Early Birds vs. Night Owls: Are night owls really smarter?
We’re all familiar with the Benjamin Franklin aphorism, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” But sleep research from the London School of Economics concludes that people with higher IQs tend to be night owls who sleep in. Early risers may catch the worm, but could it be that they’re not the brightest birds in the nest?
Research says it’s evolution: Humans are naturally diurnal, but everyone exhibits more of a preference for “morningness” or “eveningness.” Presumably those of us who work best after the sun goes down are more evolved and thus, smarter. If only we’d known this as bedtime- and curfew-arguing kids!
Of course, being an early bird doesn’t mean you’re a dodo. Other research from the University of Bologna shows that people who go to bed earlier are more well-adjusted — more cooperative, considerate, and persistent. They cope better with deadlines and tend to do better in school. They’re less grouchy when they wake up. Meanwhile, night owls are less reliable, more moody, and often struggle with addiction. They’re more likely to drink, smoke, and have eating disorders. (What else is there to do in the wee-est hours)?
We wondered whether Hunch data confirms all this. Are Hunch users — who tend to be better educated than the norm — more likely to be early birds or night owls? Do their traits match what sleep research shows? And we’ve asked many questions, but IQ isn’t one of them. How could we conclude whether early birds or night owls are smarter?
We started here:
Out of more than 20,000 Hunch users, the majority consider themselves night owls. But the older a Hunch user is, the more likely he or she is to claim the early bird title. This corresponds with a finding in sleep research — that “eveningness” peaks from ages 17-21 and then becomes less prevalent.
Some people think staying up for Letterman is a wild nocturnal endeavor. Lest we disagree on what constitutes a “late night,” we looked at what time self-identified morning and night people were actually going to bed. It looks like we can all agree that regular weekday activity at midnight and later makes one a night person. (Activity at these times on weekends merely make one a person). Still, 20% of early birds regularly go to bed around or after midnight.
There are many famous night owls, including Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher. Martha Stewart gets four hours of sleep each night — and says it’s a good thing. But Hunchers aren’t necessarily getting much done while burning the midnight oil. A surprising 46% of night owls say they’re most productive in the morning and afternoon. Could the fact that night owls are slightly more likely to have recently danced in a club until 4 a.m. have something to do with it?
How are early birds and night owls different?
|Early Birds||Night Owls|
|Morning routine||Refreshed when they wake up
|Tired when they wake up
|Food/Drink||Order tried and true items on the menu
|Order new things on the menu|
|Legal matters||Broke the law (not traffic or parking) longer than a year ago
|Broke the law (not traffic or parking) in the last year or more recently
|Miscellaneous||Are on time or early to appointments
|Run late to appointments
|The perfect late night is spent…||At home||Out on the town
|Optimist or pessimist?||Optimist
||It depends on the situation|
|Friends complain…||“You try to plan everything!”||“You’re too disorganized!”|
|First thing they’d teach a pet parrot to say||“Polly wants a cracker.”||Something obscene
|Sundays are for…||Reading
|Getting together “last minute” means…||Later today||In a few hours or less|
Hunch data appears to confirm some of the findings of previous sleep research about early birds. They’re upstanding citizens who are on top of their business. Night owls tend to be disorganized and more spontaneous. But we were surprised that some correlations we predicted weren’t present in Hunch data at all.
For starters, early birds and night owls on Hunch identify as liberal, middle of the road, or conservative at pretty equal rates. They also tend to have made the same grades in high school and drink the same amount. (But early birds are slightly more likely to be teetotallers). The two groups have been jailed and fired from a job in nearly identical numbers — well, night owls are slightly most likely to have been put in the clink or on unemployment.
There’s no unbiased way to measure IQ through Teach Hunch About You (THAY) questions. But if you’re interested in another number, we can talk annual income. At $50,000 and up, early birds beat night owls when it comes to bringing home the bacon. We can presume that early birds are more likely to fry it up in a pan, too.
So which are you, and which would you rather be — an early bird or a night owl? We’ll let you sleep on that.