There are many theories about the best moments of going to bed to sleep and when to get awake. They are like the human personalities: diverse as they focus on different things.
There are three models: LARKS, OWLS and HUMMINGBIRDS.
LARKS like and usually go to bed and get up early.
OWLS go to bed and get up late.
HUMMINGBIRDS are intermediates.
We will focus on the extremes: the LARKS and the OWLS. Which is better? Which better suits you?
Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist in Munich, has mapped the circadian rhythms of more than 220,000 people. Biological processes, including sleep-wake patterns, that display an oscillation of about 24 hours are called circadian rhythms. According to Roenneberg, the distribution of circadian rhythms spans from the very early to the very late chronotypes, similarly to how height varies from short to tall.
As circadian rhythm is independent of the number of hours of sleep a person needs, Roenneberg calculates the rhythm based on the midpoint of the sleep period. A person who goes to bed at midnight and rises at 8 thus has the same chronotype as a person who goes to bed at 1 a.m. and rises at 7; the midpoint of sleep is 4 a.m. for both of these individuals.
People with early chronotypes, will usually not be able to “sleep in”, even if they have stayed up later than usual. Despite feeling refreshed in the morning and being accommodated by much of the societal framework around them, many “larks” feel hampered socially, as much of social life takes place in the evening.
People with late chronotypes go to bed late and rise late. Forced to arise earlier than their circadian rhythm dictates, they have a low body temperature and may require a few hours to feel really awake. They are unable to fall asleep as early as “larks” can.
Discussions and studies about the prevalence of morning, evening and indifferent or intermediate chronotypes use different criteria and come to different results. Some ask what time people do go to sleep and wake up—others ask what time people would prefer to. One survey of over 400 adults showed approximately 15% morning people, 25% evening people, and 60% intermediates.
How Larks and Owls Differ
|Most alert (self-report)||Around noon||Around 6 P.M.|
|Most productive (self-report)||Late morning||Late morning, and late evening|
|Most active||Around 2:30 P.M.||Around 5:30 P.M.|
|Best mood||Between 9 A.M. and 4 P.M.||Steady rise from about 8 A.M. to 10 P.M.|
|Temperature highest||Around 3:30 P.M.||Around 8 P.M.|
|Age||Most persons over age 60||Most college students and 20-somethings|
|Bedtime||Go to bed 2 hours earlier than owls; fall asleep faster||More variable bedtimes; stay up later on weekends and holidays|
|Waketime||Awaken at desired time||Awaken about same time as larks on workdays, 1-2 hours later on days off|
|Use of alarm clock||Don’t need it||Need multiple alarms|
|Temperature lowest||Around 3:30 A.M.||Around 6 A.M.|
|Quality of sleep||Lifelong: sleep more soundly; wake up more refreshed, usually 3.4 hours after temperature minimum, daily low point on body clock||Lifelong: get less sleep; wake up sleepier, usually 2.5 hours after temperature minimum|
|Nap||Rarely||Take more and longer naps; fall asleep more easily in daytime|
|Mid-sleep time||Around 3:30 A.M.||Around 6 A.M.|
|Favorite exercise time||Morning||Evening|
|Peak heart rate||Around 11 A.M.||Around 6 P.M.|
|Lowest heart rate||Around 3 A.M.||Around 7 A.M.|
|Mood||Mood declines slightly over day||Mood rises substantially over day|
|Evening behavior||Out of steam||Full of energy|
|Meal times||Eat breakfast 1-2 hours earlier than owls||Often skip breakfast; eat other meals at same times as larks on work days, 90 minutes later on days off|
|Daily caffeine use||Cups||Pots|
|Personality||More introverted? (Still debated)||More extroverted? (Still debated)|
|Shift work adaptability||Work best on day shifts||Work best on evening shifts; tolerate night and rotating shift work better|
|Travel||More jet lag||Adapt faster to time zone changes, particularly going west|
|Partner’s report (If well-matched)||We like to get an early start||We are the last to go home|
|Partner’s complaint (If mismatched)||He/she stays up too late||She/he won’t let me sleep late on weekends|
|Peak melatonin secretion||About 3:30 A.M.||About 5:30 A.M.|
Larks who want to live more like owls, and owls who want to live more like larks can take advantage of recent research on the biological clock to ease that task. These tips won’t change your basic make up–that’s not possible–but they can help you adapt more comfortably to situational demands.
