Early Bird or Night Owl – What’s Your Chronotype?

Early Bird or Night Owl - What's Your Chronotype_

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Chronos – in Greek mythology is the personification of Time. For the watch connoisseurs out there, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the term “chronograph” – the additional element found in more “sporty” watches that tracks time. So, what is a ‘chrono-type’? Well, on a more abstract level, you could say it is the “type” of time we are more inclined towards; in other words, if we are morning people or “night creatures” [of sorts], or even something in between.

It’s one of those things that is rooted throughout the entire Animal Kingdom – several species stay dormant during the day, and become active at night. Others do the complete opposite. As far as the human species goes, there is a fairly even *three*-way split.

Now, I recently read Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ – an outstanding book that delves into a glorious gamut of elusive yet ubiquitous scientific quandary regarding the reasons behind our sleeping patterns, the physiological *need* for sleep, and how to better understand our body’s own unique parameters that regulate our behaviour and primal activities as they relate to our slumber.

This ‘three-way split’ was the result of scientific studies that showed that about 40% of people class as “Early Birds” – they prefer to get up at or around dawn, and typically function best at this time of day. Then we have 30% of people categorized as “Night Owls” – they (we – cuz I’m one of them!) like to get up a little later in the morning, but also stay up significantly later, and their peak for productivity comes later in the day; certainly I am at my most “tuned in” around 2-6pm.

So, you’re probably doing the simple math there and wondering two things:

First, how and why there isn’t a greater percentage of Early Birds, right? (I feel like 90+% of the people I know are matter-of-factly in this category… so where are my Night Owl peeps at!?)

But second, you might also be thinking what ‘type’ the other 30% of people fall under…

Well, the jury is out as to whether there are other chronotypes to “officially” categorize them, but essentially, they literally are the proverbial Goldilocks of the bunch – they don’t get up super early, nor super late; their productivity peaks earlier than Night Owls, but later than Early Birds… and yes, they go to bed somewhere in the middle too!

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick with the two main (more widely recognized) Chronotypes.

Now, you’re probably thinking: ‘Yeah, great! I’m a “Crack-o’-Dawn-er” – always have been. This isn’t news to me.’ (Or the opposite if you’re a “Midnight-Oiler”). [Just making up my own terms now!]. Anyhow, the point is: perspective. Gauging a new one, to be precise.

See, there is an unfair amount of animosity thrown about between Early Birds and Night Owls, albeit relatively passive and harmless. However, I believe it is important to understand why we are how we are. All too often we can be made to feel bad for being an Early Riser or a Late Nighter. One is deemed overly “chipper” / eager / opportunistic; while the other is labelled as lazy / unambitious / somewhat a “procrastinator”.

The thing is, we can all be [perceived as] each of these traits depending on what time it is. At 11pm an Early Bird can be just as “lazy” (tired) as a Night Owl would seem at 6am. A Night Owl might see opportunity at later hours (perhaps doing business online with another country several time-zones away); whereas an Early Bird’s job might simply be more local and simply fall within “normal” working hours.

What we must understand is that our Chronotype isn’t simply a lifestyle choice (though, for those who force it, I guess it can be). Rather, it is part of our physiology. An unshakeable piece of the tapestry that is our DNA.

Basic biology helps explain the Why behind the What when it comes to the fact that our brain dictates our state of “awake-ness”. Specifically, our Prefrontal Cortex; you can consider this to be akin to our brain’s “HQ” (Headquarters). It’s in charge of Logic & Reasoning (among other things), and so – for a Night Owl – if we’re made to wake up ‘super early’ (by our schedules), then simply put: HQ is still “closed for business”… The necessary chain of hormonal triggers and responses hasn’t been set in motion yet because our biological clocks are hardwired to only “fire up” at times that correspond with our natural patterns (i.e. our Chronotype).

Clearly, you can see a pattern emerging here, so suffice to say that the Prefrontal Cortex in an Early Bird “shuts down” ‘early’ [when compared to a Night Owl].

Now, far from the intricacies surrounding the subject on a purely social level, I believe it is also important for it to be understood in a professional context. Namely, in Schools and Businesses. I think that Teachers need to be more aware so as not to chastise Students who struggle to be more awake at earlier hours; clearly, with kids and teenagers there is the fact that their physiology is going through an ongoing change as they physically grow and evolve into young adults.

One sleep researcher – Irwin Feinberg – actually studied the brain activity of subjects throughout their childhood and found that there is an everchanging “landscape” [of sorts] when it comes to their physiology and sleep patterns. An evolving struggle to find the right “fit” (so to speak), and it all ties in with two topics that I’ve covered before on CXP Zen: Circadian Rhythms, and Polyphasic Sleep (vs Monophasic Sleep).

