more agreeable and conscientious, while night owls are more likely to have feelings of depression and pessimism.
There are diverse reasons why waking up early in the day can lead to increased happiness, such as:
- You can spend less time in traffic. If you head to work early, you may find that your commute becomes more efficient. You’ll likely reduce frustration and road rage first thing in the morning, get to work quicker, and spend less time commuting overall so you can maximize time off.
- You’re less prone to social jet lag because your biological clock lines up with your social clock. In most western societies, periods of activity largely fall in line with the daylight, so late risers often find they are missing out or trying to fit too much into a shorter period of time.
- Mornings are a more quiet time for organization, reflection, planning, and goal-setting, which can make your day-to-day life run more smoothly and help you avoid unnecessary stressors. Arrive early to the office, and you’ll have time to plan your day and concentrate on key projects (instead of being immediately bombarded with requests and distractions). The benefits extend to your days off: waking up before others can offer time for meditation and exercise, both of which are proven to increase happiness.
3. You might be having better quality sleep overall
People who rise and go to bed earlier have a circadian rhythm that tracks more closely with sunrise and sunset. Sleep experts believe this helps your body sync with the earth’s circadian rhythms and, in turn, get more restorative sleep.
Getting better sleep may also be tied to the fact that early risers often exercise in the morning. While any exercise at any time of day is beneficial, getting your heart rate up in the morning can help drop your blood pressure and improve the quality of your sleep. Additionally, going hard at the gym later in the day might keep you up later into the night. That’s because the rise in body temperature, increased heart rate, and nervous system stimulation can all affect your sleep.
Late exercise isn’t the only thing that could be keeping you up later. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, stay away from all screens for an hour or two before bed, avoid late meals, and limit alcohol consumption. If problems persist, it’s worth seeing a sleep specialist.
4. Waking up early can improve your physical health
Sleeping better is obviously a good thing, but did you know that rising early can also improve your overall physical health? In one study, researchers tracked 433,000 adults over the course of 6.5 years and found that those who are late to bed and struggle to wake up in the morning have a 10% higher risk of dying sooner (even when controlling for other health risks).
Night owls were also shown to have double the risk of psychological disorders, 30% higher risk of diabetes, 25% more risk of neurological disorders, and a higher chance of developing gastrointestinal issues and respiratory disease. Not only that, another report published by BMJ suggests that being an early bird is associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
While this in no way means night owls are at imminent risk of developing cancer or dying young, the research is indicative of a general improvement in health if you rise and go to bed early—likely as a result of the other benefits we discussed above.
Still a night owl? That’s OK. What’s most important is understanding your chronotype.
While waking up early has some obvious benefits, it doesn’t mean night owls are doomed. Studies have shown that:
- Night owls are intelligent and creative
- Rising later provides an evening peak in physical strength
- Late risers tend to be bigger risk takers.
Ultimately, finding what works best for you and your routine—and getting enough sleep overall—is the most important. If you’re a happy and healthy night owl, there is no reason to change what is working for you. However, if you’re feeling unhappy, burned out at work, or as though you can never catch up in life, it may be time to try altering your habits.
Your chronotype is your propensity to sleep during a particular time of day. While you have some flexibility, around half of your chronotype is the result of genetics.
Decoding your chronotype—and determining what comes naturally to you given your genetics—can help you make the most out of your day, whether you’re inclined to be an early bird or a night owl. In fact, sleep doctors believe understanding your chronotype can dramatically impact your productivity.
If you want to give being an early riser a try, Tuck has a great list of tips for changing your routine. Even something as simple as changing when you eat may help you adjust your circadian rhythm.
Are you a night owl or an early bird? Let us know in the comments below!