In this article, we focus on sleep patterns, early birds and night owls. The topic was approached through an online survey conducted on the questia.ro platform. The research study was active between August 21st and August 23rd and covered 1000 respondents, with a +/- 3% margin of error when reported to the Romanian online population.

Overview

One thing is clear: sleep is vital for our lives. We need sleep in order to survive, but besides this obvious benefit, a good sleep also has many other advantages for our body: it improves memory, reduces heart diseases, sharpens attention, lowers stress, reduces depression, it even increases creativity.

Now, the question we might ask is: what does a good sleep mean? According to Sleep Foundation, we spend up to one-third of our lives asleep. The recommended hours of sleep for each age group are:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

Although sleep is essential, for those who have a very active life, it has become quite a luxury. It was reported that in 1942, the average sleep time was of 8 hours, while now it downshifted to 6.8 hours. New sleep cycle data has shown that not even one country in the world (out of 48 participating countries) reaches the average of eight hours of sleep, which points to a worldwide phenomenon of lack of sleep.

The top 5 countries where people get the least amount of sleep time, in average:

  • Japan - 5 hours and 59 minutes
  • Saudi Arabia - 6 hours and 8 minutes
  • Sweden - 6 h and 10 minutes
  • India - 6 hours and 20 minutes
  • The Philippines - 6 hours and 22 minutes

Most sleeping hours are in:

  • New Zealand - 7 hours and 30 minutes
  • The Netherlands - 7 hours and 28 minutes
  • Finland - 7 hours and 26 minutes
  • United Kingdom - 7 hours and 24 minutes
  • Ireland - 7 hours and 22 minutes

So, if you want to sleep more you should just move to New Zealand, right? Well, not really. There are other factors that count on the amount of sleep each one of us gets. It was found that we all have an internal biological clock that keeps us on a sleep and wake cycle. This means that we are all different, each one of us has a distinct unique internal clock that dictates how much we sleep. Most people fall asleep around 23 and wake up at 7 am, but 40% of the population does not fall into this regime.

Our inclination to be either a morning person or a night owl is known as our chronotype. However, early types differ from late types not only when it comes to bedtime. Chronotypes can greatly impact our lives, including personality, lifestyle and even our health. So, early birds have their internal clocks shifted earlier, while night owls have internal schedules shifter later. Apparently, if we try to fight our chronotypes, our health may suffer.

Researchers have created the term “social jetlag” to describe the sleep deprivation many experience to accommodate social norms. For night owls, this social jet lag feels like living in a different time zone every single day.

When the end of the day comes, early birds are winding down for the evening while night owls are just getting started. Let’s dive a little into the differences between morning types and evening types. According to Psychology Today:

  • Early birds showed higher levels of cooperation, while night owls were lowest
  • Night owls drink more alcohol and smoke more cigarettes
  • Morningness has been linked to both conscientiousness and proactivity, morning types manage academic responsibilities more easily, and get better grades
  • Eveningness has been linked to increased impulsivity as well as higher measures of ADHD, evening types had increasing results in creative thinking, openness and self-transcendence

According to Daily Mail, the experts from the University of Madrid discovered that night owls are wiser and wealthier than those who wake up earlier. The study was conducted on 1,000 young people and the results showed that night owls show a type of intelligence associated with prestigious jobs and higher incomes. Indeed, people who woke up earlier in the morning had better exam results, and this is because most courses usually start at the inadequate time for night owls.

According to Curiosity, sleep is also beneficial for removing unnecessary memories from our brains , leaving space for the next day’s events. But what happens when we lack sleep? Well, it is reported that sleep deprivation overdrives the cells that are responsible for tiding up unnecessary memories, but instead of cleaning the brain out of unimportant stuff, our brain is kind of eating itself.

One famous myth is related to the fact that we can catch-up on lost sleep. A recent study “emphasizes that while periods of sleep deprivation followed by generous amounts of sleeping in isn't ideal, it's better than just staying sleep deprived.”

