Most of us will fall into one of two camps: those who willingly hop out of bed and feel at their most productive first thing and those who need a slow start, their day starting not so much with a kick but more with a slow revving of the engine, fuelled by coffee and the need to catch a train. The latter will be more likely to feel at their most energetic in the evening, as the early birds feel their battery draining steadily throughout the day.
I am the larkiest of larks. Early mornings are infused with potential for the day ahead, my brain is active and my tank is filled and ready to go. As the day goes on, the productivity drops until it reaches levels of near-stagnation after dinner. If I am asked to do even the smallest task in the evening, it will be done slowly and with burning resentment. I used to live with my best friend, an owl. She found me intensely irritating before 11am. She would be sullen and silent on the tube into work while I kept up an up-beat, one-sided dialogue about the day ahead. Fast forward to 9pm, where she would suddenly and cheerfully decide to clear out the messy drawer in the kitchen or colour-code her knitwear, while I’d stare at her, baffled, from my nest in the sofa. It’s actually amazing, looking back, how much we enjoyed living together.
Are we always one or the other?
Sleep patterns can go through phases, related to age. For example, small children and the elderly often tend to be early risers whereas teenagers are renowned for being unable to get out of bed. Some secondary schools have even adapted their days to start later, with strong results.
Aside from these phases, we really do fall into these two categories. It seems to run in families and has been proven to be genetic. Your internal body clock that sets your circadian rhythm is located at the base of the brain, in the hypothalamus. In simplistic terms, some people have clocks that run quickly (the larks) and some more slowly (the owls).
Is one better than the other?
Society tends to run on a 9-5 schedule, with the working (or school) day starting at a set time. This can be challenging for owls who are forced to get going before their body clock is at its most optimal. Larks, on the other hand, can choose to go to bed as early as they like, though they might forego evening activities, which tend to be more sociable in nature.
Can an early-riser become a night owl?
Given that these tendencies are hardwired in your genes, the answer is “not really”. But we can adapt to an extent! Larks are fully able to function after a late night and owls can get up early, we just need to be mindful to rest when needed. We may also make life and career choices to suit our sleep tendencies. A lark might not choose, say, to work as a nightclub bouncer and an owl might be unlikely to volunteer for a morning paper round. A lot of us fall into a “moderate” category (pigeons?) as even the most ardent larks might struggle to get out of a bed with the softest linen bedding and a night owl might enjoy a lazy early night from time to time in their pyjamas. The key is to be aware of our sleep predispositions, accept ourselves as we are and not feel guilty about those lazy mornings in bed…