Morning people vs. night owls: The workplace advantage backed by science

Most likely, you’re aware if you lean toward mornings or evenings. Now, science delivers encouraging news for the early risers: It seems that the early bird truly does catch the worm.

A recent study published in the academic journal “Sleep” revealed fundamental differences in brain function between night owls and early birds, suggesting impaired function in night owls during regular work hours.

University of Birmingham researchers analyzed brain function among 38 individuals categorized as either night owls, with an average bedtime of 2:30 a.m. and wake-up time of 10:00 a.m., or morning larks, who typically went to bed at 11 p.m. and woke up at 6:30 a.m. Participants underwent MRI scans, performed tasks, and engaged in testing sessions between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. while reporting their level of sleepiness.

The study found that night owls exhibited lower resting brain connectivity associated with decreased attention, slower reactions, and heightened sleepiness during typical work hours. Conversely, morning larks consistently displayed higher brain connectivity in areas linked to better performance and reduced sleepiness, suggesting impaired resting-state brain connectivity in night owls throughout the day.

Dr. Elise Facer-Childs, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health, emphasized the need to understand these issues to minimize health risks and enhance productivity during non-ideal work hours.

Genetics may influence whether someone is a morning person or night owl. Another study examined nearly 700,000 genomes, identifying hundreds of genes associated with individuals’ sleep preferences, involving metabolism, the biological clock, and retinal function.

Understanding one’s chronotype—whether a morning or night person—can optimize productivity, according to Daniel Pink, author of “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” Pink suggests tailoring tasks to the optimal time of day, recommending analytical work for morning larks in the morning and administrative tasks later in the day. For night owls, the reverse pattern is more effective.