To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the morning people are different from you and me – or so says new research.
Early birds are more proactive than evening people – and so they do well in business, says Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany.
"When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards," Randler told the Harvard Business Review of his research, some of which originally appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. "[T]hey tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They're proactive." (Not that evening people are life's losers: They're smarter and more creative, and have a better sense of humor, other studies have shown.)
Who is a morning person, by definition? Randler says it is someone who gets up at roughly the same time on weekdays as on weekends. He surveyed 367 college students (an age group not exactly famous for early rising) when they were most energetic and willing to change a situation. The morning people were more likely to agree with statements such as "I feel in charge of making things happen" and "I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself." (In the sample, the "evening people tended to sleep two hours later on weekends.)
Can you change type? "Somewhat," says Randler, pointing to a study where half of schoolchildren were able to shift permanently their wake-up time by an hour. Still, it can be tough, partly because half of your chronotype, as it's called, is determined by genetics. And just changing the hour you wake up may not change your inherent "morning-ness" or "evening-ness" In other words, getting up earlier will not automatically make you proactive.
Chronotypes also evolve over a person's life cycle: Teenagers are evening types; between the ages of 30 and 50, people are evenly split between morning and evening types; and people become morning types as they pass through their fifties.
Randler says the challenge for businesses is to "bring out the best from their night owls." He points to universities, which often do this successfully. (Randler is a morning person who gets up at 5 a.m. and works, whereas he has a colleague who arrives at work at 11:30 a.m. and stays until 7 or 8 p.m.)
But if morning people are ruling the world – winning the promotions and the top decision-making jobs – will night people ever get any concessions?
Says Randler: "Morning people are very capable of understanding the value of chronotype diversity. Remember, we're conscientious. This understanding probably originated far back in history, when groups comprising morning people, evening people, and various chronotypes in between would have been better able to watch for danger at all hours. Evening types may no longer serve as our midnight lookouts, but their intelligence, creativity, humor, and extroversion are huge potential benefits to the organization."