Night owls – people who prefer to go to bed and wake up late – could change their body clocks to boost their performance, eating habits and mood.
Night owls are at a disadvantage in modern life because working days cater towards morning larks, with their earlier sleep/wake cycles. This leaves night owls suffering from lack of sleep, daytime drowsiness and poorer mental wellbeing.
A team of researchers from the UK and Australia carried out a small study to see if it was possible for night owls to make small tweaks to their routine in order to bring forward the sleep and wake times, without impacting their total snoozing time.
Over the course of three weeks, 22 participants – who had an average bedtime of 2:30am and an average waking time of 10:15am – went to bed two to three hours earlier every day, and set their alarms for two to three hours before their normal waking time. They were asked to eat breakfast as soon as possible after getting up, and to get lots of sunshine in the morning, while reducing daylight exposure in the evening. They also had their dinner no later than 7pm.
At the end of the study, reaction times and grip strength in the participants had improved in the morning, suggesting better mental and physical performance. Their most productive time shifted from the evening to the afternoon. Breakfast was eaten more frequently and participants reported improvements in mood, a reduction in stress and less daytime sleepiness.
“Establishing simple routines could help ‘night owls’ adjust their body clocks and improve their overall physical and mental health. Insufficient levels of sleep and circadian misalignment can disrupt many bodily processes putting us at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes,” said Prof Debra Skene from the University of Surrey, who took part in the research.