Early Birds vs Night Owls


You may have heard the saying ‘the early
bird gets the worm’, but when it comes to humans, do morning people really have an advantage
over night owls? Does one come out on top as more intelligent or successful than the
other in this battle over bed time? The somewhat surprising truth is that we have
little say in sleep preference, as it’s almost entirely genetically pre-determined.
Chances are, if you’re a night owl, it was likely passed down from an ancestor who was
also a night owl. And from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense; having individuals
with varying sleeping patterns would allow for better protection of a group throughout
day and night. Instead of everybody sleeping at one time, some people naturally stay up
later, and some wake up earlier, aware of threats or predators while other sleep. But considering most modern societal activities
happen between 9am-5pm, it may seem clear that night owls are put at a disadvantage.
And researchers have actually coined the term ‘social jet lag’ to describe the sleep
deprivation many experience to accommodate social norms. For night owls, this social
jet lag feels like living in a different time zone every single day. Considering chronic
sleep deprivation has a direct effect on brain functioning, it’s no surprise that studies
report night owl university students have lower overall grades. Not to mention early
birds tend to display more positive social traits such as being proactive and optimistic,
and are less prone to depression, or addictions to nicotine, alcohol and food. And we can see these traits represented physically
in the brain – particularly the white matter which helps neurons communicate. Night owls
exhibit significantly less white matter and, as a result, there are fewer pathways for
feel good hormones such as serotonin or dopamine to travel through. But it’s not all bad for the late nighters.
In fact, they tend to be much more creative, have been found to have higher cognitive abilities,
and are known to be risk takers. What they lack in white matter, they make up in cortisol
levels. This ‘stress hormone’ gets your body ready to face an immediate threat, contributing
to their risk taking behaviour, which studies show can translate into opportunities and
potentially more financial gain. Furthermore, even though morning people can
be very energetic right after waking, they tend to lose steam faster than night owls
throughout the day. Both sides perform equally well in reaction-time tests an hour after
waking, but after 10 hours of being awake, night owls perform significantly better. Your inner clock is regulated by many proteins which are created from various genes in your DNA. Studies have even shown that a single
change of the genetic code, near a gene called Period 1, can result in an hour difference
in your waking time. , As crazy as it seems, scientists also found a correlation between
these same genes and your time of death. The early risers were more likely to die around
11am, while the night owls were more likely to die before 6pm. What about teenagers, you say? It’s true,
most tend to be night owls due to the hormonal changes during puberty, but this tends to
wane out into your genetic default as you enter adulthood. So while there may be some truth to early
birds getting the worm, night owls aren’t exactly lagging behind in life…they’re
just lagging behind in time! Don’t forget to check out our latest AsapTHOUGHT
video where you can participate in a Scientific Pop Music Experiment with us! We’re finding
out what makes songs so catchy in the first place, and if there is an exact science behind
it all. Click on the screen or the link in the description. And subscribe for more weekly science videos!

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