Does the early bird always catch the worm? With reports of the world’s rich and powerful getting up long before the crack of dawn to email, exercise and get a head start on the competition, setting an early alarm sounds like the key to success. But a handful of recent studies suggest it could be night owls making the most gains…
For some, a 6am alarm and early morning workout (4:30am if you’re Michelle Obama) go hand-in-hand. Yet for others, the mere thought of human contact before noon is a total no-go. The early bird vs night owl debate has been making headlines after new research revealed our ability to wake early (or not) is genetically determined. In short, how easily you’ll leap out of bed in the morning is in your DNA.
Does that mean the likes of city hot-shot Helena Morrissey – who rises at 5am to deal with emails, compile a to-do-list and check Twitter before the five of her nine children who live at home begin to wake at 6:30am – and Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail, who gets up before 5am to read inspirational books in the bath, are more successful than the rest of us? Not necessarily.
A handful of scientific studies suggest people who prefer to go to bed and wake up late have some unique advantages, especially when it comes to creativity and intelligence levels. Research has linked night owls with higher IQ scores – high-fliers President Obama, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill were all famous for nocturnal activities. One study showed that night owls among US Air Force recruits were significantly more able to think laterally than morning types, even when they were evaluated in the morning, and had better reasoning skills. A University of Southampton study also found night owls are more likely to have a larger mean income and are more likely to have a comfortable home, a non-manual job and access to a car. If that wasn’t enough, studies also suggest evening types are more social and more people-oriented.
So what does this all mean for morning people? There’s evidence to suggest early birds – around a fifth of Brits (around a third are night owls with the rest falling somewhere in between) – may actually be happier and healthier. Countless studies have suggested early birds are slimmer and more physically active than their night owl peers, with night owls are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese and almost twice as likely to be as physically inactive as their early counterparts. Research shows night owls have more perceived barriers to exercise and are more likely to claim they don’t have enough time for exercise (this is even the case among active individuals).
With night owls coming up trumps when it comes intelligence, perhaps what we need to see is more examples of high fliers who are (or were) night owls – the likes of Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti who sleeps in till 8:30am every day and painter Jackson Pollock, who famously started his day at 1pm with a cigarette.