Why are some people early birds and others are night owls?

Making the Switch From Owl to Lark
It can be hard to live with someone who has the opposite time clock to you but there are ways you can get better in sync.
It can be hard to live with someone who has the opposite time clock to you but there are ways you can get better in sync.

Even for us moderately inclined hummingbird types, it can be difficult to live in an early bird world, particularly if you lack a taste for caffeine-laden coffee. Many couples find it challenging to live with someone on the opposite spectrum, since most of us like to share more than a couple of waking hours with our significant others. Whether you're hoping to beat that nauseatingly chipper guy to the promotion or avoid a "ships passing in the night" sort of relationship, there are ways to adjust your internal clock accordingly.

"Morning light exposure for a night owl will help reset the circadian clock," says Dr. Breus, adding that this measure will ideally halt the production of melatonin. Done over a period of a couple of weeks, such efforts will help shift a night owl somewhere closer to the middle. "I think it would be tough to get a true night owl to become an early bird," he says. Simply opening your curtains probably won't do the trick, though. Experts suggest physically taking yourself outside in the morning if a shift to an earlier schedule is what you desire. Exposure to the direct morning light will help your circadian rhythms to adjust accordingly, just as spending time outside in the evening will have the opposite effect [source: Randler].

Most experts agree that modest change is probably the best-case scenario for true night-timers, since it appears that 50 percent of such tendencies are purely genetic [source: Randler]. If you've given living on the opposite schedule a fair shot and just can't seem to make it work, it might behoove you to consider career aspirations that are more in tune with your natural preferences. Job opportunities with flexible or overnight schedules include a range of healthcare positions (doctors, nurses and techs), writers, artists and bartenders. By contrast, larks are ideally suited for careers in education, manufacturing, banking and general business, to name a few.

Fortunately, more companies are jumping on the flexible scheduling/work-from-home bandwagon, which is helping people of all schedule persuasions cope with time of day preferences. Now, if only we could get them to adopt universal napping policies, we'd be sitting — and sleeping — pretty.

Author's Note: Why are some people early birds and others are night owls?

Here's hoping science will yield a cute name for what I really am: someone who likes to go to bed early and sleep in late. Followed by an early afternoon nap.

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  • Blaszczak-Boxe, Agata. "Night owls and early birds have different personality traits." CBS News. July 24, 2014 (July 22, 2015) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/night-owls-and-early-birds-have-different-personality-traits/
  • Borreli, Lizette. "Early Bird or a Night Owl? What Your Sleep Schedule May Say About Your Health." Medical Daily. Dec. 3, 2014 (July 21, 2015) http://www.medicaldaily.com/early-bird-or-night-owl-what-your-sleep-schedule-may-say-about-your-health-312916
  • Breus, Michael PhD DABSM. Interview via e-mail. July 22, 2015.
  • Howard, Jacqueline. "Early Bird Or Night Owl, Your Sleep Schedule Says a Lot About Your Personality." The Huffington Post. Dec. 1, 2014 (July 22, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/01/night-owl-morning-person-asapscience_n_6236918.html
  • Oakley, Colleen. "Why You're an Early Bird or a Night Owl." WebMD. 2015 (July 21, 2015) http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/early-bird-night-owl
  • Randler, Christoph. "Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm." Harvard Business Review. July-August 2010 (July 21, 2015) https://hbr.org/2010/07/defend-your-research-the-early-bird-really-does-get-the-worm
  • Smolensky, PhD, Michael and Lynne Lamberg. The Body Clock Guide to Better Health. 2015 (July 21, 2015) http://www.nasw.org/users/llamberg/larkowl.htm

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