Night Owls, Morning Larks and Everything in Between

We’ve all heard about night owls and morning larks. Which are you?

Headshot of BedTimes Managing Editor Beth English
Beth English
Managing Editor

BY BETH ENGLISH

On average, night owls go to bed about two hours later than their early-rising counterparts. Every now and again, a piece of research comes along that helps us understand why and how people are wired differently when it comes to sleep.

In January 2015, we reported on a study by Arcady Putilov and colleagues at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which created two additional categories in addition to larks and owls—high energetics and lethargics. People who are high energetics have high energy levels in the morning and evening. Those who fall into the lethargic category are tired in the morning and evening. (I guess they have decent energy in the afternoon?) Interestingly, those who can be classified as high energetics typically sleep half an hour less than others, averaging 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night.

Earlier this year, Michael Breus, author of “The Power of When,” found a new way to label sleep and energy patterns. He classified people’s internal clocks according to the mammals they are most like. You can be a bear, lion, dolphin or wolf. A bear needs its full eight hours. A lion is energized early in the morning. Dolphins are light sleepers and often have insomnia. Wolves are most energetic at night and struggle with mornings. Check the March 2017 issue to get more complete descriptions of each.

This issue contains an article on the next wave of research into circadian cycles. This time scientists at Rockefeller University in New York City have found that people who tend to go to bed later may have a mutation in one of their genes that causes their circadian rhythm to run on a 24 1/2-hour cycle instead of a typical 24-hour cycle. Interesting, huh?

Clearly, sleep needs change as we grow and develop. Infants require large amounts of sleep for brain development, and, much to their parents’ dismay, that sleep comes in smaller, nonconsecutive chunks. Adolescents are wired to go to bed later and wake up later. Pregnant women and new parents get less sleep, regardless of their natural circadian rhythms. And with age, sleep becomes more elusive for all.

I am a morning person married to a night owl. At least, that’s how it used to be. These days, my night-owl husband goes to bed earlier than I do. And my lark tendencies have drifted more toward Breus’ bear. (Interestingly, he says about half of the population are bears, so I’m in good company.) 

Is it possible that our innate sleep tendencies change over time? I bet someone is out there researching this very thing right now—and we will report the findings. 

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