Night Owls May Experience ‘Jet Lag’ On A Daily Basis

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Some people declare themselves to be morning larks, or early risers, and they effortlessly wake up at the crack of dawn and fall asleep earlier in the evening.

Others, however, are night owls, or evening people, who stay up until the early hours of the morning and wake up later in the day, if left to their own devices.

Previous research has shown that the night owls face some health risks due to their daily rhythms. These include a tendency towards poorer dietary habits, which, in turn, can increase the risk of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes.

Now, a study led by investigators from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom has found out how activity patterns in the brains of night owls are different from those of morning people. The study also highlights how these differences can impact their lives and levels of productivity in a world that typically favors early risers.

“A huge number of people struggle to deliver their best performance during work or school hours they are not naturally suited to,” notes lead researcher Dr. Elise Facer-Childs, previously of Birmingham University and now based at the Monash Institute for Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences in Melbourne, Australia.

“There is a critical need to increase our understanding of these issues in order to minimize health risks in society, as well as maximize productivity,” she emphasizes.

The researchers have now published their findings in a study paper featured in the journal SLEEP.

Brain activity in night owls

For this study, the research team recruited 38 healthy participants. They divided the volunteers into two groups, putting 16 early risers into one group and 22 late sleepers into the second.

The researchers split the participants into these two groups based on their melatonin and cortisol circadian rhythms — the natural circulation of these two hormones affect sleep and waking cycles.

The researchers monitored the participants’ sleeping and waking patterns, and the volunteers filled in questionnaires about their rhythms. On average, late sleepers went to bed at 2:30 a.m. and woke up at 10:15 a.m.

To assess brain activity patterns, the investigators asked the volunteers to undergo MRI scans. The researchers also tested the participants’ performance on various tasks they undertook at different times throughout the day to see how sleep-wake cycles affected daily functioning.

The team noticed a difference in brain activity patterns between the two groups, namely that night owls had lower resting brain connectivity in brain areas that scientists primarily associate with maintaining a state of consciousness. They correlated this with shorter attention spans, as well as slower reactions and lower energy levels.

Early risers performed better and had faster reaction times during morning tasks. They also declared themselves as being much less sleepy at that time.

On the contrary, as expected, late sleepers performed best and experienced the fastest reaction times around 8:00 p.m. However, even at the time when they were at their peak performance, night owls did not do much better than their early rising peers.

This suggests that throughout the day — or from around 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. — resting-state brain connectivity is affected in late sleepers, adversely impacting their productivity.

Social expectations ‘could be more flexible’

Dr. Facer-Childs likens the night owls’ state throughout the day to a form of constant jet lag, emphasizing that this may have a significant effect on their well-being in the long run.

This mismatch between a person’s biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day.”

Dr. Elise Facer-Childs

“Our study is the first to show a potential intrinsic, neuronal mechanism behind why night owls may face cognitive disadvantages when being forced to fit into these constraints,” she adds.

For this reason, the researcher argues that societies need to take a long, hard look at their organizational structures, chiefly in terms of working hours and how to become more accommodating to people’s individuals needs. This flexibilty should mean that night owls can put their best foot forward while avoiding adverse health outcomes.

“To manage this [situation], we need to get better at taking an individual’s body clock into account — particularly in the world of work,” Dr. Facer-Childs argues.

“A typical day might last from 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., but for a night owl, this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness, and increased daytime sleepiness,” she warns.

She further advises that “If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way toward maximizing productivity and minimizing health risks.”

Why Being A Night Owl Might Be Damaging Your Mental Health

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woman sleeping in bed

GETTY IMAGESCAIAIMAGE/PAUL BRADBURY

Not only is being a ‘night owl’ annoying when you have to get up for work the next day, it apparently affects more than just your body clock – it has a big impact on mental health, too.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, people who are naturally early risers are less likely to develop mental health problems than those who go to bed late and sleep in.

