Some of us naturally go to bed early and wake up early feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Others feel best when they are up late and wake later in the day.
And while much of the way our work life and society is structured seems to favor the early risers, the tendency toward one pattern or the other is entirely normal, natural, and individual.
Whether we are more inclined to be morning larks or night owls is based on our biology!
Our circadian rhythms to be exact.
According to the National Institutes of Health,
“Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones. They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.”
Scientists call this tendency toward thriving in the morning or at night our chronotype.
Your chronotype score is determined by looking at your mid-sleep time (the exact midway point between when you fall asleep and when you wake up) and adjusting based on differences in your sleep habits between your free days and non-free days.
You can learn more about chronotypes and how our genes affect this aspect of our lives with this master class preview from Professor of Neuroscience, Matthew Walker.
Thanks to wearable health devices and sleep tracking apps, we’re now able to really see what our sleep patterns and chronotypes are.
Turns out many of our current Achievers are morning larks!
How did we determine this?
We compared sleep data on non-free (work/school) days to sleep data on free days.
Because social obligations like work and school can interfere with our natural preference for morning or night.
So, in order to know where we truly fall, we need to look at how we behave when we have the freedom to follow our natural habits.
Specifically, we looked at when individuals fell asleep, when they woke up, and their mid-sleep times.
On average, the Achievers whose sleep data we looked at, had mid-sleep times of around 2:50 am.
But to determine chronotype score, we need to look at the difference in total hours slept between free days and non-free days because people often sleep more on free days.
On non-free days, the average mid-sleep time was 2:35am. And on free days, it was 3:21am.
This tells us that while people did tend to go to bed later (and sleep in a little later) on their free days, it wasn’t much later.
So, how do we determine whether someone is a morning lark or a night owl?
We compare their chronotype score to the average (median) chronotype score of other Achievers.
What we found is that many of the Achievers we looked at tended to be early risers.
This graph represents the distribution of recorded mid-sleep times (chronotypes).
If you’re interested in learning more about sleep chronotypes, this paper from Current Biology is an excellent resource.
Whatever your chronotype, there are things you can do to help improve the quality of your sleep — and good sleep is important for so many reasons!
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School,
“sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions.”
That means that how you sleep directly affects your health, your mood, your weight, your ability to function and work or school, even the success of your interpersonal relationships.
And it’s one of those areas where quality is even more important than quantity.
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