Good News From Science: Night Owls Are Smarter and More Creative
You know how people associate sleeping in with laziness? I used to have a terrible habit of not going to bed until the early hours of morning. Whether I was up all night doing work, surfing the net or reading articles, it always felt like there weren't enough hours in the day. Besides, I seemed to feel more awake at 2:00 am than at 9:00 am. While most people had their lights out, there I was, wide awake at my computer.
Unfortunately, I would wake up the next day and realize that most of the morning had gone. Not to mention, people often associated my late rising habit with laziness. If you've ever been in the same boat as me, there's good news.
People who sleep and wake up late tend to be smarter.
Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa set out to determine whether children's sleeping habits correlated with intelligence. He recruited 20,745 adolescents from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools for his study.
The first meeting took place in their homes, where the students were asked to take an intelligence test. Five years later, he interviewed 15,197 of the original respondents again. This time, they reported when they went to bed and when they woke up on both the weekdays and weekends.
He found that people with high intelligence are likelier to be night owls. This applied across a wide span of demographic variables, such as ethnicity, education and religion. As Kanazawa explains it, sleeping late at night was rare back in our ancestors’ day, making it “evolutionarily novel.”
Evolutionarily novel is a good thing, as his research suggests that intelligent people are more likely to adapt such behaviors. How’s that for waking up late? But there’s more.
Night owls are mentally alert for a longer part of the day than early birds.
People tend to think night owls are unproductive creatures, since they sleep in while the early birds are already sitting at their desks. A 2009 study, however, shows that the opposite is true.
Researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium monitored 15 extreme night owls and 16 extreme early birds in a lab. The volunteers had their brain activity measured an hour and a half after waking up, and again 10.5 hours after waking up.
In the morning test, the early birds and the night owls performed nearly the same in their responsiveness. But there was a gap 10.5 hours later: the night owls showed faster reaction times and were more awake than the early birds.
Appearances can be deceiving. While the early risers look like they’re hard at work throughout the day, the night owls seem to be more consistent overall in their productivity levels.
Working late at night helps people find creative solutions.
Researchers at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Miami found that evening-oriented people are also more creative than their morning and intermediate counterparts. As Professor Marina Giampietro explains, being in a nocturnal environment "may encourage the development of a non-conventional spirit and of the ability to find alternative and original solutions.”
Not only are evening types smarter, but their unusual habits also help them to find creative solutions and alternatives. Non-conventional spirit, indeed. Who wouldn’t want to be a night owl? Quick disclaimer about that last part, though. Whether you're morning or evening-oriented is dictated by genetics, not by choice. As it turns out, a small group of brain cells are in charge of our internal clock and preferences for the time of day.
So, what’s the key takeaway from all this?
Work according to your energy levels.
As a night owl, it’s easy to feel pressured into working “normal” hours. That is, according to the standard workday of 9-to-5. But some of us aren’t built like that. Some people work better at midnight, while others do their best work early in the morning. And, of course, there are those who lie somewhere in between. So if you tend to get your best ideas at a certain time of the day, take advantage of it, and use that period to perform your most important tasks.
You shouldn’t feel like you have to work or sleep according to a preconceived notion of working hours. If you freelance or work independently, this shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. If you work in a full-time job, your boss may be open to the idea of you working remotely from time to time.
The bottom line is -- pay attention to your energy levels during the day and work with, rather than against it.
The next time someone criticizes you for waking up late, remind that person that you’re not lazy, you’re evolutionarily progressive. Nighttime is for those who create, innovate and think out of the box.