About a year ago, USA Today ran an article headlined: "Tim Cook wakes at 3:45 a.m. Maybe you should, too." Turns out that's bad advice for about three quarters of the world's population.

While we're accustomed to think of sleep patterns as a matter of choice, your optimum sleep schedule is based upon your genetics, according to researchers cited in a recent article on the BBC website:

"Our chronotype, or internal clock, is mainly biological. Researchers even have found that the circadian rhythms of human cells in vitro correlate with the rhythms of the people they were taken from."

Research shows that about a quarter of the population are natural early-birds, another quarter of the population are natural night owls, while everyone else falls somewhere in-between.

While it's not impossible to change your natural pattern, it's a bad idea, because it can damage both your cognitive functioning and your general health. The BBC again:

"'If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive. The mental capacity they have is much broader,' says Oxford University biologist Katharina Wulff, who studies chronobiology and sleep. On the other hand, she says, pushing people too far out of their natural preference can be harmful. When they wake early, for example, night owls are still producing melatonin. 'Then you disrupt it and push the body to be in the daytime mode. That can have lots of negative physiological consequences,' Wulff says, like a different sensitivity to insulin and glucose - which can cause weight gain."

Presumably the same is true when "morning people" try to stay up late on a regular basis.

Considering that it's counterproductive to monkey with your natural sleep schedule, it's entirely ludicrous that early birds are cited as industrious go-getters while night owls are considered lazy. While early birds do get in some extra hours in the morning, they're fast asleep while the late risers are burning the proverbial midnight oil.

For example, if Tim Cook gets the healthy minimum of 7 hours a night, he'd have to hit the sack at 8 p.m.  By contrast Reddit Cofounder Alexis Ohanian (who goes to bed at 2 a.m. and rises at 10 a.m.) still has six full hours to get stuff done. 

Just so you know, plenty of successful people prefer to sleep late. In addition to Ohanian, late risers include CEOs like Jonah Peretti (Buzzfeed), Aaron Levie (Box), and Tom Lehman (Genius); authors like Gustave Flaubert and James Joyce, and political leaders like  Bill de Blasio and Winston Churchill. There are in fact, some real advantages to being a night owl. As the BBC put it:

"Night owls tend to perform better on measures of memory, processing speed and cognitive ability, even when they have to perform those tasks in the morning. Night-time people are also more open to new experiences and seek them out more. They may be more creative (although not always). And contrary to the maxim ('healthy, wealthy and wise'), one study showed that night owls are as healthy and wise as morning types - and a little bit wealthier." 

So, for crying out loud, let's stop with all this "early to bed, early to rise" claptrap. People should be able to sleep in the way that's most natural to them rather than being constantly goaded to wake up early. Enough already.

Published on: Jan 8, 2018
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