The world belongs to the early birds! According to mainstream media, morning larks have all the time in the day to finish their work, spend time with family and friends, and their health is overall better. So, if you are a morning person reading this — congratulations!
But, all these praises seem to blur the fact that larks aren’t as perfect as the media portrays. I myself being one, don’t feel I get all the benefits they list. In fact, most times, I’m tired, and finding out what time of day works for me, even as a lark, proves to be tricky. So it’s time we looked at how and why exactly are morning larks more productive, and what are the often missed downsides this lifestyle brings.
Table of contents
- Who are early birds/morning larks?
- Why are morning people more productive?
- The downsides of being an early bird
- Productivity tips for morning larks
- Can a night owl become a morning lark?
Who are early birds/morning larks?
Early birds (or morning larks) are people who wake up with the morning sun and find that they do their best work in the morning. They tend to reach their peak productivity in the early hours of the day and see it slowly decline in the afternoon and evening. Early birds are usually in bed by 11 p.m. when their counterparts — night owls — reach their peak levels of productivity.
The morning lark/night owl division is based on the circadian rhythm — the 24-hour inner clock, governing our sleep and wake cycle. When we feel our most energized self will determine which group we belong to.
Why are morning people more productive?
There isn’t one specific reason that makes morning people more energized and adaptable to the 9-to-5 workday. Many websites list all the scientific benefits that come with this lifestyle, but I wanted to find out how exactly those benefits affect productivity.
They have better mental health
Morning larks are less likely to suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Experts have found that this comes down to sleep patterns and exposure to natural light. And, with mounting research that vitamin D is a mood booster, it becomes clear why larks report being happier in the day.
So, the daylight provides that additional boost in vitamin D, which makes larks more productive? Or is it also the feeling of having the entire day ahead to do what we had planned? I’d say a little of both.
They’re more physically active
With more than enough time in the day, early birds tend to pick up hobbies that involve moving around more. Be it sports, taking long walks, or commuting to work, even. Occupying our bodies means relieving stress, giving our brains a break, improving focus, and boosting our mood. All of these benefits together are intrinsically linked to an increase in productivity, as greater personal satisfaction makes us more eager to take on challenges.
However, research suggests that morning larks aren’t exactly genetically predisposed to be better at physical activities. It can also be attributed to the fact that, when night owls’ energy peaks (8 p.m. – 2 a.m.), there simply aren’t enough opportunities for physical activities. As night falls, there are fewer and fewer options for outdoor activities. Another example where nature is better tailored for early birds.
Early birds eat healthier
Now, early birds are absolutely just as susceptible to eating junk food. I am the first to admit that. But I will usually stay away from heavy foods at night, because I know I’ll be going to bed soon. If my stomach is too busy digesting all night, I’ll probably sleep poorly.
For night owls, scientists observed diet choices are less favorable. Their energy levels can go all over the place when working at night. The body requires more fuel to stay up and functioning, which causes people to snack, or consume drinks that are unhealthy. For larks, this isn’t an issue, as they’re long in bed.
The world is one big early bird
With a lot of stores, gyms, clinics, and everything else being open during the daytime, larks have an easier time managing their schedules. Of course, they will see more career success in life, since everyone conforms to a mostly 9 to 5 world.
Their productivity is affected by how often they’re able to cooperate with their teammates/coworkers, how quickly they can receive and respond to feedback, and it’s easier to set personal life and work boundaries if your job is done before the sun goes down.
The downsides of being an early bird
Despite the research-based benefits listed above, not everything is peaches and cream for morning larks. There are some consequences to this lifestyle that are often neglected in mainstream media.
You always wake up at the same time
I started off as a night owl in my teenage days, and all throughout university. There was something energizing in studying at night, when the house would fall silent, and dark was all around me. Without the hustle and bustle of my family, I could focus.
However, it all changed when I started working as an English teacher. I had to be at school by 7:30 a.m. After just a few weeks, I’ve converted fully, and to this day I can’t imagine staying at work past 5 p.m. My bedtime shifted to around 11 p.m. — if I’d stay up past that time, I’d feel exhausted. Unfortunately, this transferred over to my weekend sleep cycle as well. No matter how tired I am, or how much I want to sleep in… my mind snaps awake at 8 a.m. at the latest.
