I think we can all agree that 8 am classes are the worst. It’s probably safe to assume that a majority of college students would classify themselves as night owls as opposed to morning people. But which type of lifestyle is better for you?
It turns out that the difference between night owls and morning people isn’t just when they choose to go to bed. In fact, the makeup of the brain differs between the people in each group. According to huffingtonpost.com, researchers from Aachen University in Germany have studied the brain composition of several people who claim to be night owls and morning people. The study consisted of 59 people. 16 were classified as early risers, 23 were night owls, and 20 were “intermediate”. The study found that relative to the morning people and intermediates, the night had significantly less white matter in the brain. White matter is the tissue that helps communication among the nerve cells. There is no clear mechanism yet, but the researchers think it has to do with “social jet lag”. The term refers to the fact that night owls want to stay up all night and do things, but are forced to wake up early to societal obligations like work or school.
Some other differences the Aachen University scientists found were that people who stayed up later were at a higher risk for depression. They were also more inclined for tobacco and alcohol use, or food consumption (may be attributed to midnight snacking). On the bright side however, night owls also seemed to be more productive during the day than early birds. According to rodalewellness.com, researchers from Belgium and Switzerland conducted a study with 31 participants (16 morning people and 15 night owls). The researchers had them sleep for 7 hours overnight and then perform several tasks related to sustained attention. Both groups performed the tasks similarly, however, the difference showed later in the day. About 10 hours after waking up, the night owls showed higher levels of activity in parts of the brain related to attention. The morning people were also more tired and had slower reaction time. So, unsurprisingly, night owls seemed to be better at having energy later on in the day and night.
Now the conclusions from these studies sound very logical and easy to follow. However, they did extremely small sample sizes. And it appears that the way they got the participants was from volunteers which also could have skewed the results and therefore render the conclusion not very representative of everyone.