Don’t you begrudge those individuals who jump up the day with a spring in their step? Then again, perhaps you are fortunate to be one of them! When it comes to getting results in the workplace, the old saying is ” Whoever wants it most will win in the end“. But is it really that simple?
Mainstream society is loaded up with topics that early go-getters improve throughout everyday life, with stories about Bill Gates 0400 treadmill session or Mark Zuckerberg being the ‘first one in the office‘ at Facebook HQ. Whatever the truth, it seems that time counts for nothing; it is all about how you are made!
Firstly, women more often tend to be of the lark or morning chronotype, whereas men are more often the owl or evening chronotype. Age is another relevant factor. In adolescence, there’s a tendency to shift more toward the owl chronotype (no surprise there), but after adolescence, lark-like morningness tends to become more common with increasing age.
As for who is happier, many studies have indeed shown an association between being a morning person and greater happiness. For a recent example, consider a case study using hundreds of medical students conducted at Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey – higher scores in morningness (i.e., a self-reported preference for getting up early) were associated with scoring higher on a questionnaire measure of happiness.
Put differently, 26.6 per cent of students categorised as owls scored lower on happiness than the group (6.7 per cent) categorised as larks, as well as the remainder of students categorised as intermediates. Studies of older people too – among whom it is more common to be a lark – similarly show an association between morningness and greater happiness.
According to a study at the University of Leipzig, lark emotional advantage also manifests in greater satisfaction with life and reduced vulnerability to mental health problems. Other studies suggest that night owls are more likely than larks to experience symptoms of depression, seasonal affective disorder and substance abuse problems.
Complicating the issue, this difference might be partly explained by night owls generally tend to have less sleep and more sleep problems. On the other hand, early morning operators tend to have better emotional regulation skills and a more positive attitude toward time management compared to the night owls.
All of this raises questions about where our lark or owl-like tendencies come from, and relatedly, but perhaps more important, whether we can change them. As a team at the University of Warwick showed, chronotype is related to personality – being a lark is especially associated with scoring higher on the most advantageous trait of conscientiousness (one of the Big Five traits that are associated with being more self-disciplined, orderly and ambitious).
Conversely, scoring higher in extraversion and openness is associated with being more of a night owl. In turn, personality and chronotype share some of the same underlying genetic influences, the team showed.
The good news is that neither personality nor chronotype is entirely set in stone. Both are shaped by factors beyond our genes, such as our family environment and professional roles and the routines they demand. This malleability beyond our genetic inheritance implies as the University of Warwick researchers put it, “…it might be possible to change one’s chronotype in a more intentional way.”
Some basic tips for shifting toward being a lark include avoiding using digital devices in the evening, gradually aiming to go to bed earlier, and giving yourself something rewarding to get up for in the morning – be that a freshly brewed coffee, a leisurely walk or a spell of me-time on your iPad.
The bad news is that preliminary findings from the University of Warsaw, based on a study of undergrads, suggested that their seasonal-based shift in chronotype towards greater morningness (in the summer months) wasn’t associated with gains in mood and life satisfaction. This suggests that changing your chronotype might not be a quick fix way to become happier – you might need to think more radically than just setting an early alarm clock.
In part, that’s probably because the causal direction between chronotype and happiness probably flows just as much in the other direction, from happiness to chronotype. If you can find contentment in life, and your days are busy and rewarding, you’ll probably find it that much easier to get to sleep on time at night and fly, free as a lark, out of bed each morning.