Science says that if you are an evening person you are more likely to hit the snooze button on your alarm. This is partly because morning people find it easier to wake up and rush out of bed while evening people struggle. While sleep deprivation might also have a saying in our instinct to snooze the alarm clock, it is reported that if you are an evening person, your body requires longer, deeper sleeping periods.

When our head hits the pillow, we begin to feel drowsy and then we eventually fall asleep in what is called as a “light sleep”. In this stage, our heart rate slows down and our body temperature drops. After a while, we get to the deep sleep stage. This is the period of sleep when our bodies regrow tissues, build bone and muscle and strengthen our immune system. Next, we move to the REM sleep (rapid eye movement). During this phase, our brain is highly active and we experience intense dreams. It is reported that we usually experience our first REM stage about 90 minutes after we first nod off and cycle through several times throughout the night.

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It seems that when the alarm goes off, we’re usually nearing the end of our last REM cycle. If we wake up and get out of the bed, the REM cycle ends. If we hit the snooze button, we go back to sleep and throw ourselves right back into the REM cycle. When the alarm goes off the second time, it wakes us up right in the middle of the REM cycle, instead of the end of it. This results in making us feel disoriented, sleepy and confused. Sometimes, you don’t even remember that you snoozed and got back to sleep. Sounds like a déjà vu?

Over-sleeping and under-sleeping both negatively impact our bodies. According to Huffington Post, both short and long rest extremes may influence our mood and mental health and cause depression, increased inflammation factors, increased pain, impaired fertility, increased weight gain, higher heart disease risk, higher stroke risk, higher mortality risk… should I carry on?

Well, to add more drama to the subject, a recent study concerning chronotypes, found that night owls may die earlier than morning people.

What’s striking is the social stigma night owls feel in a world ruled by early risers. Apparently, late sleepers are perceived as being lazy for a behavior they cannot easily control since they cannot change their sleep patterns (it turns out our internal clocks are influenced by genes and are incredibly difficult to change). People tend to assume that late sleepers are “the partiers, the deadbeats, the ones who are so irresponsible they can’t keep a basic schedule”.

Vox also raises a very important question: Should late sleepers change their habits, or should society become more accepting of them? What happens to those people who naturally like to sleep until 9AM but are forced to go to an 8AM meeting? The answer seems to rely on the fact that we live in “a world where an internet connection makes working whenever, wherever possible” and for this reason “companies ought to allow workers to set more flexible schedules around their ideal sleep time.”

According to doctor Matthew Walker, author of “Why we sleep”, about 40% of the population are morning people, 30% are evening people and the others lie somewhere in between. A New York Times article relates that “when night owls are forced to rise early, their prefrontal cortex, which controls sophisticated thought processes and logical reasoning, remains in a disabled or offline state. Like a cold engine in an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature.”

However, even though it is proved that the preference for being a morning person or an evening person might be in our genes, to according Kristen L. Knutson, author of “Associations between chronotype, morbidity and mortality in the UK Biobank cohort”, being a night owl is partially genetic as people can make adjustments such as gradually making bedtime earlier, avoiding using smartphones before bed and eventually moving themselves out of the night owl zone.

Moreover, falling asleep might be considered an art, as well. Many people think they cannot fall asleep if they do not do certain activities before sleeping, known as sleeping rituals. Darkness, clean sheets, pleasant fragrance, removing the technological devices from the room, taking a bath, drinking tea, having a quiet place and a cozy bed could also contribute to the process of taking a nap.

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The Sleep Health Foundation conducted a study of pre-sleep activities. Overall, 44% of adults are on the internet just before bed almost every night. This is more frequent in younger people (18-24y – 75%; 25-34y – 55%) but even in over 65-year-olds, 22% of them use devices before sleeping. Over half of adults (52%) watch TV before bed. Young adults are also more likely to have a hot bath or shower before bed a few nights per week, with 48% of 18-24-year-olds reporting this behavior compared with 32% of over 65-year-olds.

Findings

Now let’s dig into the research results. First, we wanted to find out the bedtime of the respondents. It seems that most people go to sleep at a reasonable hour, mainly between 10PM and midnight (with 35.3% turning in between 10PM and 11PM and 39.3% between 11PM and midnight).

