For some of us, the feeling of being alert and motivated comes naturally first thing in the morning, while for others, our best work is done in the evening, or even late at night. But why is it that some people are up with the lark, raring to get started with their day, while others find that a later start and a later bedtime suits them better?
One view is that this is simply a case of genetics at work, with some people being ‘programmed’ to be at their best earlier in the day, while others are full of beans at night-time. In support of this stance is the fact that a person’s apparent predisposition to being an early morning or late night person often seems set from a young age – some children are from the outset habitual early-wakers, while others struggle to settle at night, but sleep well into the mornings. This pattern often then continues into adulthood.
Various scientific studies certainly support the idea of a natural internal body clock that is determined mainly or wholly by genes. The flip side of this – or the nurture side to this nature versus nurture debate – is that lifestyle can play a big part here.
Young children influenced by their parents rising early and going to bed early may themselves become so accustomed to the family routine that it remains with them for life. Equally, people who are ‘forced’ by the requirements of their jobs or studies to alter their waking and sleeping habits may find that the routine they have to adapt to then becomes their ‘natural’ rhythm.
Although proverbs such as “The early bird catches the worm” suggest that it is ‘better’ to be an early riser than a night owl, the fact is that a predisposition towards being more productive in the morning or in the evening can help or hinder us equally, depending on our phase of life, on our work or study requirements or choices, or even where we live. The reality is that there is a broad spectrum of tendencies in terms of the ‘best’ time for each of us to work or study, and these differences are not only part of what makes us unique, but are also useful on a practical level. For those jobs for example that require an early start, it’s great that some people are at their best at that time of day. It’s equally beneficial that those who are most energetic at night can comfortably fill roles that involve evening shifts or night-time work. And the recent global trend towards more flexible working hours is certainly a step in the right direction for everyone else, as it goes some way towards allowing for, and embracing, these differences in body clock settings – whatever their origin may be.