The Grapevine

Brain Functions Differently If You Are A Night Person

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise — the old saying by Benjamin Franklin is well-known. But to what extent does it hold true?

In recent findings, researchers from the United Kingdom have revealed that morning larks and night owls may have differences in their brain function that could indeed place the latter at a disadvantage.

As you may be familiar, morning larks refer to people who went to bed before 11 pm and woke up by 6:30 am. Night owls, as defined with regards to this study, go to bed at around 02:30 am and wake up a little after 10 am.

The new paper, published in the journal SLEEP, involved 38 participants who were categorized into either group based on sleep/wake monitoring and questionnaires. All of the participants underwent MRI scans as well as a series of tests throughout the day.

Compared to their counterparts, the morning larks reported feeling less sleepy and exhibited faster reaction time in tests that were conducted earlier in the day. The difference was found to be quite strong, the researchers noted.

By the evening, the association flipped as night owls showed faster reaction time and were less sleepy — however, the difference here was not as significant.

Given this, lead author Dr. Elise Facer-Childs explained how night people may have to spend their whole lives at a disadvantage. "Night owls during school have to get up earlier, then they go into work and they have to get up earlier, so they're constantly having to fight against their preferences and their innate rhythms."

Unless the person works night shifts, the typical workday lasts from 9 to 5, a time when night owls have lower levels of brain connectivity. As a result, they are likely to experience daytime sleepiness, a poorer attention span, slower reactions, etc. which can take a toll on their daily performance and overall quality of life.

What can be done to deal with this? More than anything, these findings should encourage more research to understand how the brains of night owls work. With more information, experts will be able to determine how personal body clock can be factored into work.

"This mismatch between a person's biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day," explained Dr. Facer-Childs, who is from the Centre for Human Brain Health at the University of Birmingham.

"If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time we could go a long way towards maximizing productivity and minimizing health risks," she added.