You hit snooze twice, skip breakfast and grumpily rush to the office.
By late-morning, however, you’re firing off emails handily. Your mood rises over the day. By 5:30, you’re ready to get some exercise. At midnight, you’re surfing the Internet and doing the laundry. You know you should get to bed, but you’ve had a burst of energy you’d like to use.
You’re a night owl.
Your sister is your opposite. She awakes without an alarm (or at least without relying on the snooze button) in time to mix up her favorite smoothie and go running for 40 minutes and play boisterously with her kids—all before work. But by 4:00 pm she’s slowing down and in the evening, she’d rather watch TV and hit the hay early, just when you’re up for a phone call.
She’s a lark.
It’s Tough Being an Owl
The world does not favor owls. Your kids’ swim practice may start before school at 5:45 am. Larkish bosses have a way of scheduling early meetings. You may worry that colleagues who show up at 8:00 instead of 9:00 am seem more energetic, eager or organized.
Night owls do have one big advantage over larks: they tend to get less jet lag and adjust better to zone changes, especially when traveling westward, according to “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health,” by Michael Smolensky and Lenne Lamberg.
Otherwise, it’s harder to be owlish, unless you’re a jazz-singer or night nurse. Adults need up to nine hours of sleep a night and night-owls are more likely to end up with too little (less than 6.5 hours a night). For motivation to change your owlish ways, take the Maas-Robbins Alertness Questionnaire and see if you are chronically short on sleep, a problem linked to all kinds of risks, including depression and extra weight. Beauty-sleep is no myth. In one study, observers looking at photos rated people who had been up for 31 hours as less healthy and attractive.
Go From Owl to Lark
Let’s just be clear about one thing: Morning slowness doesn’t mean you are lazy or apathetic about your day. Night-owl tendencies are at least partly genetic, but they’re more likely to result from hard-to-reverse sleep habits.
“People lead busy lives and may have to choose between sleep and a little bit of free time,” explains David Kuhlmann, M.D., Medical Director of Sleep Medicine at Bothwell Regional Health Center. And when people do try to shift to an earlier bedtime after such a long time staying up late: “It’s hard for some people to lay down when they aren’t feeling tired so they stay awake doing something until they can’t hold their eyes open any longer,” Kuhlmann continues.
The good news is, “if you are alert—or sleepy—at inappropriate times in your life, you can change,” says James Maas, Ph.D., YouBeauty Sleep Expert.
Some night owls naturally shift toward earlier bedtimes as they get older. You can also take steps to re-set your body-clock at any age.Since you’re now on the nocturnal side, let’s start with the evening-time. It’s a myth that exercising in the morning is ideal: “The best time to work out is between 5:00 and 7:00 pm,” says Maas, because exercise at that time enhances the depth of sleep. And any aerobic activity, even fast walking, will improve your sleep.