When should I wake up, to prevent sleep deprivation?: Knowing your chronotype–not necessarily waking up early–is a key to success.
In sleep-wake studies, researchers generally focus on chronotype, or when an individual usually sleeps and performs at their best. Chronotypes are on a spectrum, from ‘larks’ to ‘owls’.
Larks are individuals that usually wake-up and go to sleep early, and are most productive during the mornings. Owls are individuals who go to sleep and wake-up later and are more productive during the evenings. There is no set definition for owls or larks, but researchers use general guidelines or early risers and later risers as a standard.
It’s important to note that these classifications help show when and individual can be at their peak performance, which means not being victim to sleep deprivation.
Often people think that they HAVE to be larks and wake up early no matter what, but what’s really important is getting enough sleep and staving off sleep deprivation.
In case you’re uncertain of whether you are a natural morning lark or a night owl, here’s a test:
The Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire, developed by Horne and Östberg, is the main scale to assess chronotype in research. A link to the self-assessment can be found here. You can score yourself and figure out how to adapt your sleep-wake cycles to help you be more productive and successful.
It’s important to note that when people wake up and sleep may be dictated by external forces (job times, child duties, etc.). Sometimes you’re not able to choose your sleep schedule, but that doesn’t mean that you settle for sleep deprivation.
We’ll provide some tips to help you set yourself up for success as a lark or a night owl later in this post, so that if you can adopt your preferred chronotype or have other factors determine it, you don’t have to deal with sleep deprivation.
Our research from hundreds of articles and journals has helped us debunk the myth that you have to be a morning lark to be successful! We’ll also provide you with some science-backed tips for success whether you’re a lark or if your a night owl.
We’ll talk about three things in this article:
- Debunking the myth that you have to wake up early to be successful
- Tips for Success if you’re a Lark
- Tips for Success if you’re a Night Owl
Debunking the myth that you have to wake up early to be successful
We are constantly showered with advice and suggestions that waking up early (particularly at 5am) is the key to being successful. Often people say or believe that waking up late will doom you to fail. Gladly, this is 100% not true!
Instead, research finds that night owls can be just as successful as morning larks, and may even have some advantages over them. Moreover–regardless of whether you like to wake up early or not–the true key to success is getting enough rest and not settling for sleep deprivation. Adequate sleep increases learning and memory, decision-making and brain functioning, physical endurance, and immune functioning.
Night owls are just as successful as morning larks. Research comparing people who like to wake up early (morning larks) to those who prefer to stay up later and sleep in (night owls) finds some systematic differences.
For instance, morning larks score higher on tests of conscientiousness, are less likely to procrastinate, and may perform better in school. However, night owls have their own strengths. They tend to be more creative, more open to experiences, and may score higher on tests of cognitive ability.
Moreover, we were unable to find any scientific evidence that larks are more successful than night owls. On the contrary, studies find that night owls are just as successful. One analysis of a national sample of over 650 British men and women actually found that night owls had larger incomes than their morning counterparts, and no differences in health outcomes or cognitive tests. Another study of 949 men in a hospital, however, found no impact of sleep schedule preferences on success measured by income, finding that both morning larks and night owls had similar financial success and health outcomes.
Similarly, several studies of school start times make the case for waking up and starting the day later. These studies generally find that schools that shift their start times back to later in the morning see an increase in student engagement, energy, mood, focus and concentration. The increases appear to be the result of students being able to get more sleep at night.
The key finding, however, is not that late starts are necessarily better, but rather that getting enough sleep is a key to success!
Research from the National Sleep Foundation indicates that the recommended time for individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 should get between 7-10 hours of sleep a night. Too little and sleep deprivation can impair your judgement, focus, and mood. Too much sleep, called hypersomnia, can cause you to feel sluggish and decrease your alertness.
The research indicates that avoiding sleep deprivation should be the focus; focusing on the quality and duration of your sleep rather than when you wake up.
Inadequate sleep can decrease your attention, alertness, motor skills, critical thinking, creativity, and even your social skills. When these are decreased, then it makes it difficult to be successful in school, at work, or in our personal lives. Sleep deprivation, regardless of your age or you chronotype is a major inhibitor for you to be at your peak performance.
In short, the existing scientific evidence finds that morning larks and night owls may have different strengths and weaknesses, but they are both able to be equally successful in the real world. Both larks and owls, however, need to ensure they get adequate sleep and beat sleep deprivation.
Success tips for Larks
Waking up early isn’t a bad way to start your day if you understand how your body functions and prevent sleep deprivation.
Usually adjusting to natural sunlight is the best way to get started, but if you’re a lark–or just trying to be one–you might be getting your day started before the sun is up or before the sunlight is getting into your bedroom. We’re going to focus on two tips to help you set yourself up for success if you’re an early riser:
- Hydrate for better heart health.
- Light exercise routine
Tip 1: Hydrate for better heart health
Sleep dehydrates you, as our bodies naturally lose water through metabolism and breathing. Imagine if you went 7-10 hours a day without drinking ANYTHING!! The effects can be exacerbated if you are victim of sleep deprivation, or if you are a caffeine drinker because caffeine is also dehydrating
A glass of water soon after we wake up is a good way to rehydrate and get our body ready for the day. It helps improve cognitive faculties, stimulate our muscles, and regulate blood pressure and flow. Drinking water is especially important for people with sleep related issues such as sleep apnea, which increases stress on the heart during sleep, and for people who exercise in the morning. This is because dehydration puts stress on the heart, and hydrating is good for our heart health.
This tip is good regardless of what time you wake up, but is especially important for larks! If you do become susceptible to sleep deprivation because you occasionally have a late night, this is a great way to combat the physical effects of sleep deprivation.