See, as you’ll probably already know (but perhaps not actually realize) is that babies, infants and young children adopt polyphasic sleep patterns; that is – they sleep for a number of hours, then are awake, then sleep again, then they’re awake again (sleeping in multiple “bouts” throughout the day/night).

As adolescence looms the child has usually adapted to a monophasic sleep pattern, but now the hardwiring is determining a Chronotype. So, apart from puberty, sexuality, social development and several other massive aspects of a kid’s life that start to form in these more tumultuous years, there is also the very literal “internal struggle” when it comes to their biological clocks.

So, any Teachers reading this (which, by the way, I was a Teacher for a number of years)… now you know. Of course, you’ll have enough experience to know if it’s just a case of a “developing teen” or a kid acting out and misbehaving; but just be sure to be cognisant of what they’re likely going through.

Turning the focus to Businesses

Again, I feel it is prudent that an Employer (like a Teacher) should know their Employees! Just as it is vital to know if your Staff have any health issues (Diabetes, for example), you should also be sympathetic to them either being naturally more productive earlier or later in the day.

Unfortunately, most “common” businesses operate during ‘normal’ business hours; therefore, the Early Birds are going to have a slight advantage as they will turn up on time (maybe even *early*) and most likely pump out emails/calls/sales/etc like a machine throughout those first “crucial” (?) hours of the day. But then… have you ever noticed that they kind of ‘let up’ towards the end of the day? (NOT saying this is the case for *all* Early Birds out there, but I’ve met my fair share who plough through the first half of their workday, only to kinda kick their feet up at the tail-end of it). Seems to fly under the radar for the most part…

Conversely, Night Owls don’t do themselves any favours… often they turn up late to work. They drag through the first couple of hours (still trying to wake up and “switch on”); but then, after lunch it’s like a fire has been lit under them, and suddenly, they’re the ones hammering the phones / driving the sales / etc until the proverbial bell rings (end of day / business close).

More often than not though, the efforts made by the Night Owls are deemed somewhat “last ditch” – apparently only to make up for a lack of productivity earlier in the day. This is what is usually noted. This is what can be unfairly criticized.

So, when I say it’s about ‘Perspective’… it’s really about being more objective on the issue. Rather than noticing purely how someone Starts, perhaps notice how everyone finishes also. Better yet, why not compare the Net Results of both [the Early Birds and the Night Owls] to get a more accurate read on who is the hard worker. Who is the valuable asset.

I remember starting out in the Fitness Industry a little over ten years ago now – I began doing Sales & Corporate Relations – and I was the sole Night Owl on the Team. Everybody else was an Early Bird – they all arrived to work bright-eyed and bushy tailed, while I rocked up looking good and ready, but admittedly, desperately hiding my tired and struggling self.

I was (and still am) pretty darn unsociable for the first 5-10mins when I rock up to work, as I adjust and settle into the day. But the numbers at the end of each day/week/month… you’d never know the difference – I was consistently a Top Performer! I just peaked later in the day. While my colleagues would give me a banter-laden ribbing every morning, they couldn’t deny that I was “producing the goods”.

There are Companies out there who are evolving so as to cater to their Employees in this exact context; again – as I mentioned in my Polyphasic Sleep article (as well as my Inemuri & Siesta one) – you have the likes of Google, Apple and Virgin [even] that are going against the grain and grafting a world around their Workforces that *enables* them and empowers them, rather than unjustly penalizing them.

Google & Apple have their Sleep Pods – for employees to take naps. Some of the Virgin companies allow a liberal schedule – employees can take as much time off as they like, and even work from home in some cases… the proviso being that they MUST meet their monthly quotas/targets! So, if you were capable of smashing your quotas for the month in just one week, you could justify taking the rest of the month off… Though it isn’t *quite* that simple (the criteria is slightly more complex), it is a concept that they’ve been successfully using for a while now.

I am lucky where I work now because I am given the freedom to write my own schedule! Knowing that I operate optimally after lunch, I typically only train Clients between 1pm and 7pm – that way, they get me when I’m at full capacity, and I can give the best level of service possible. Any earlier in the day… and well, you know by now that – for me, anyway – that just wouldn’t work out quite as smoothly!

Anyhow, so that’s all for today’s article on Chronotypes. If you didn’t already know which you are, then hopefully you now better understand why you go to sleep and wake up at the times that feel most natural to you! Don’t feel bad about it – embrace it! It’s part of your genetic makeup, and if applied appropriately, can be your biggest asset!

I’ll catch you in the next one, but in the meantime, remember: Love Life, and Love Yourself!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO

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