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Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Birds

This article was written by in Career and Work. 16 comments.

If I have to define myself by my productivity tendency based on the time of day, I would have to say I am not a morning person.

I imagine my mother is nodding in agreement as she reads this article, as I didn’t make life easy for her while I was a teenager. Though I enjoyed school for the most part, I was not at my peak in the morning. I worked late into the night, managing an online community and customizing my BBS software (writing WordPress plugins would be the modern equivalent), making it difficult to concentrate in the morning.

The trend has continued. Here’s a peek at my current schedule. I work at my day job between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, with practically zero opportunity for responding to Consumerism Commentary email during that time. Between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm, I handle administrative tasks for Consumerism Commentary, like responding to email, scheduling phone calls and interviews, occasionally recording the Podcast, and eating dinner. I write for Consumerism Commentary and other websites almost exclusively during my wheelhouse — between 9:00 pm and 2:00 am. I try to go to sleep no later than 2:00 am every night.

Ideas come to me during the night. Words flow. All I can explain from my own point of view is that my brain works better when the world (or at least my time zone and the few surrounding it) is asleep, even if my eyes begin to get glassy and my body tires.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? If the answer isn’t obvious to you, you can take this quiz, but I would assume that most adults can easily identify the time of day during which they function at their best without a test. I’m also willing to bet that almost all adults show a preference for one or the other.

There has been some scientific research lately on this topic, and the results show that eveningness — the idea that one’s brain operates optimally during the night — is correlated with higher intelligence measured at childhood. Genetics is partly to blame for this preference, and it can change with age. These charts illustrate the data nicely.

Not to be accused of writing this article with the purpose of declaring myself more intelligent because I work best late, I am quick to admit there are some downsides to being an evening person. From The Week:

Night owls tend to be less reliable, more emotionally unstable, and more likely to have problems with addictions and eating disorders, according to a 2008 study by psychologist Marina Giamnietro. They are also more likely to drink alcohol and smoke, says Dutch psychiatrist Walter van den Broek… Another study found that undergrad “evening types” had lower GPAs than those who awake early in the morning.

There are some interesting conclusions I could draw.

  • The stock market is open for trading only from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm Eastern Time on most days. As I live in Eastern Time, the time for trading stocks corresponds to the time when my brain is not operating at its best capacity. I’d probably make a poor stock trader, or not as successful as I would be if the market were available during the night.
  • If I were to stay in a corporate environment, I might be more successful if I weren’t tied to a 9:00 am to 5:00 pm routine. Shift work doesn’t appeal to me, however.

And a message to all who have tried to convert me from a night person to a morning person: you can stop now.

Updated March 13, 2011 and originally published November 15, 2010.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Sheds a new light on the old adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.” Perhaps just those first 2… ?

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Now imagine being a trader on the West Coast! My dad works at a brokerage firm and regularly gets to work around 5 a.m. Needless to say, he is a morning person. I’m not.

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avatar 3 Luke Landes

That doesn’t sound the least bit appealing to me.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I am the SAME exact way. From when I get up at 730 till about 10am I feel horrible! But around 11pm I am WIRED with ideas and passion. It is really frustrating lol

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I was always a night person, but more than a decade of getting up at 6:15 (teacher) and several years of finally going to bed early enough that I can be functional for the day after getting up at 6:15, I’m now more of a late-morning-early-afternoon person :-/

But it’s true, when I need to get things written well, I’m still best at night. (Unfortunately, that makes the following day pretty miserable.)

Oddly, however, I’ve learned that my body feels better/has more energy if I’m up and moving by 7:30 or 8. But “moving” is literal: housework, errands, whatever.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

I took the quiz and got neither! I like to go to bed at 11 p.m., but I am terribly disabled in the morning. I can’t get going, and it is supremely stressful to have to get out of the house for work before 11:30 a.m. I don’t schedule anything before 1 p.m., and I am up at 7:30 a.m. every day not matter what – because it takes me time to get going. There has been no worse hell than the occasions that my husband has had to go to work at 6 a.m. That is extremely rare, but the employer tried to make him work mornings more regularly. He flat-out refused, and it was quite an issue. My belief is that if you cave in to something more than on a rare emergency basis, you get taken advantage of and the employer gets the message that you CAN do that and it is okay. If you say you can’t do something, you’d better not do it!

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avatar 7 Donna Freedman

I tend to stay up late writing; that’s when the ideas flow for me, too. But then UPS or FedEx rings the doorbell, or someone calls at 8 a.m., or the garbage or recycle trucks go by, or my neighbors have a big fight, or I have to do interviews for my day job. Yawn. I’m chronically a little short on sleep but have found that a 40-minute nap in mid-afternoon helps keep me going.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

From my programming days in college, I learned that I’m a nightowl too. It’s funny, I would do a whois (I think that’s right) in the wee AM hours of the next morning, and it would give me a list of users online too. I always thought that it was funny that on many a night, I’d see the same names over and over…

I try to go to bed by 1:00am (since I have to get to work by 7:00am)… Needless to say, this past year of blogging has me near running ragged…

In fact, It’s 9:43pm and I still have to figure out what I’m going to write about tonight…

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I’m a total night person but I love investing in stocks…but I think it works to my advantage because it prevents me from making sudden moves (as I’m asleep or at work during market hours).

I do most of my stock research at night, and will setup limit trades to execute while I’m asleep or at work. This takes the “excitement of the market” out of my trading strategies. I don’t get caught up in what the current price is, and I don’t day-trade or try to option scalp. I just invest for a specific educated reason.

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avatar 10 Luke Landes

The data also show that night owls are more wealthy than early risers — and that could be part of the reason, as well.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Will you just go to sleep already?! :)

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avatar 12 Luke Landes

I just might. I’m having trouble working on an article for US News, and I might just give up for the night.

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avatar 13 eric

So that’s why I had a lower GPA in college ;)

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avatar 14 KNS Financial

I am definitely a night person. I got through college and grad school by working overnight and taking classes during the day and evening.

Even now, I do most of my productive blog work later at night – as much as my wife allows!

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I’m a morning person but am not sure if that’s a function of working early for so many years or not. I do most of my writing during the early morning or day hours.

Hmm, I thought I was smart but guess not!

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avatar 16 20andengaged

I’m almost exactly like you Flexo. I work from 9a – 6p, and can stay up until 2am working on side projects. I would love to work in a different schedule, but my commute makes that particularly difficult.

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