(And if you're a night owl, right now you're feeling pretty smug.)
Unfortunately for night owls, though, the average workplace is designed around a 9-to-5 workday.
If you are one, don't try to become a lark. While research shows your chronotype can shift over time, generally speaking you will remain in one of two classifications: "larks," who like to get up early and feel the need to go to bed at a "decent" hour, and "owls," who are most alert at night and like to go to bed much later.
Instead, work on adapting. And if you're a business owner, take steps to help your larks adapt.
Let's start with some basics. Generally speaking, how much sleep you need doesn't vary between chronotypes: Whether you're a lark or an owl, science says you should get about 7.5 hours of sleep at night. The vast majority of people--even those who claim not to need much sleep--need at least six hours to perform at a reasonable cognitive level.
So that's the starting point: Get at least six hours of sleep a night, preferably seven or more.
But how can you do that? And how can you maximize the sleep you do get?
For answers, I talked with Christopher Lindholst, the co-founder and CEO of MetroNaps, a fatigue management solutions and workplace rest facility company. MetroNaps makes the EnergyPod, a futuristic-looking chair designed specifically for napping. (I tried one at an airport and it was really cool, and I'm a guy who generally hates taking a nap.)
Here are Christopher's tips:
1. Go to sleep at the same time every night.
Pick a time. Then stick to that time. (More on how to pick the time you go to bed in a moment.)
"Staying consistent is the best way to maximize your performance by creating a regular pattern your body--and your mind--can rely on," Christopher says.
Many night owls vary their schedule; they go to bed when they feel like it (or when they finally decide they must.)
Don't give in to that temptation. Create a regimen and stick to it.
2. Plan your sleep around 90-minute cycles.
A normal sleep cycle lasts for 90 minutes. (As you sleep, you go through different sleep states. The first is light sleep, followed by deep sleep and REM sleep. The full cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is repeated during the night.)
"The best way to plan your bedtime is to work backwards from when you need to wake up," Christopher says. "If you need to get up at 7 a.m., go to bed at either 1 a.m. or 11.30 p.m. That way you get four or five full sleep cycles.
"Then you'll wake up more naturally and avoid sleep inertia, the feeling of grogginess that results from waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle."
And you won't be as tempted to go back to bed. And you won't be as tempted to immediately reach for your first cup of coffee.
3. Avoid caffeine for the first 90 minutes after you wake up.
I have nothing against caffeine, and neither do some scientific studies. In my opinion--and this is just my opinion--caffeine can sometimes be helpful.
But caffeine can also be disruptive.
"The same rule applies for larks and night owls," Christopher says. "Don't consume any caffeine for the first 90 minutes after you wake up."
Here's why. "Your cortisol levels increase when you wake up," Christopher says, "so you have a natural ability to be awake in that first 90 minutes, especially if you woke up at the end of a sleep cycle. After 90 minutes, your cortisol levels start to decline, and then caffeine can help."
Think of it as like surfing. Early caffeine intake lifts you when you're already on an upswing. But you don't need to go that high, and when you naturally start to fall you'll feel like you need more caffeine to stay at that artificial peak. But it's tough to maintain, because you no longer have the same level of cortisol in your system. And then you try to ride a wave that you don't need to ride.
Of course, staying away from caffeine for the first 90 minutes is contrary to what most people do (including me until recently). So the first couple of days will be hard, but as I've found out, the effort is worth it.
4. Don't consume caffeine after (your) 2 p.m.
Caffeine has a half-life of about eight hours. So if you want to go to bed at 10 p.m., drinking caffeine after 2 p.m. will make it harder for you to fall asleep. (If you want to go to bed at midnight, your "2 p.m." is 4 p.m.)
"Drinking caffeine less than eight hours before you want to fall asleep only makes an owl even more of an owl," Christopher says, "and makes it harder to stick to your sleep schedule."