Tip 2: Light exercise routine
Sleep regulation is dependent on our circadian rhythms, which is a mechanism in the hippocampus in the mid-brain that functions as our biological clock. While we might be able to alter the regulation, this doesn’t mean that our muscles and the rest of our body are ready to get up.
A great way to get your body ready is to loosen the tension in our muscles by a light stretching routine. Our body naturally engages in muscle atonia, or limits our muscle movements when we sleep. Our muscles and body have usually been in a consistent state during the night, so a light stretching routine is a good way to get our muscles loose and ready for an active day.
Here is a sample light exercise routine to help get your body started:
- Exercises in bed
- Planks, forearm and side
- Leg Raises
- Short stretching routines
Remember to listen to your body and get a routine ready in the morning. This would not replace a full work-out in the mornings, but is a good short way to get your body and brain ready for an active day!
Success tips for Night Owls
Night owls do some of their best work at night and wake up later in the day. Famous night owls include Fran Lebowitz, Barack Obama, and Winston Churchill.
Here are three tips for night owls, two for getting the day started later in the morning (or afternoon), and one about being productive during the evening and later:
- Hot showers to start the day
- Food and Essential oils for your late morning or early afternoon starts
- Setting up your work environment correctly for working later into the day
Remember that these tips can be used for waking up at any time, but are especially important for night owls! Our tips here are ways to get your body and brain in gear when you’re starting the day later and staying up late into the evening.
Tip 1: Hot showers to start the day
Showers and bathing are important for our body and hygiene, but we can also use them to help regulate other aspects of our body. If you’re having trouble getting your day started later, try taking a warm or hot shower.
Hot water flowing around our body helps stimulates blood flow in the body and gets our body ready for action. Stimulating blood flow in the body is a key way to prime the body and get it ready for your day. Warm water can improve blood circulation, help relieve pain, open our pores, and decrease stress.
Sleep deprivation and hypersomnia push our bodies into irregular patterns. Both cause stress on bodies, so warm or hot showers are a good way to put our bodies back into their normal states of being relaxed to start the day.
Tip 2: Tastes and Smells for your late morning or early afternoon starts
Night owls often struggle with waking up and focusing in the mornings. Integrating these foods (or their essential oil versions) may be an easy way to perk yourself up. You can use these ingredients as part of your breakfast or wake up to these aromas using infusers.
Rosemary– rosemary has been shown to improve cognitive functions, in particular memory. Having an aromatherapy alarm clock that has a rosemary scent to start your morning or adding a bit of rosemary to your morning eggs.
Peppermint– peppermint has been shown to increase mental focus, decrease acute pain symptoms, and even some aspects of physical activity. Peppermint can be another essential oil scent to try or could be used as a sweetener for your coffee, a hard candy to taste on your way to work, or even toothpaste flavor.
The best way to get these benefits is to consume the food in some way, but we realize that’s not always possible. Aromatherapy alarm clocks and incense diffusers are a great way to take advantage of some of these benefits and stave off sleep deprivation.
Tip 3: Setting up your work environment correctly for working late
Your work environment is an extraordinarily important factor to promote work success and optimize concentration. Creating a proper work environment can not only help you succeed but also help your body adjust from work-mode to sleep-mode and help combat sleep deprivation from the start. Here are a few ways to help you work later into the evening if you’re a night owl.
Temperate room- Evening temperatures are often at their lowest points during the day and exposing your body to extremes isn’t the best for working. You want to keep a consistent and comfortable room temperature. Some studies recommend around 77 degrees F or 25 degrees C, though others suggest cooler, for optimal performance. On the other hand, research suggests that your bedroom be kept between 60-66 degrees F or 15-18 degrees C.
Set working space– when we work later into the evenings it is tempting to get cozy and curl up in our most comfortable clothes and chairs or sofas. These are usually meant to help us relax and unwind, so if you are planning to work later in the day, it is best to have an area set aside for work. The area should have a firm but comfortable chair, good illumination, and be designated to working only.
Having a work environment that is different from your relaxation or bedroom is important. Our brains are taught to compartmentalize and use objects as signs and signals for what our body should expect to do next. It helps your brain associate the bedroom with sleep and not with work or stress.
Keeping a set work space is a good way to keep you in the working mindset if you’re working later to skip the traffic or if you’re burning the midnight oil. This is especially important if you are working with a computer or on your phone.
Avoid distractions- Prime time television, sports broadcasts, concerts, romantic music, and so forth are being broadcast during the late afternoon and evening. Try to avoid these as background noise for working. If you do your best work later in the day, then remember that you are still working and need to maximize your concentration and minimize your distractions no matter how thrilling they might be!
Recap of being a morning person is awful if it means sleep deprivation
When it comes to waking up, the most important thing is for us isn’t what time we wake up, it’s ensuring that we aren’t victims of sleep deprivation!
Growing evidence and research on chronotypes suggests that different people may be wired to be most productive at different times of the day.
Some people are natural larks (most productive during the morning) and others night owls (most productive during the evening).
For larks–who often wake up before the natural sun–we’ve suggested that great ways to start your early day are:
- Hydrating in the morning to overcome dehydration during the evening and to get our cardiovascular system in prime shape for action
- Light exercise in the morning using some stretching routines or bedroom workouts to release tension and prepare our body for an active day.
For night owls we’ve talked about ways to start your day later and stay productive in the evening and at night. These tips are:
- taking a hot shower to help your body wake up and get our blood flowing,
- using food and essential oils like rosemary and peppermint to help stimulate our bodies, enhance our cognitive faculties, and increase concentration, and
- setting up good work space for working late like creating a separate and unique workspace with the optimal temperature and avoiding late night distractions.