The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get the Worm

By Kate Sims

In college, it is fair to assume that a lot of students are extremely sleep deprived and spend each semester trying to catch up on vital rest. Between class work, student organizations and part-time or full-time jobs to balance, even the wisest and most experienced college students still struggle with sleep. Only 11 percent of students get “the proper amount of sleep,” according to a study by Brown University.  Most groups were separated into those who stayed up late or got up early. I myself identify with the crowd that stay up late. Recently, I decided it might be better to change my pattern with a great logic behind it. If I were to wake sooner, rather than stay up late, I wouldn’t feel so tired when I hopped up at 7 a.m. to get the same work done that I would do that night. That experiment did not have the results I predicted, yet I did gain a new sense of what makes a person have strange sleeping patterns.

For the night owls of the world, many factors can keep them awake. Insomnia, or sleeplessness, can be provoked by stress, anxiety, chronic pains, changes in schedules, and more. I can’t think of a better catalyst for these causes than college, where the idea of night owl stems from students denying themselves sleep to get things done. This is inaccurate because a night owl isn’t someone too stressed out of their minds to sleep; it is someone who is still alert in the later hours when others are heading to bed. People in this group are said to have a higher cognitive complexity, according to a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science. I for one find that my creative peak is in the later hours. Think about it; these are the people who choose to be active in a period of time with minimal distractions prone for higher productivity: late at night.

Early birds have the advantage of alertness and productivity. An early bird has the more optimal timing for things like breakfast, exercising and equal exposure to “quiet time” than a night owl, according to studies collected by Jennie Kakkad, a writer for Ezine Articles. They are less stressed and more energetic throughout the day. However, it doesn’t seem that way for most “early birds”. This may be because true early birds are only 1 percent of the actual population, according to Dr. Donna Arand, the clinical director of Kettering Sleep Disorder Center. This can explain the multitude of blogs and feeds that brag about their switch in sleep patterns, and those that speak of the “disadvantages” of early birds, such as energy loss and irritability. It’s because most of these people either writing or being observed are not actual early birds, but people who have made the choice to wake up before their natural clocks say so. I can attest that going against my biological clock presented more issues than solutions.

Our natural clocks play a massive part in this charade of being a night owl or early bird. The actuality of whether someone prefers late nights or early mornings is purely genetic, and enhanced with daily routines. There is a massive misconception during our young adult lives, especially with the adolescent lot, that we are night owls, thought biologically only for social purposes. But studies show that this majority will show behavior in their elderly years to be the exact opposite, turning late nights into early mornings, where one’s middle years are in line with the nine-to-five pace. The scientific name for night owl is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD). Early birds are Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD). Both patients of these sleep phase disorders will keep a regular balance of their sleep patterns from youth to elderly years.

Most sleep experts, like Arand, suggest that we shouldn’t fight our chronotypes (see there is even a scientific term for it) and that society should be the one to acknowledge this and make the change. I tried to change my patterns to commendate the new lifestyle that had me waking up earlier than I was used to, but found that my productivity suffered more. Now it isn’t going to be a walk in the park once you’ve accepted your sleep pattern. Just being aware of whether you are naturally wired to run a certain way can help you prevent yourself from making life choices that can harm the necessary amount of sleep you need. Don’t force yourself to operate during early hours when you need them “later”. It can also help you learn what directions you need to take when it comes to scheduling the rest of your life, like that 8 A.M. compared to that 6 P.M. Just keep in mind that your body knows what’s best for it. Sleep should be as natural as breathing.

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