I think we have all been there: trying to figure out if we should wake up at 4 am to hit the books or if we should be reading through the wee hours of the night.
Personally, I have done both. It really just depends on my schedule for the week. Sometimes I feel most creative and can retain more at 5 am – and there are other times where I have to take advantage of the 12 am insomnia.
But, it’s not about me, is it? The question: is there any evidence saying one or the other is best?
Well, let’s have a look.
Ben Franklin popularized the phrase, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
But, a couple epidemiologists from Southampton University in England wrote a paper for the BMJ in 1998 titled, “Larks and owls and health, wealth, and wisdom.”
There were 356 larks in the group (in bed before 11 p.m., up before 8 a.m.) and 318 owls (in bed after 11, up after 8). Both scored about the same cognitively, but the night owls seemed to be on average more wealthy.
They authors stated, “We found no evidence … that following Franklin’s advice about going to bed and getting up early was associated with any health, socioeconomic, or cognitive advantage, if anything, owls were wealthier than larks, though there was no difference in their health or wisdom.”
In 1999, Psychologist Richard D. Roberts of the University of Sydney and Patrick C. Kyllonen of the Air Force Research Lab, did a similar study with 420 test participants and then gave them two intelligence tests.
Night owls did better on the tests (tests were taken both in the am and at night), with notable differences on working memory and processing speed.
Let’s look at something a little more recent …
In 2009, a paper, titled ” Circadian Typology and Temperament and Character Personality Dimensions” was published.
The authors discovered a link between night people and novelty-seeking already present among German adolescents (12 – 18 years old). Over the next year, Mr. Randler (author of the previous paper), went on to publish two more studies stating that those who wake up and work early morning are more persistent, agreeable, and proactive.
There are clearly pros and cons to both sides. So, just like most things in life – the answer is, “it depends”.
Whatever it is you think you are (night owl vs early riser), I challenge you to do the opposite for one week. Do you get more done? Do you retain things easier? Are you more creative?
If so, good thing you gave it a shot. If not, no harm done – back to your old habits.