Are night owls more intelligent than early birds?

Loved it when I came across research indicating that might be the case. Am tired of hearing about the benefits of getting up at the crack of dawn. It’s a habit we have inherited from traditional societies when mankind rose with the sun and went to bed at sunset. But does it really suit the world we live in today?

are nigth owls more intelligent than early birds

Would US presidents age as much as they do if they didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn like in a traditional society? Would it benefit mankind to adapt office hours that reflect the world we live in today instead of doing things the way they have always been done?

One study carried out by The University of Liege looking at how our brains are able to focus attention throughout the day found differences in rhythm between “morning” and “evening” people. Their conclusion is that early risers get tired earlier and are hence less productive.

Kanzawa claims more intelligent children go to bed later as adults

And according to another study by Satoshi Kanazawa,”Why Night Owls are more intelligent than morning larks” evening people are of higher intelligence than morning people. He claims that analysis of a large representative sample of young Americans show that more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children.

Both studies believe that evening people usually get more work done and resist the pressure to sleep better than the larks.

Do morning people have the upper hand in business?

Considering such conclusions I can’t help wondering why is it considered that when it comes to being successful in business it’s a virtue to be an early riser and that evening people will be less successful?

Honestly doubt the conclusion that evening people are more intelligent. It has nothing to do with intelligence but body rhythm, endurance and energy. For some reasons we are all different in those areas but the fact that evening people seem to be more productive could be of importance to society.

Time to rethink?

From what I understand about 20% of the population of the world are night owls and only 10% are early birds. And most of us, 70%, can handle both. Honestly why are we adapting business hours to suit 10% of the population of the world?

Intelligence enables flexibility

Kanazaka correctly points out that the more intelligent people are the more prone they are to adapt behaviour that is beneficial to the human race – as opposed to doing things the way they have always been done. Initially new behaviour is scorned but then become the norm. Much of what we do today will be considered absurd by future generations.

Flexible hours a sign of change?

More and more businesses have flexible hours above all because many businesspeople are night owls. And we shouldn’t forget that many intelligent people are entrepreneurs. The current recession is also creating an abundance of small businesses, most of them with much more flexible hours than huge corporations.

Will next generation be prepared to get up at dawn?

Another aspect is that younger people are more likely to be night owls and not happy to get up in the morning while pensioners frequently fall into the rhythm of getting up and going to bed with the sun. But they are now retiring and younger people will fill their positions. And they may not be as willing as the previous generation to adapt their body rhythm to the company. They may simply leave and find jobs where they don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.

So is it time for the business world to wake up and realize that things are changing? Having workers coming in later and working later will, according to the studies, result in increased productivity and eliminate the afternoon fatigue so obvious in all offices.

What’s your opinion? Do you agree with the studies that night owls are more intelligent than early birds? Or do you believe it’s the other way round? Or maybe you agree with me that it’s not about intelligence but other factors? Will more and more businesses implement flexible hours? Would starting later and working later increase productivity? Is it likely that working hours will change? Will night owls have the upper hand in the future?

(Photo: United States Government Work – Flickr)

135 responses

  1. I'm an early morning person. My children are definitely night owls. My husband can do both. It's just our personal rhythms. Our successes seem more related to whether we use that wide awake time well. I hope more businesses will value flexibility – I do see this for some.
    My recent post New Website: Coming Soon Page?

    • Agree with you completely that it's about working when we perform best, Leora. But thy doing that if you work in government in D.C. You have to get up at the crack of dawn even if you are an evening person. Does that really make them draw the best conclusions and how much would results improve if they had flexible hours?:-)

  2. These studies always crack me up Catarina! There's enough debate about what constitutes intelligence, much less whether night owls possess more of it! When I ran a restaurant/bar I was a night owl because I had to be. When I entered the corporate world I became an early bird because I had to adapt. Now I am up every day at 5:00AM without an alarm and I find my most productive times are in the morning because I have fewer interruptions. Maybe the answer lies in how you make the best use of your time rather than when that time is. I would like to see companies be more flexible. It makes sense to exploit an employee's circadian rhythms!

    • You definitely are among the 70 % of the world's popuation who can can handle both, Jacqueline. It's definitely not about intelligence but about how to get best results. Believe me, you would not have written what you wrote if you were an evening person:-) Can't help concluding that you would be suitable for working in government in D.C. Getting up around 04.00 hours would be fine with you.

  3. Hi Catarina – there always seem to be studies going on – tomorrow the findings will be completely opposite. I have never been a night owl, even when young and now that I’m older, getting up at 5 or 6 in the morning is the norm. It is also when I am most productive and I prioritize accordingly. It may be true that I get tired earlier and am often in bed by 9pm but that doesn’t mean a lot since I usually have accomplished what I needed to do. I think business would be wise to take advantage of employee’s most productive time, whenever that is.

    • Always enjoy reading comments to this article, Lenie. People are critical if they are morning persons and love it if they are night owls. It's not about intelligence but working when your performance is at its peak. Simple as that. Believe me individuals, companies and society as a whole lose out by forcing people to work hours that don't suit them.

  4. I have strong opinions about this. In both of my marriages, I’ve been a lark (early bird) and my husbands owls (late birds). Furthermore, my two children are also one of each. When my kids were little, I tried to help them keep similar schedules and a friend of mine tried to change the lark when the kids stayed with her for a week. Result? hysterical child. I believe it is inborn and really hard to change. I haven’t noticed a difference in intelligence.

    • Agree with you completely, Beth. Of course it has nothing to do with intelligence. But every time I publish this article I love how morning people point that out:-) To believe body rythm has anything to do with intelligence is ludicrous.

  5. Wait Catarina. