Do you often find yourself staying up into the wee hours of the morning, working on a project or engaging in a hobby? Do you find that you don’t want to get out of bed when your alarm goes off?
People who tend to sleep in late are often considered lazy and are associated with lower productivity in their work and daily lives, but science says this may not be the case. If you often find you just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, research suggests that it is likely not because you’re lazy- it may be because you’re smart.
If You Don’t Want to Get Out of Bed, Don’t Worry
A 2009 study entitled “Why Night Owls are More Intelligent” says that having control over when you go to bed and when you wake up is a sign of intelligence .
The study was conducted by psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa and Kaja Perina, in which they gave intelligence tests to students from 80 high schools and 50 middle schools, once at the beginning of the experiment and again five years later. At the time of the second test, they had the 15 197 participants report when they went to bed and when they got up on weekdays and weekends, with the goal of determining whether childrens’ sleeping habits correlated with intelligence .
The researchers found that children who went to bed later and got up later were likelier to have higher intelligence, a finding that spanned across a wide range of demographic variables, such as ethnicity, education, and religion .
But how can this be? There are a few factors that could explain these results.
The Answer Lies in Evolution
Kanazawa explains that sleeping in late is “evolutionarily novel”, which is a good thing. He says that it was rare for our ancestors to sleep in late, and the ability for one to choose their values and preferences (in this case, their circadian rhythms) in the face of genetic predisposition is a sign of intelligence.
In short, the study says that smarter people have a greater ability to adapt novel behaviours, hence why night owls tend to exhibit higher degrees of intelligence than people with other sleeping patterns .
Night Owls are Mentally Alert for Longer
Kanazawa is not the only one to conduct a similar study with comparable results. Another 2009 study that monitored the brain activity of 16 extreme night owls and 15 extreme early birds in a lab. The participants had their brain activity monitored twice: once an hour and a half after waking up, and again 10.5 hours after waking up.
For reference, the early birds tended to get up around seven and were ready to go to sleep at eleven, while the night owls had no problem staying up past three in the morning and waking up at eleven.
The researchers found that both groups performed similarly in the morning responsiveness test, but the night owls showed faster reaction times and greater awakeness in the evening test. Despite the fact that both groups were getting the same amount of sleep, the night owls were able to stay awake and alert for a longer period of time before becoming mentally fatigued when compared to the early risers .
Night Owls are More Creative
Scientists still are not certain as to why people who work late into the night tend to be more creative, but one possible reason could be that it is because staying up late is an adaptation to living outside the norm. This is what researchers at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan found.
“Being in a situation which diverges from conventional habit, nocturnal types often experience this situation, may encourage the development of a non-conventional spirit and of the ability to find alternative and original solutions,” explained Professor Marina Giampietro, lead author of a study .
Hans Van Dongen, associate research professor at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, believes that this could have to do with the fact that evening people also tend to be more extroverted.
“One could reasonably envision a link between the personality trait of extroversion and the finding of creativity,” he says .
What Does this Mean for Morning People?
If you’re an early riser and you’re reading this, you may be concerned thinking “does this mean that I am unintelligent?”. You can relax, because the reality is this correlation is not quite that linear.
It turns out that whether you like to get up early or stay up late is highly dependent on one set of brain cells, which is at least in part determined by genetics.
Van Dongen and his colleagues found that a small group of brain cells, called suprachiasmatic nuclei, emit signals to the rest of your body to determine the time of day- essentially they are what determines your biological clock. For early risers, this body clock tends to run two hours ahead of schedule, while for late sleepers it runs two hours later .
Sleep is Still Important
It is important to note that while the specific time you go to bed and when you get up may be less important than originally thought, the actual number of hours you sleep each night does have an impact on your health.
A study by the University of Southampton determined that while people who go to bed later and wake up later are not, in fact, at any kind of socioeconomic, cognitive, or health disadvantage, those who spend a longer time in bed (twelve hours or more) may be at an increased risk of death .
Work According to Your Energy Levels
The standard work day is from nine to five, but those hours may not be ideal for you- whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. Some people do their best work early in the morning, while others find they’re more motivated and have their best ideas at midnight or later.
If you have a job that allows you to work on your own schedule, then choose to work at the times when you feel the most productive, regardless of whether or not they fall within the preconceived notion of regular working hours. If not, try talking to your boss about working from home occasionally to allow you more autonomy over your schedule.
The moral of the story is, you should not work against your energy levels, but rather with them. Pay attention to when you feel most productive, and maximize that time.
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