If you are a lark:
Spend time outside in the afternoon or early evening. This tactic should help you stay up later, and may help you sleep later in the morning, too. It’s especially helpful to older persons, who often go to bed as early as 8 P.M. and find themselves awake, with nothing to do, at 3 A.M.
Increase evening activity. A walk or light stretching will promote alertness. Socializing is more energizing than reading or watching TV.
Sleep with blinds or curtains closed. Consider purchasing “black-out” drapes. Darkness tells your brain it’s nighttime, the right time for sleep.
Leave a dim night light on in hallways or bathroom in case you have to get up at night.
See a doctor if you can’t stay awake in the evening until a reasonable “social” bedtime, at least 9 P.M., and if you always awaken around 3 A.M. or 4 A.M. and are unable to return to sleep. If this condition developed over the years, particularly late in life, you may have a condition called the Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome.
If you are an owl:
Sleep with blinds or curtains open, and let daylight awaken you naturally. It’s a gentle process and much easier to take than the annoying bleat of an alarm clock. Set the alarm anyway. Hey, set two alarms, for safety’s sake.
Walk outside as soon as possible after waking up. Exposure to daylight in the morning can make you more alert earlier in the day. One sleep specialist tells his patients, “Take your dental floss and step outside.” Since owls often leave things to the last minute, it may be hard to get up in time to have breakfast outdoors or to take a twenty minute walk. Trick yourself by setting the clock a few minutes fast. Close your eyes when you do it, so you won’t know if the clock is five minutes or fifteen minutes fast. When rushing in the morning, you’ll have a small safety net, but not enough to start making allowances for it. If you can’t go outside immediately, have your morning coffee by the sunniest window in your home, or use a lighting device that provides artificial light of daylight intensity.
Get up at the same time every day, including weekends and holidays. This tactic will anchor your biological clock at the desired time. If you go to sleep late one night, don’t sleep in the next morning. Compensate for missed sleep with a twenty-minute midafternoon nap unless you find naps leave you foggy. In that case, go to bed fifteen minutes earlier the next night.
Do as much as you can the night before. Select the next day’s clothes, put cereal boxes on the breakfast table, prepare school lunches. A morning routine helps owls function smoothly without having to think about what they’re doing. If you’re sleepy, rote behavior fills time until you’re more alert.
Keep evenings quiet. Don’t exercise, start new projects, or look at TV “for just a few minutes” late at night. Reading, listening to music, and similar activities are good preludes to sleep. Have a regular bedtime snack such as milk or fruit. This ritual also helps program your body for bed.
Use dim lights at night in the bathroom to avoid giving yourself a middle-of-the-night wake up call the next night.
See a doctor if you can’t fall asleep before 3 A.M. or 4 A.M., and if you could sleep until noon or later if permitted to do so. You may have a condition called the Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.
Tips for Couples and Families:
Civility is the key to getting along despite individual differences, according to Judith Martin, who writes the popular syndicated Miss Manners column. “Miss Manners never excuses rudeness at any hour or under any circumstances,” she says. But she excuses evening people from sociability until they have had their tea / coffee. “Everybody who is ambulatory,” she maintains, “is required to say, ‘Good morning,’ and to pass the sugar when asked and to reply to comments and questions addressed to them…. Being excused from sociability means that they may reply only by making ‘Umm’ and ‘Uh’ noises with the mouth closed, and need not offer conversational encouragement.”
If you are right-handed, you may be able to learn to use your left hand. A Type A personality may learn to relax. An overweight person can slim down. In the same way, most larks and owls can manage most schedules as their jobs, families, or social lives demand. Some will feel more dissonance than others when they try to follow clocks at variance with their natural proclivities. Extreme larks and owls report the most problems. They may find it difficult, if not impossible, to function in some situations. They are not sick. They are not lazy. They are not lacking in motivation. Happily, in our increasingly twenty-four-hour world, there are plenty of spots where most larks, owls, and hummingbirds can find a secure perch.
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