And this is a struggle many larks face. Even if we try to stay awake for social events, or if our children exhaust us, or if unforeseen events force us to stay up… more often than not, our bodies will rigidly stick to their internal clocks, even when we want to sleep in. And, it can go on for days, until we almost pass out.
Socialization is more difficult for early birds
Did you know that night owls have a more bustling social life, and are more often the center of attention?
Talayeh Aledavood and her colleagues at Aalto University conducted an experiment that revealed something unexpected about larks. They gave 1,000 volunteers phones with an app that measures their social activity through texts and calls. The results were presented as a network with all the links between the volunteers. The more links — the more popular the person.
Lo and behold, night owls had significantly more connections. They would reach out more often and organize gatherings. What’s more, night owls quickly found other owls. To Aledavood’s surprise, larks were sorely lacking in this aspect. With their schedules revolving more in the morning and early afternoon, they were more likely to spend their social media time alone.
And as Aledavood herself said, this was the first research ever to confirm that night owls have bigger and stronger social networks. The working world may be tailored to morning larks, but the owls rule over socialization.
The hypocrisy of an alarm clock
As early birds, we take pride in waking up with the sun (or even before it). But, one forum post about this topic was enough to make me question this pride: how are you a morning person if you need an alarm clock to wake you up?
This got me thinking about the circadian rhythm and how it’s supposed to dictate our bodies’ sleep-wake cycle. Are larks’ bodies really built differently, or are we just forcing them into a lark schedule? I mentioned before that I wake up at around 7 a.m, and accepted it as me being an early bird. But, I also have an alarm clock (of which I’m now ashamed), and a small dog whining by my bed for a morning outdoor-bathroom-run. Sometimes even as early as 6 a.m.
To find out your true circadian rhythm, experts advise going to bed and waking up when you feel tired, and without an alarm. Do this for a week, and take note of the hour you usually wake up, and the hour you feel ready to sleep.
No matter how much I’ve searched, there are just no conventional “downsides” to being a morning lark.
But, before you take pride in that, it’s important to note: while there are no health issues that come from being an early bird, sometimes, waking up early is a symptom of some health issue.
This may especially be the case if you don’t really feel the energy surge in the morning. Or, if you are constantly tired, and if it takes a lot for you to get going. Sometimes, it’s not your body’s internal clock waking you up, but a sleep disturbance. Waking up early could also be caused by:
- Insomnia from stress, mental illness, side-effects from some medication, etc;
- Physical conditions such as sleep apnea or thyroid dysfunction;
- Changes in work shifts, or
- Your sleep cycle is simply changing with your age.
It is probably a good first step to check if any of the mentioned conditions might be causing you to wake up early.
Productivity tips for morning larks
Just like night owls need their routines to stay productive in the wee hours of the night, so do morning larks. There are numerous ways to prepare you for the day ahead, and I’ve singled out some we don’t talk about as often.
Start your day in a way that suits YOU
Whether it’s through a workout, a hearty meal, or journaling.
Just because early birds have this one common denominator, it doesn’t mean they function the same way. Some of them wake up at 7 a.m. while others like to rise and shine at 5 a.m.
Similarly, your morning routine is going to be much more different and unique. You may draw energy from exercising right as you freshen up, or listening to the morning program on TV, walking the dog, or meditating. Some even find calm in the ritual of putting on makeup and getting ready for the day ahead. The best part is finding your productive morning routine, and sticking to it, for maximum happiness.
Leave a clean workspace for your morning self
When you’re done with work for the day, do your best to leave a nice, clean desk for your future self.
It’s an end-of-workday routine that helps boost your productivity by a little. Having a mess around your workstation leaves the impression of unfinished work, and reminds you of the day before. In contrast, a clean desk is a clean slate for the day ahead.
Have a post-it with urgent tasks
Not everyone can work with a to-do list. And, if you are an early bird who has a problem “booting up” in the morning, a simple post-it note with the first morning tasks written down is a great start.