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Over three-quarters of respondents (79.1%) seem to be early risers, as they wake up earlier than 8AM, with 51% going out of bed before 7AM and over one-quarter (28.1%) waking up between 7AM and 8AM. Quite few people (5.9%) have the luxury of rolling out of bed between 9AM and 11AM in the morning.

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Generally, people who wake up early go to sleep early and those who wake up long after the sunrise stay awake until late at night and go to sleep after midnight.

Most of the people who wake up before 7AM or before 8AM go to sleep between 10PM and midnight, while most of those who wake up later than that (after 9AM) went to sleep later (between 11PM and 2AM). Interestingly, none of the users who wake up after 11AM go to sleep before 11PM as the majority (54.4%) tends to sleep after 2AM.

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It is known that if you go to bed at a decent hour the night before, your body’s internal clock is ready to wake up once the alarm goes off. But if you snooze it and go back to sleep, your internal clock will get confused and won’t know anymore when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to rest. This could result in a lot of time of tossing and turning and thus, getting less quality sleep.

We then asked the respondents if they consider themselves to be either morning types or evening types. Most respondents (64.1%) think of themselves as early birds, while 35.8% consider themselves to be night owls.

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Out of those who think of themselves as early birds, most (83.9%) lie down between 10PM and midnight, while most night owls (77.1%) get into bed later, between 11PM AND 2AM.

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As expected, most early birds (91.6%) rise and shine between 8AM (with 63.7% before 7AM and over a quarter between 7AM and 8AM. However, it seems that there are many night owls (56.7%) who wake up early as well (with 28.5% waking up before 7AM and 28.2% between 7AM and 8AM), most probably to get ready to go to work or to school, which brings up the subject of flexible working and later school hours: “If you’re a night owl whose boss regularly calls 8 AM meetings, which you struggle to arrive to on time, it may not just be because you went to bed late or slept through your alarm, but because your body’s circadian rhythms don’t have you awake at 7 AM. Yes, as an early riser, I might be ready to go to bed at 10 PM on the dot every night, but if you’re a night owl, falling asleep at that hour probably sounds ludicrous; you’ll be lucky if you can turn in at 11. We’re way past due making the late risers feel like they’d be so much better off if only they’d succumb to being morning people.”

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Next, we wanted to test the perceptions towards the early risers. Most people (47.9%) describe them by using the famous saying “the early bird catches the worm”. Morning people are perceived as being adapted to the day to day life (43.2%), focusing easier (18.5%) and being more likely to be perfectionists (14.2%). A little over a quarter of respondents (25.1%) think of early birds as being proactive and more optimistic than night owls.

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When it comes to late night people, they are perceived as being party people (31.5%) that enjoy life more than morning people (30.1%) and seek adrenaline (14.4%). 40% of respondents think of night owls as being more creative, eccentric and impulsive than early birds. However, 44.3% of users think that evening types are not adapted to day-to-day life and don’t reach their true potential.

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Apparently, the best solution for both our professional and personal lives is to be an early riser, according to Questia respondents (92.5% believe that being an early bird is the best option to have a successful professional life while 82.9% think being a morning person is the best solution for having a fulfilled personal live). We cannot miss the fact that more people (17.1% compared with 7.4%) think that being an evening person is the best option for having a satisfying private life than for having an outstanding career.

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The tendency to view early birds as more fortunate also manifests when considering health and life fulfilment. Night owls are perceived as being unhealthy people, probably because they go to sleep later than early birds. Over three-quarters of respondents (78.4%) believe that larks have a happier, more fulfilled life than late types (which are thought of having a happier life by only 21.6% of respondents), while 93.4% of people think that early types also have a healthier life, having less health problems.

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When it comes to choosing between being an early bird or a night owl, most people (64.6%) would rather be a morning person while 35.4% prefer being an evening person.

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Even so, you cannot fight your natural rhythm that dictates when you fall asleep and go out of bed in the morning. That begs the question: which one are you, a night owl or an early bird?

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