Early birds happier than night owls?

Early birds happier than night owls?

A new study shows that people that consider themselves "morning people" tend to be happier.

I am a self-described night owl. Creatively, socially, physically, I feel like I hit my peak after the sun goes down. Although this may sound insane, I don’t feel like I even achieve a baseline cognitive functioning until about noon, and use copious amounts of coffee to push that back to about 10 a.m. A recent study published in the journal, Emotion, found that this may mean that I am less happy, overall, than my more morning-oriented peers. This would certainly explain why I seem to resent early-birds.

Researchers at the University of Toronto undertook the study because data in the area was lacking, mostly having researched only young adults that are famously night-owlish. However, even what little research there was seemed to indicate that morning-people report feeling more happy and positive, overall. It also may explain why, as people age, they tend go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Of course, being a slave to a day job that starts at 8 a.m. probably forces that transition a little.

The researchers took a look at two different populations, a significant sample of adults aged 17-38, and a slightly smaller sample of adults aged 59-79. Using a questionairre, participants indicated their overall emotional state, health, and preferred time of day. Age and preferred “time of day” seemed to be inversely proportional. As teenagers, only about seven percent reported being a morning person, whereas in the senior citizen category, seven percent reported being night owls.  

The correlation shows a transition as we age of preferring more daylight to less. Of course, one needs to factor in generational changes, work days, and other factors that may play a role in why we seem to prefer daylight in the twilight of our lives. Still, the reported feelings of “happiness” stayed constant between the groups, with morning people reporting a better emotional state across age groups.

Renee Biss, a graduate student involved in the study, made an effort to explain one of the overarching reasons for this correlation. She hypothesized that evening people’s, “biological clock is out of sync with the social clock. Society's expectations are far more organized around a morning-type person's schedule." She called this phenomenon “social jet lag,” indicating that because morning people tend to be alert, and active at earlier times (when standard work days and the social machine at large gets moving), they enjoy a kind of synchronization with everyone else around them.

Work schedules, office hours, and services tend to operate according to a morning-person’s internal clock. More nocturnal people, like myself, often don’t engage until later in the day, when the regular “business day” is winding down. With this information in hand, I propose that night-owls band together for “circadian equality,” challenging governments and businesses to adjust their schedules to more adequately serve night owls, late-nighters, and evening types equally to our more dawn-oriented brothers and sisters. I’m going to start this campaign with my boss, asking him to let me come to work around noon.