Avoid making long bulleted lists, as they tend to feel overwhelming when tackled so early in the morning. With one post-it saying “reply to XY email”, or “check feedback”, the morning seems more manageable.
Mind your diet
While morning larks are already labeled as making healthier food choices, there is one thing you can improve. Due to your circadian rhythm being morning-oriented, your energy levels are expected to drop sometime in the afternoon. Since the goal is to survive work until 5 p.m, you should choose lunches that won’t be as filling. Heavy, hearty food will only make you sleepier as blood rushes from your brain to your stomach to help it digest the meal.
This leads to a loss of focus. You’d much rather take a nap or a break than work, of course.
If such a lunch is unavoidable (for example, you’re off to a business meeting), then schedule easier tasks for the afternoon. Something mundane that requires low effort.
Additionally, try to avoid processed sugar in large quantities. You may be tempted, because it gives you a boost in energy, but the inevitable sugar crash is going to make you beyond tired.
Can a night owl become a morning lark?
Let’s take a second to address our night owl readers here, who wish to make a change. Maybe you realized that it’s easier to try and adapt to the world of larks than to resist it. Before you do that, make sure your priorities are in check, because adapting your sleep schedule takes a lot of patience and time.
While being an early riser is healthier, we have to note that it’s not always possible, nor should you force your internal clock to change. Genetics dictates everything about us, and it also plays a role in whether we’re an owl or a lark. So, if you can’t completely transition, don’t think you’re lazy or incapable. There’s more at play here than motivation.
Even the smallest changes can improve your quality of life significantly. Here are some things you can focus on:
Stick to a sleeping schedule
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Night owls usually look to fill out a “sleeping quota”, rather than stick to a routine.
When deciding on a schedule, be more mindful of your body. Introduce change gradually. If you usually get up at 10–11 a.m, then you want to aim for waking up 15-20 minutes earlier than that. Most people start strong, setting their alarms for 2 or 3 hours earlier, and then either get frustrated they snoozed through it, or manage to wake up, but feel awful all day.
Your body needs time to adjust to a morning routine, so treat it with kindness and patience. Wake up 20 minutes earlier for a week, give it time to get used to it, then move the alarm for 15 or 20 minutes more in the following week.
Limit blue light exposure at night
In the past few years, there’s been research showing that our digital surroundings made it almost impossible to go to bed early. LED lights, blue screens of monitors and smartphones, having all lights on in the house at 11 p.m… they all confuse the body it’s daytime.
Fun fact: our bodies still haven’t evolved from the prehistoric age, where our lives depended on the sunlight. The sun dictated when we woke up and went to sleep. And, since technology works faster than evolution, our bodies started interpreting all these artificial lights for the sunlight and kept functioning until near exhaustion.
Try limiting your screen times after 8 p.m. and have only the necessary lights on. Help your body keep its usual rhythm, and you’ll soon be able to readjust.
Do more physical activity
The age-old advice works, anyone who’s tried it will confirm. The more physically taxing things you do in the day, the earlier you’ll go to bed and sleep better.
So, do some sports activities, find more demanding hobbies like gardening or hiking, or simply spend over an hour in the park with your family, pets, or friends. Walking can often be enough, too.
But, it holds true that night owls can be more creative, attentive, and intelligent than morning larks. If you find that this lifestyle suits you just fine, then maybe you just need a few tweaks. Try following some productivity tips for night owls, and you probably won’t need to change your sleep schedule.
Morning larks truly are better equipped to handle the rhythm of the modern world. Until we completely abandon the 9-to-5, they will continue to find more success at work and with health than night owls. That being said, we shouldn’t neglect that being a morning person has its own setbacks, like sacrificing sleep for a rich social life. But, just like night owls, larks have to make some compromises depending on what they’re after. In the end, they too have weaknesses, and have to learn from them in order to make the best out of their body’s natural rhythm.
✉️ Are you a morning lark? Is there a productivity method or a morning ritual that works perfectly for you? Send us your stories at email@example.com and we may feature you in one of our future articles.