I used to be a night person. Throughout university and my early career as a travel writer, my most creative and productive time was from the early evening until two or three am. Sleeping in until eleven always allowed me to start my day off feeling rested and refreshed. I loved being a night person.

Now, I get up at 6:00am. I send out my first work email of the day (a summary of the overnight and morning’s industry news and event headlines) at around 7:00am, and I generally get home from work at 7:00pm. I try for lights out by 11:00. I have made the transition from night owl to early bird by necessity.

Since many conventional jobs operate on a basic variation of the 9am-5pm schedule, it seems like early birds would have the advantage over night owls.

However, when I leave the office at about 6:00pm, there are always people still at their desks working. Granted, they haven’t been at it since before 7:00am, but still – they win that symbolic status of being the last one standing, the latest to stay in the office. It always looks like you’re working longer than the folks who leave before you.

(There may be an equal point of pride to be earned by being the first one to arrive in the morning – the trouble is that a status symbol is useless if no one else is there to see it.)

Scientific studies have shown that night people have more stamina than early risers. Each given their natural schedule, the morning person will become less alert and slower after 10 hours of wakefulness. Night owls show more resistance to sleepiness and can stay sharp for longer periods of time. (I do find myself reaching for the Red Bull at around 3:00pm.) 

On the other hand, a study from the University of Toronto shows that morning people are happier and healthier than their night owl counterparts. While older adults, who tend to be early risers anyway, showed more of the emotional gains from getting up with the sun, those young people in the study who were morning people were also happier than their young night owl counterparts.

This was partly attributed to “social jetlag.” That’s what you get from regularly staying up late at night for parties, concerts or other social events lasting until the wee hours while still trying to be successful in a 9-5 shift. (I used to be able to do it. I can’t do it anymore.) Your professional life suffers because you’re tired all the time.

Night people tend to be smarter too. Psychology today reports that the most intelligent people are more likely to be night owls than early birds. A study of young Americans showed that more intelligent children went on to become more nocturnal as grownups than did their less intelligent counterparts.

For example, children whose IQ was less than 75 (described as “very dull”) tend to hit the sack at roughly 11:40pm on weeknights when they grow up, while those kids who had a much higher IQ of over 125 (described as very “very bright”) are more likely to stay up until around 12:30am as young adults.

Having successfully made the switch from night owl to early bird, I wonder if my IQ has taken a hit. Psychology Today doesn’t say. (Or maybe I have since just become too dull to find that information.) Some people can’t make the transition at all – my wife has tried numerous times and always reverts to staying up much of the night and suffering when she’s obliged to be alert in the mornings.

So we morning people might be a little healthier and happier, and we don’t suffer from ‘social jetlag’ (but we miss out on all the fun social stuff that would give us the jetlag.) While night owls can work longer hours and still stay sharp, they have the advantage of people seeing them work those hours because they’re still at their desks when others clock out, and they’re naturally more intelligent than early birds. Okay, night people – it looks like you win this round.

But by the way – I’m booking an important face-to-face meeting for 8:00am tomorrow. Deal with it.

How about you? Are you a night person or a morning person? Does your workplace seem to favour one over the other? Share your stories with us!

Peter Harris

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