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February 15, 2019

The biology behind night owls' struggle in the 9-to-5 lifestyle

A new study finds why some people may feel like they live in a constant state of jet lag

Adult Health Sleep
night owl unsplash Isabell Winter/Unsplash

Whether you’re a self-proclaimed “night owl” or “early bird,” you'll have surely noticed there are certain times throughout the day when your brain power dwindles.

A new study reveals that morning people have different brain functions than night owls. Scientists report that people whose internal body clocks tell them to go to bed late, but are forced to wake up early — like, for a job — have a lower resting brain connectivity in the regions of the brain linked to consciousness, Live Science reports.

Why is this important? Because the research is the first to suggest that the 9-to-5 work day may be putting night owls at a disadvantage.


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Published Thursday in the journal SLEEP, researchers at the University of Birmingham examined different patterns of brain activity in night owls versus early birds. They found that night owls had lower "brain connectivity" — a measure of how "in sync" different brain regions are with each other — compared with “morning larks,” Live Science reports. 

For the purpose of this study, night owls were defined as people who, on average, went to bed at 2:30 a.m. and woke up at 10:15 a.m. while early birds were characterized as those whose bedtime was just before 11 p.m. and wake-up time was 6:30 a.m., Bustle notes.

Researchers monitored each participants' body clock continuously during the study and they were also asked to answer questions on their levels of sleepiness and underwent MRI scans, according to Bustle. They were also given a series of tasks to do at different times of day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Morning people, not-so surprisingly, reported feeling their most awake during early-morning tasks and boasted their fastest reaction time during the earlier part of the day, Bustle notes. Conversely, night owls did best on evening tests. According to Live Science, these findings accentuate the hindrance that night owls experience in the morning — especially in terms of a 9-to-5 work day — the researchers said.

"This mismatch between a person's biological time and social time — which most of us have experienced in the form of jet lag — is a common issue for night owls trying to follow a normal working day," study lead author Elise Facer-Childs in a statement. 

Regardless, these findings suggest that there's merit in the request for society to be more conscious of how a person's internal clock affects their health and productivity, Live Science notes.

"If, as a society, we could be more flexible about how we manage time, we could go a long way towards maximizing productivity and minimizing health risks," Facer-Childs said.

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