The large-scale genetics study, conducted at the University of Exeter, used data from 250,000 research participants signed up to the private genetics company 23andMe, and 450,000 people in the UK Biobank study. Participants were asked whether they were a “morning person” or an “evening person”, and their genomes were analysed, revealing certain genes people shared that appeared to influence sleep patterns.

Lead study author Samuel Jones, a research fellow studying the genetics of sleeping patterns at the University of Exeter, said:

“Part of the reason why some people are up with the lark while others are night owls is because of differences in both the way our brains react to external light signals and the normal functioning of our internal clocks.

“The large number of people in our study means we have provided the strongest evidence to date that ‘night owls’ are at higher risk of mental health problems, such as schizophrenia and lower mental wellbeing, although further studies are needed to fully understand this link.”

The results found uncovered an apparent causal link between being a night owl and being more prone to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia – with evening types 10% more likely to develop the latter condition.

However, they found no increased risk of obesity and diabetes among night owls, despite what some earlier studies have said.

Samuel Jones said the conclusion is that night owls are more likely to have to work against their natural body clock in school and the world of work, which may have negative consequences on their mindset.

So, how can you go about adjusting your sleep schedule? Hope Bastine, sleep psychologist for high-tech mattress maker Simba, says we need to identify our individual sleep needs first.

“Experiment with your productivity and your performance rate and adjusting your time schedule to that,” she told Cosmopolitan UK. “Find a rhythm, a schedule, a lifestyle that really suits you, and that makes you feel in harmony with yourself. Make sure your sleep schedule is as non-negotiable as possible.”

Putting sleep first? Done.

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Why ‘Night Owls’ Struggle With Working 9 To 5

Author Article

“Night owls”, aka people who are late to bed and late to rise, may be at a disadvantage in jobs with typical working hours of 9am to 5pm, a study has found.

As anyone who has ever struggled to drag themselves out of bed will know, some of us just aren’t morning people.

In fact, around half of us (between 40% and 50%) are “night owls”, who prefer going to sleep later and getting up after 8:20, while others are “morning larks” who prefer early bedtimes and earlier wake-ups.

Morning larks constantly outperformed night owls in tests throughout the day. Photo: Getty Images

And while there is a proven genetic basis for the night owl/morning lark theory, many traditional workplaces still insist on working hours of roughly 9am to 5pm – which makes life especially difficult for night owls, according to the latest research.

The researchers took 38 people who identified as either morning larks or night owls and assessed them between the hours of 8am to 8pm, asking them to do various tasks and report on their tiredness levels.

Morning larks reported as least sleepy and had their quickest reaction times during the morning tests.

Meanwhile, while night owls performed better in the evening (8pm) compared to in the morning – but they did not perform significantly better than the larks even at this later time.

What’s more, at all time points throughout the day, the morning larks outperformed the evening owls in tests – suggesting the latter group continue to be at a disadvantage throughout the day.

What does this mean for night owls?

The findings “could be partly driven by the fact that night owls tend to be compromised throughout their lives”, according to lead researcher Dr Elise Facer-Childs, of the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health.

“Night owls during school have to get up earlier, then they go into work and they have to get up earlier, so they’re constantly having to fight against their preferences and their innate rhythms.”

Dr Facer-Childs added: “A typical day might last from 09:00 to 17:00, but for a night owl this could result in diminished performance during the morning, lower brain connectivity in regions linked to consciousness, and increased daytime sleepiness.”

She suggested more flexible working hours could benefit society as a whole.

“If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way towards maximising productivity and minimising health risks.”

And it seems as if some schools may be catching on to the benefit of later start times, with British MPs debating calls for the school day to start at 10am to help tired teenagers.

Morning people don’t just have an easier time of it at school and at work – they also benefit from a health perspective.

Those who peak in the early hours of the day are less at risk of breast cancer compared to their ‘evening’ counterparts, according to a study published last year.