Are you the type of person to wake up early in the morning, sitting up with your arms outstretched, greeting the sun?
Or are you the type to stay up late, when the world is quieter, leaving you to wake up at noon most days?
Depending on which end of the spectrum you fall under, you might have been, at one time or another, labeled an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl.’
There’s been a lot of talk about the strengths or benefits of being one or the other. So if you’re aiming to be more productive and smart with your time, or if you’ve been left wondering what time would be best for working, look no further.
In this article, we will talk about sleep, circadian preferences, and 10 secret personality traits of early birds and night owls.
What we know about sleep, from A to Zzz’s
We all know sleep is important, but just how important is it?
In general, we know that it affects overall health and quality of life and that we need it to be able to be productive at school or work.
As a refresher, here are just some of the ways sleep helps us:
- Muscle repair
- Memory consolidation
- Release of hormones for growth and digestion
- Appetite regulation
- Immune resistance
Even though this is the case, many of us are guilty of getting too little (or too much) sleep – making it very likely that it’s not good quality sleep either.
The amount of sleep one needs also depends on age, as people in different developmental stages have varying needs.
For instance, kids and teenagers generally need more hours of sleep than older adults.
But if you’ve ever noticed that you tend to wake up early and feel better while the sun is up, or you tend to sleep in and feel more energetic in the later hours or at night, then your circadian patterns might be the cause.
Chronotype: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Early birds and night owls are as different as…well, night and day. So it should come as no surprise as well that the traits of early birds and night owls differ too.
But before we get into that, it’s probably a good idea to discuss what characterizes each one, and in this way, you can get a better picture of which of the two you are more like.
Being an early bird or a night owl is a chronotype. Also called a circadian preference, this refers to your tendency to sleep early or sleep late.
Through both chronotypes, we are able to see the relationship between your internal circadian cycle and your need for sleep.
For those of you who need reminding, a circadian cycle, or circadian rhythm, is a 24-hour cycle, which serves as the body’s internal clock, helping run the body’s necessary functions and processes. In this case, the cycle in question is the sleep-wake cycle.
Early risers – or early birds as they are called – sleep and wake up early and are most active quite early on in the day. Their energy is at its peak during the day but diminishes towards the afternoon and evening.
Because of this, early birds are suited to most workplaces that operate during the day.
Most early birds are also observed to be older adults, while another study showed that they tend to have higher levels of ‘positive affect’, or happy emotions.
Meanwhile, night owls are quite the opposite: they are most productive in later hours.
They stay up late and sleep in, but that’s okay because they feel better in the later hours anyway. If forced to wake up early, they feel tired and have a hard time focusing during the day.
They have higher energy at night, which makes it harder for them to adhere to a 9-to-5 schedule, at school or a traditional job.
A study cites research suggesting that genetics plays a role in chronotype as well as personality.
10 “secret” personality traits of early birds and night owls
The traits of early birds and night owls are often positioned opposite each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other.
Here we present you with five traits of early birds and five traits of night owls that you might not be aware of, giving you a total of ten ‘secret’ personality traits.
Knowing which one you are may bring you a step closer to figuring out how to maximize your time and when it’s best to do your work.
If you’re more of an early bird…
1) You’re persistent in your pursuits
This means being able to persevere in whatever you do, even when – especially when – things get hard. It means you do not give up right away.
This is a trait found in many noted leaders, from Martin Luther King Jr. all the way to Steve Jobs.
Although this is a trait of early birds, it’s one that can be learned.
To practice persistence, it helps to figure out your whys. Why do you do what you do? What do you hope to achieve by reaching for a certain goal?
Recalling your whys may increase your likelihood of persisting when you hit a roadblock.
Next, explore all the possible means or avenues to achieve your goal. Just because one way doesn’t work doesn’t mean another won’t. After all, there’s more than one way to cook an egg.
2) You’re conscientious
Being conscientious is one of the Big Five personality traits, the others being Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
It means you are responsible, goal-oriented, and organized, as well as a hard worker and rule follower.
This trait influences whether you will stick to your long-term plans, act on impulse or caution, and follow through with your obligations to others.
3) You’re a go-getter
Having a go-getter attitude is often characterized by being energetic, driven to succeed, and being able to adapt to difficult situations.
From the name itself, being a go-getter could also indicate that you’re constantly looking for new opportunities to grab and chances for self-improvement.
4) You’re optimistic
This personality trait is most often linked to early birds, and it means you’re always looking on the bright side, you always see the glass half-full.
Optimism is associated with a better ability to cope, lower stress, better physical health, and higher persistence.
5) You’re proactive
Proactivity is when you take initiative to improve your environment without needing to be asked to do it.
It could be something as simple as reorganizing work files online so everybody has an easier time navigating it. It could also be buying everyone snacks during a particularly tedious meeting to keep attention up.
You notice things or situations around you that can be made better, and you don’t wait for somebody else to do it. You just go ahead and do. You take responsibility.
Early birds are often thought of as more likely to succeed in the world than night owls. Biology researcher Christoph Randler suggests that it is because there’s a deeply ingrained positive attitude towards morningness (being an early bird).
CEOs of international companies are morning people as well: Apple’s Tim Cook rises by 3:45 a.m.; Michelle Obama is working out by 4:30 a.m.; Pepsico chief Indra Nooyi is in office by 7:00 a.m.; while Starbucks’ Howard Schultz clocks in at 6:00 a.m.
However, night owls aren’t so bad either.
If you identify as a night owl…
6) You’re novelty-seeking and impulsive
A study found that night owls exhibited more novelty-seeking than do early birds.
For those of you that don’t know, novelty-seeking is the tendency to go after new experiences that can give intense emotional sensations. This means you’re more inclined to thrilling, risky experiences.
As a night owl, you’re also more impulsive, which means you have a tendency for risky behavior, and you act, react without thinking, as well as a lack of forethought.
7) You have better thinking and reasoning skills
Research that measured school performance and inductive intelligence showed that night owls scored higher on reasoning, which is considered to be a good indicator of general intelligence and a strong predictor of academic performance.
While early birds do get better grades at school, night owls exhibited intelligence that has been associated with prestigious jobs and higher incomes.
8) You’re a creative thinker
A 2007 study also revealed that night owls were more likely to be creative thinkers, which the researchers suggested was a result of living differently than the norm.
9) You’re fun and outgoing
A recent study which looked at the relationship between chronotypes and personality traits particularly the Big Five (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism), revealed that night owls had higher openness, extraversion (specifically excitement-seeking) and agreeableness (specifically straightforwardness).
The paper’s lead author, Anita Lenneis suggested that your personality could influence your chronotype or vice versa.
“For example, people who score high in excitement-seeking might more often engage in alcohol usage and risky sexual behaviours – behaviours that typically occur later during the day,” she explained.
She added: “It could also be that people’s chronotype influences their personality – so because people are alert in the evening, they might try out new restaurants and bars, i.e. a something that people high in Openness enjoy doing.”
10) You’re mentally hardy
A study found early birds tire out faster mentally, while night owls can keep going, resisting the pressure to sleep.
The bottom line
Now that you know the personality traits of early birds and night owls, what now?
The thing is, ‘early bird’ and ‘night owl’ are mere ways in which we identify when people choose to be active and can be productive. One is not necessarily better than the other.
Your body, your choice.