The Perks of Being a Night Owl

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Praise in our society is definitely skewed toward morning people. Those of us who are non-larks constantly get to hear their virtues extolled by axioms like "The early bird gets the worm" and "Early to bed, early to rise," et cetera. I'm a heavily nocturnal person myself; daylight literally makes me drowsy, but I'm wide awake when the sun goes down. As much as my parents hate that I habitually stay up until 4 AM and sleep until 1 PM, I like my routine--I think the world is much more beautiful at night, and the less I have to deal with people and sunshine, the better. (I'm pale, light-sensitive, and an everyday wearer of black; the sun is not good to me.) Thanks to scientific research, night owls have something concrete to fight back with: we're smarter.

It turns out that all the "healthy, wealthy, and wise" nonsense is just that. Various studies have shown that those who stay up late and sleep late display greater aptitude for cognitive activities linked to intelligence. The most recent study, conducted by the University of Madrid, studied teenagers and found a positive correlation between more nocturnal tendencies and higher IQ, especially with types of intelligence linked to greater professional success. According to one article which summarizes the study, early risers were found to do better in school by a margin of 8%, presumably because of the early hours. Night owls, however--due to their superior analytical skills, conceptual thinking, inductive reasoning, creativity, and innovative tendencies--were likely to grow up to have more prestigious jobs, earn more money, and be generally more successful as adults. The article also cites studies by United States Air Force and the University of Southampton that connected nocturnal tendencies to intelligence and success.

Satoshi Kanazawa, one of the chief researchers in the Madrid study, writes that the heightened intelligence and creativity of night owls may have its basis in evolution. She suggests that while most human ancestors avoided the darkness and potential danger associated with nighttime activities, a few smarter, more forward-thinking individuals decided to venture into nocturnal behavior. After extensively studying ethnographies of cultures across the world, Kanazawa notes that no traditional cultures include nighttime activities (with the exception of a few religious rituals). Since humans are essentially a diurnal species, she believes that more intelligent, inquisitive individuals made a conscious choice to alter their natural circadian rhythm and take advantage of the hours of darkness.

Despite conventional folk wisdom, not being a morning person does not connote laziness or lack of discipline. The societal schedule may not be geared toward night owls, but if you happen to be one, you can take comfort in the fact that you have a statistically higher likelihood of being smarter, wealthier, and more successful than your counterparts. The science is on your side, so don't feel pressured to become an early bird--forget the proverbs and embrace your status as a creature of the night.

It would be an interesting experiment to start school days later and observe whether night people's academic performances improved with the time change. From personal experience, many of the night owls I know have been excellent in school, and I've spent my entire academic career thus far as a straight-A student. In what ways have you or people you know matched up or not matched up with the trends found in the studies?

1 Comment

Considering it's almost midnight and I foresee a few more hours of schoolwork your title caught my attention immediately. I had entirely no idea what I was getting myself into upon reading this and now can definitely say I'm glad I did. My friends and I have always been night people, like you said, we're up late every night and don't start classes until atleast noon. People have always been very pessimistic about the productivity I can achieve with such an unorthodox sleeping patterns. Perhaps sleeping on a predetermined, undesired schedule can add to stress which can inevitable lead to a decrease in productivity & in turn lower their potential. Check this out about stress in the workplace and productivity.

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