You know the saying: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Problem is, that doesn’t really apply in today’s world. We’re not waking up at dawn to work the fields; we’re usually burning midnight oil on creative projects or extracurriculars. And when you’re up until 1am reading that award-winning novel or learning about some history on Wikipedia or doing illustrations for that freelance gig, waking up early can feel impossible.
The good news is, for those who stay up and sleep in, those late hours might be making us smarter.
For one, early risers tend to use their extra hours to do more mundane activities: Go to the gym, make breakfast and coffee, etc. Night owls start slow, but their pursuits at night tend to be creative. A study conducted by the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan asked 240 people if they were morning or night people, and then had each take a series of three tests that measure creative thinking. The night people scored much higher than the morning people, many of whom struggled to score above a 50. Those awake at night find their time—when the rest of the world has gone to bed—more productive, less distracting, and open to let ideas flow.
Also, those who wake up early are really productive at the start, but their energy fades as the day goes on. Waking up at 5 means you’re in bed by 9—and missing half the night. A study by researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium measured brain activity of 15 “extreme night owls” and 15 “extreme morning people” when they woke up, and again 10.5 hours later. Each performed the same upon waking, but the early risers were flagging by the second reading, when the night owls were still going strong. They also tend to be more stressed out; the BBC reported that people who wake up early have higher levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Usually people get up early out of obligation—kids, work, gym. Starting the day with demands isn’t the best for stress.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury to sleep in and adjust their cycle. But for those who do—and get guilt-tripped for “being lazy”—it’s actually all good.