Is Early to Rise All That Wise?

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

It would seem kind of obvious that early risers occupy the moral high ground, demonstrating a protestant work ethic that culminates in Benjamin’s Franklin’s pithy exhortation that early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. And while there are plenty of bennies associated with being an early riser, that doesn’t make all night owls slouches.

Early Bird vs. Night Owl: Which is Better?

Your predisposition to a particular sleep pattern, and how you perform at different times of the day, is called your chronotype. Some people find themselves most alert earlier in the day, and will go to bed early, while others may be most alert at night and prefer to go to bed late. According to a study in published in Personality and Individual Differences, “humans have retained the ability for both, with diurnality being the more recent (i.e., derived) adaptation but the potential for nocturnality still lingering in our genes (i.e., primitive).”

If you find yourself one of those people who get your best ideas, or do your best thinking at night, judge ye naught. You just might be a holdout more in touch with your primitive forebearers. Both chronotypes have their benefits—read on to discover what our propensity for a certain circadian rhythm can reap.

Early risers

Full of cheer. People who get up early rise and shine—literally. According to a 2012 study from the journal Emotion, morning people are happier and more positive than people who wake up late. Part of the reason is that our cultural bias favors an 8-5 work day, making it easier for morning peeps to feel in sync with the dominant rhythm.

Proactive. Early risers are better planners, more energetic and are more able to implement ideas into action, according to a 2009 study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. They tend to agree more with statements that indicate action and confidence (think: “I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself” and “I feel in charge of making things happen”).

Healthier eaters. Getting up early may be good protection from muffin top creep. Burning the midnight oil and sleeping in translates into eating more calories in the evening, more fast food, fewer fruits and vegetables and weighing more than people who go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Night owls

Creative. It takes a certain kind of innovative mindset to buck convention and stay up late and define your own schedule. Apparently, it takes a high IQ (and an extra dose of creativity) to think of a new way of structuring each day, says a 2009 paper from the London School of Economics. According to the study “Why night owls are more intelligent” also published in Personality and Individual Differences, the earliest humans used the daylight hours to get stuff done, and exploring a rhythm that’s evolutionarily a little deviant requires extra smarts.

Chill. Early risers may get ahead—but they might pay a price. Morning people show higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in their system, says a late 1990s study from the University of Westminster in London.

Catch a second wind. Night owls get better with time, says research published in Science. Cognitive performance improves in late risers throughout the day, and they are more alert than early birds in the evening. About ten and a half hours after waking up, late risers get a second wind of energy. The research suggests that night owls performed better at a reaction-time task later in the day than their early-bird counterparts. Maybe the early bird not only gets the worm, but also get the afternoon brain fog?