Some of us are still half asleep after a second cup of morning coffee. Others are up and going long before sunrise. Our business world still makes us believe that it’s the early bird that gets the worm – but there may be something to be said for the wise old (night) owl after all.
According to The Body Clock Guide by Michael Smolensky and Lenne Lamberg, one in ten of us are morning people or “larks” – meaning that our brain function is at its peak in the morning. Two in ten are “night owls” and operate better in the evening. Studies suggest that our body clocks are genetic – and just as a right-handed person can to learn to write with their left hand, we may be able to adapt our body clocks but not change them.
So are you a lark or a night owl – and how can you schedule your required activities to coincide with your natural rhythm in order to make the most of work and life?
Tips for early birds
As a lark, you perform at your mental and physical peak first thing in the morning, making this the best time for you to go for a jog and finish complex, concentrated projects. Try to save less focused tasks, such as catching up on emails, for the afternoon when your energy dips and you are less alert.
If you end up with late night commitments, some light evening activity will help you stay awake better. Take a relaxing walk or do stretching exercises to get your metabolism going before sitting down to work into the night or meeting those clients for a late dinner.
The advantage of being an early bird is that getting your to-do list kicked off before breakfast is inherently motivating and since the mornings offer quiet, intensive focus time you do have the competitive edge over the owls who tend to get going a bit later in the day. No wonder early birds have been known to be happier and more fulfilled than night owls in general.
Tips for night owls
In an ideal world, your workplace would allow for flexible hours and an environment where you can comfortably linger in the evening when your brain capacity is at its peak.
Night owls with a traditional corporate office rhythm are prone to feel a disconnect between internal biological time and social time. A consistent early start that is out of sync with your biological sleep pattern can lead to a lifetime of sleep deprivation and a struggle to keep up with life in general. German Chronobiologist Till Roennberg refers to this as ‘social jet lag’ in his book Internal Time.
It is not all doom and gloom for night owls with an early schedule, however. You can train yourself to be more alert in the morning by reducing your evening commitments and winding down for bed a bit earlier. As circadian rhythms are driven by natural light, it may also help to sleep with the curtains open allowing sunlight to awaken you gently.
Dr. Tracey Marks, psychiatrist and author of Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified suggests that eating a healthy breakfast – including a protein, wholegrain and fruit or vegetable – will help to kick start your metabolism and get you warmed up for work earlier.
Understanding your body clock for better health
It is important to know that struggling to get up in the morning or not being able to stay up beyond 9pm may also simply be related to general health and wellness issues. However, when you are in good physical shape and on holiday for a couple of weeks, the body rhythm that emerges naturally would be a good indication of your body clock.
Whether you think you are more of a morning person or a night owl, it is important to be aware of your body clock and use it to your advantage. By following some of the previous tips or other time management tricks, you can find ways to maximise your productivity and keep yourself healthy, wealthy and wise.