There is great debate amongst the Early Birds and Night Owls. Early Birds like to get stuff done. They write their organized list and then crush it to success. Night Owls are creative types. The stay up into the wee hours of the morning, alone in their messy chamber and turn their ideas into action. Which method is best in the long run? Which category do you fit in to? With health as my glasses, I’ll compare the two lifestyles. It's time see who is more productivity and who has the most energy to face each day.
With minor variables across the globe, humans are (or were) predominantly diurnal mammals. We evolved to act in the day and rest at night. Many of our hormones, which control our health are directly or indirectly controlled by the light - darkness cycle (1). Unfortunately, most ‘developed’ communities have grown so quickly that insufficient planning has gone into the effects of the environment on our health. Example, if I were to be the next undemocratic minister of health, night clubs would open at lunch time and close at 8pm, street lights would go off 9pm and the electricity would be cut at 10pm. This is never going to happen but you get the idea, artificial light is affecting our hormones and our health. Artificial light is leading to poor sleep and this is costing economies A LOT of money (2) and more importantly, it’s hurting many people’s health. Some freaks say they only need 6 hours or less but for normal humans, let’s be honest, we need a good 8 hours plus to act sane the next day. If you were to pull all nighters frequently, you’ll probably pay the price of weight (fat) gain, vitamin D deficiency, a higher risk of diabetes, chronic fatigue and cognitive degeneration (3). Unless you want to be the start of an evolutional change for being nocturnal (and face natural selection), the Early Bird wins the war of longterm productivity. What about the Night Owl? The night offers peace and space for work. One could argue that waking up a couple of hours before anyone else offers the same benefits but this requires an early bedtime. If you do have to work late, I’d suggest minimizing the artificial light and if possible replacing the computer for a note pad.
In terms of energy needed to lead an awesome life, it’s accepted that most people need to be switched on during the day. This may be to do a job, support the family or play sport. Most of us have heard the mantra, ‘go to bed exhausted and wake up excited’. Unfortunately many of us wake up exhausted and go to bed restless. Due to the impacts of social norms, work-play balance and Netflix, we can dig ourselves somewhat of an energy deficit. There is no quick fix for this. Being disciplined and a little selfish is sometimes the only way. Family or friends may not always be supportive but communication and explanation will go a long way to bringing them around. Caffeine and sugar can give you a short-term fix but in the end, habits determine your baseline energy levels. Naturally, vigor should peak and trough at the right times so we can serve our family, company and community to best of our ability. If this isn’t the case for you then step up and make a change or seek help. I’m a firm believer that there is a cost associated with every occupation. With the big corporate package, it should really say in the contract that you accept that the job will reduce your life expectancy. If you can find that job that pays well and strikes the right balance of work-play then you’ve hit gold! Unfortunately for the Night Owls, an early sleep wins the 'energy-needed' battle from a long-term health perspective.
The reality is that most Night Owls who read this will scoff at the points above and continue to live the life that they have done for many years. An old dog does not change. For the few Owls that do fancy improving their quality years on this planet, it’s going to take some time to adapt. Use a holiday to re-set your mind and body. Seek support from a life coaching or friend who has their system sorted. Make a commitment to exercise before work each day and hit the hay at the same time as a young child would do. If I can be of any other service to Night Owls out there, feel free to send me an email!
(1) Sleep, Hormones, and Circadian Rhythms throughout the Menstrual Cycle in Healthy Women and Women with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Ari Shechter1,2 and Diane B. Boivin1
(2) Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation - An Unmet Public Health Problem
Harvey R Colten and Bruce M Altevogt. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research.