I am a late-night person. Right now, I am sitting here with my laptop, it is long past midnight, and I have been reading blogs during the last two hours. Even if I have been out with friends and come home rather late in the evening, I almost never get to bed immediately and instead enjoy some me-time … I simply do not feel like going to bed until I can hardly keep my eyes open. Moreover, it often happens that I feel another wave of energy and productivity coming over me late at night, and I do not at all have a problem to sit down with some nice scientific book or article to read, do some writing, or practice the piano at times when most other people are happy to have finished their regular daily business and prepare for a relaxed evening, or go to bed already. On the other hand, you cannot expect anything from me (except finding me sleeping, probably) early in the morning. To be honest, I like to sleep in. This does not mean I am lazy or sluggish, in fact, I am quite productive, everything I do is just a few hours time-displaced. In a nutshell, I am an owl.
According to chronobiology, every living being holds something like an inner body clock which has developed in all species during the course of evolution, due to living in an environment that is characterized by repeating natural cycles like night and day. In the human brain, the structure that is of central importance for the coordination of circadian rhythms is the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a tiny accumulation of neurons that is situated above the optic chiasm. It regulates countless body functions in cycles of about 24 hours by its neuronal and hormonal activities.
An interesting fact is that people are not exactly the same regarding their circadian rhythms. Rather, different people often tend to experience phases of activity and tiredness at different times during a day. There seem to be two extreme types of people in particular.
“Larks” wake up early and get tired early. Usually, they have their phases of productivity early in the morning and in the afternoon.
“Owls” like to sleep in and stay up until late at night. Their productive phases lie in the afternoon and later evening.
The majority of people hits a middle ground with only slight larkish or owlish tendencies and can adapt rather easily to earlier or later day rhythms. Still, around 30 % of all people are extreme representatives of either the lark or the owl type.
It is important to notice that biological rhythms are determined by genetical disposition and therefore cannot simply be changed by making the attempt to adapt to a certain standard. Furthermore, these biological conditions are relevant regarding working times, daily plans of medical treatment and lifestyle in general. Knowing your own disposition and living with it instead of against it can make your life easier and improve your health to a surprising extent.
Basically, there is nothing good or bad per se about being a lark or an owl, but unfortunately, society tends to put the larks into advantage because school or work usually start early in the morning, so the owls are still jetlagged then and will droop during the first hours of classes or work. High performance phases of owls usually start when the school or working day draws to a close. Moreover, sleeping in is often socially despised, and people who are owls often feel bad for it themselves. It should not be forgotten, though, that the owl is still going to be up and active for some more hours while the lark is already sleeping. So, while the early bird gets the worm, the owl gets the mouse.
If you like, you can take a little owl-or-lark-test here. And with this, my friends, I am leaving you for tonight. The little owl is going to bed now. I hope you all have a happy day (or night)! And I would love to know whether you are an owl or a lark, or something inbetween. Will you tell me?