Early Birds vs Night Owls – Is One Better Than The Other?

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Some people wake up bright and early, ready to tackle the day. Others find their stride later in the evening. These are two common sleep chronotypes, or specific patterns of sleep, but is one better than the other? Here’s what the research suggests about early birds and night owls.

What’s the difference between early birds and night owls?

Early birds prefer to go to bed early and wake up early, and tend to feel their best in the morning. Night owls, on the other hand, stay up late and like to sleep in. Night owls find they feel and perform better later in the day.

How to Tell If You’re an Early Bird or a Night Owl

It’s usually pretty easy to spot morning larks and night owls. Here are some common characteristics found in each group.

Early BirdsNight Owls
You go to bed early and wake up early.You stay up late and like to sleep in.
You feel your best whenever the day begins.You feel your best later in the day.
You have less energy in the late afternoon and evening.You have more energy at night.
You tend to have a difficult time staying awake after certain hours.You feel tired after waking up early, and you have a hard time staying alert during the morning.

Why Are Some People Early Birds, While Others Are Night Owls?

Some people think their sleep pattern is solely a matter of willpower, but research suggests otherwise. In fact, your specific sleep chronotype could be due to your circadian rhythm, or the “internal clock” that tells you when it’s time to go to bed and wake up. These rhythms are influenced mostly by your genetics, and so is your chronotype.

“Your brain’s clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) keeps time with ‘clock genes’ and these are expressed at different rates between early birds and night owls,” Dr. Anthony Izzo, a board-certified sleep specialist and neurologist, tells Mattress Clarity. Izzo also said that factors known as zeitgebers, also known as time givers and time cues, can modify how your brain keeps time. These include things like melatonin, light exposure, meal times, and social interactions. “But your chronotype declares itself at around 18 months of age and mostly stays the same for the rest of your life,” says Izzo.

Early Birds vs Night Owls: Benefits and Disadvantages

“We live in an early bird society,” says Izzo, which accommodates early risers’ lifestyles better and allows them to get more sleep. That might be why early birds tend to be great problem solvers and get better grades in school. A large-scale genomic analysis from 2019 also suggests that the genetic predisposition to rise early could be associated with greater well-being and a decreased risk of depression and schizophrenia when compared with night owls.

Morning larks may not be able to stay out too late, though, and they often have difficulty sleeping in. This could create snags in social situations because they need to adhere to their regular sleep pattern. “Our social lives are mostly conducted in the evening and night time, and as a lifelong morning person myself, I like to joke that I’m not much fun after about 8 or 9 p.m.,” says Izzo.

Society often stereotypes night owls as lazy and unmotivated, but that isn’t based on fact. While some research suggests that night owls tend to have higher IQs, a 2020 study suggests the relationship between chronotype and intelligence has more to do with work schedules than physiological differences. 

Another perk of being a night owl? Fewer interruptions. While many people are sleeping, night owls can focus on their own work in silence. This could prove especially beneficial for people who work in artistic industries, which may be why night owls tend to be more creative.

How To Change Your Sleep Schedule

Although your sleep pattern is mostly out of your control, you can work to train your body to wake up earlier or stay up later. Here are a few ways to change your sleep schedule:

  • Shift your sleep schedule gradually – It takes time to adjust to a new routine. If you’re trying to become a morning person, start by moving your wake-up time 15-20 minutes earlier every few days.
  • Stick to the same sleep schedule every day – Yes, even on weekends.
  • Take a short nap in the afternoon if you feel sleepy – But don’t overdo it. Fifteen to 30-minute naps are usually best. Long naps may leave you feeling groggy, and they could make it more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime.
  • Expose yourself to light – Start your morning by enjoying the sun’s rays, or get a sunrise alarm clock. This could make you feel more alert and awake as your day begins.
  • Put away electronics at least one hour before bed – Some studies suggest the light from electronic devices can impede your ability to fall asleep.
  • Limit your caffeine intake – Some people can feel the effects of caffeine for as much as seven hours after consumption.


Still curious about early birds vs night owls? Check out our FAQ section below.

What is the difference between night owls and early birds?

Like the names suggest, night owls tend to stay up late, while early birds go to bed early. That’s not the only difference between these two groups, though. Most notably, night owls feel more alert during the evening hours, and morning larks have the most energy when they first wake up in the morning.

Is it healthier to be a night owl or an early bird?

As long as each group gets an adequate amount of sleep, they’re both considered healthy. Society is better suited for morning people, however, so that could give this group a slight advantage. If night owls aren’t able to shift their work and life schedules, they may end up feeling sleep deprived and anxious.

How do you go from night owl to early bird?

With patience and consistency, you can change your sleep patterns. It’s important to remember, especially if you’re trying to become more of a morning lark, to slowly shift your sleep schedule. Izzo suggests the timed use of melatonin and bright light exposure to begin falling asleep and waking up earlier.

Use low dose melatonin (0.5-3 mg) 90 minutes before your intended bedtime and then at least 30 minutes of bright light exposure upon awakening in the morning,” Izzo says. “If you have a natural night owl chronotype, your sleep phase will naturally want to drift later if you don’t keep up these maintenance treatments to encourage your brain to sleep at an earlier time.”

Jessica Timmons