Fortunately, if you don't drink caffeine in the first 90 minutes of your morning, you won't be chasing that artificial high all day, and it should be easier to stop drinking caffeine early in the afternoon.
5. Nap proactively.
Naps are a good way to mitigate fatigue. If you get to bed really late one night and only get 4.5 hours of sleep, taking a nap the next day can definitely help.
But, "keep in mind, naps don't replace nighttime sleep," Christopher says. "They mitigate fatigue but, except in extreme circumstances, don't minimize the impact of a serious sleep deficit."
The key is to nap for no longer than about 20 minutes. "Napping for no more than 20 minutes keeps you out of deeper levels of sleep and helps you avoid waking up groggy," Christopher says. "Of course, it's not bad for you if you take a longer nap, but you are more likely to wake up from a deeper sleep. And research shows that a 30-minute nap isn't more restorative than a 20-minute nap."
6. Remember that we're all bi-phasic.
"Humans have a natural tendency to sleep more than one time in a 24-hour period," Christopher says. "Everyone has a dip in their circadian rhythm in the afternoon."
So what people usually do is have a cup of coffee or a snack. But you probably don't need more caffeine (and you probably don't need any more calories), because what you're experiencing is just a natural drowsy spell. Instead, "Your body and your mind are just saying you need a quick rest," Christopher says.
So, if you can, listen to yourself: Take a quick nap.
How quick? Naps as short as six to 10 minutes have been shown to improve cognitive function. And napping can also result in long-term health benefits. One study showed that working men who took regular or occasional naps had a 64 percent lower risk of death from heart attacks or other heart-related issues. Another study showed that men and women who took three naps a week had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.
There are safety reasons, too. More workplace accidents tend to happen in the middle of the afternoon. (Or between 5 and 6 a.m., for those who work the graveyard shift.)
7. So make it easier for your employees to nap.
"Many employers are starting to get the message," Christopher says. "White collar and tech are leading the charge, but so are industries like mining that are very attuned to how employee fatigue can impact their business and their employees' safety. Many mining companies are putting fatigue risk management systems into place."
Of course, you don't have to go all in on FRMS. But you should make it easier for your employees to mitigate the impact of fatigue. Some companies, like HubSpot, have designated nap rooms for employees to use. Or you could install a couple of EnergyPods.
But whatever you do, resist the temptation to stick to the paradigm created by the Industrial Revolution and take the macho approach to work--and sleep.
"It will probably be another couple of decades before napping becomes a normal function in the workplace," Christopher says. "There's still a lot of work to be done on educating people about how napping will actually make people more productive--and why employers should not discourage but actually encourage it."
So you can wait 20 or 30 years, or you can get a head start on the crowd and reap the benefits of a healthier and more productive work force a lot sooner.
8. But wait, there's more!
After we spoke, I thought of another question I wanted to ask Christopher.
"I get the premise of planning my sleep around 90-minute cycles, but say I can stay in bed another 45 minutes (past four or five 90s). Does the benefit of getting more sleep outweigh the grogginess factor?"
"The answer is, unfortunately, 'it depends,' but figuring out the right answer for you isn't complicated.
"Assuming you are aren't in a heavily sleep-deprived state and you have gotten a reasonable night of sleep (say 7.5 hours), then the extra 45 minutes won't really benefit you. It isn't bad for you to get another 45 minutes, but you're likely to find yourself a bit disoriented for most of the morning, a little like when you wake up 15 minutes before your alarm clock is set to go off and you go back to sleep, only to wake up groggy when the alarm does go off. The key, of course, is to get out of bed when you naturally wake up.
"So if it was up to me, I wouldn't do the extra 45 minutes, as it would have a negative impact on my performance.
"But If you are heavily sleep deprived, then you would want to get as much sleep as you can, and you would want the extra 45. If you're sleep deprived, that's when some of the normal sleep cycle regimen breaks down, because you're more likely to wake up in SWS (slow-wave sleep) anyway, which is when you feel groggy."