Why Night Owls Are Better Than Early Birds

Are you a night owl or a morning person? When you do your best work could affect your level of success.
Freelance writer/editor/producer, Various online and print publications
April 23, 2014

Waking up at the crack of dawn, the early bird might catch the worm, but that worm no longer guarantees success. The once-dubbed lazy and irresponsible night owls are rising up!

What's changed? It all comes down to our economy changing from an industrial to a technological one. It used to be mandatory for everyone to come to the office at a certain time in order to perform certain tasks. This is no longer the case. Technology allows us to collaborate without physically being present, and the only thing that matters is if you're able to bring in numbers—not that you're on time every day. In short, the typical 9-to-5 work schedule is slowly diminishing and companies are now offering flexible work hours more than ever.

The Night Stuff

While the old 9-to-5 schedule used to work in favor of early birds' biological clocks, our evolving workplace is now the perfect environment for night owls. We take a look at the reasons why.

1. Night owls have higher IQs. A morning person might be more reliable, but nocturnal individuals simply have higher IQs. Researcher Satoshi Kanazawa and her colleagues at the London School of Economics and Political Science found that those with higher IQs prefer to go to bed in the wee morning hours. The researchers surveyed a large representative sample of young Americans and found that children with the highest IQs grow up to be owls more often than larks. On the other hand, research also shows that morning people make better grades despite not having as high of an IQ as their night-loving peers, but this is likely because our current school schedule works against night owls.

2. They're more creative. Studies show that those working away at night can think laterally and are better at reasoning than their morning counterparts. These characteristics make night owls an extremely creative group. Swizec Teller, a programmer, explains in his blog that programmers in general like to code at night because that's when they're able to do their "best work." In other words, free from distractions, night owls are able to immerse themselves in mentally challenging—and often creative and free-thinking—work.

3. They're prone to be risk-takers. This current entrepreneurial age is the perfect time to be a risk-taker. With so much competition, you have to be a little different to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Fortunately for night owls, they are different and tend to be bigger risk-takers compared to morning people. This makes them better entrepreneurs, but also makes employees better at thinking strategically and solving big problems for their employers.

4. They make more money. Because of their higher IQs, creative and risk-taking abilities, it makes sense that night owls also tend to earn higher incomes, according to research at the University of Madrid. This may be exactly why some of the most successful people are night owls, including President Obama, who reportedly holds conference calls with senior staff as late as 11 p.m., reports Carrie Budoff Brown at Politco. He even proudly called himself a "night owl" in an interview with Newsweek.

Former Googler Keval Desai is another night owl, telling Lydia Dishman at Fast Company that he usually pulls all-nighters and likes to "do work that requires some concentration when the rest of the household is asleep."

5. They attain extra brain power that early birds lack. It may be common to think that larks have as much energy in the mornings as owls have at night, but this isn't the case. It turns out, early risers stay constantly productive throughout the day until mid-afternoon, when their energy tapers off. This means they never have an extra burst of energy any time throughout the day. On the other hand, night owls show an increase of motor cortex and spinal cord excitability around 9 p.m., and they're able to maintain that focus until the wee morning hours. 

6. They're more capable of building genuine social networks. Most fun events occur in the evenings, and morning people are typically too tired after hours to go out for dinner or drinks. This isn't a huge deal, but it is if you're in an industry where your networks greatly affect your chance of getting more business. Those who stay most up-to-date and connected with others in their industries are also the ones who are most successful at work.

The Night Owl Club

Aside from Obama, other notable night owls include Michael Lewis, who prefers to write between the hours of 7 p.m. and 4 a.m. In the book The New New Journalism, Lewis tells author Robert Boynton: "Left to my own devices, with no family, I'd start writing at 7 p.m. and stop at 4 a.m. That is the way I used to write. I liked to get ahead of everybody. I'd think to myself, 'I'm starting tomorrow's workday, tonight!' Late nights are wonderfully tranquil. No phone calls, no interruptions. I like the feeling of knowing that nobody is trying to reach me."

Other famous night owls include Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Keith Richards and Elvis Presley.

Whether you're an early or late riser, use your sleep and productivity schedule to your advantage by understanding your golden hours. For early larks, take jobs that require you to be up early to get ahead of the rest of the group. On the other hand, night owls should take advantage of their nocturnal productivity, and think about flexible businesses that are suitable for you to be the happiest, healthiest owl you can be.

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Photo: Getty Images

Freelance writer/editor/producer, Various online and print publications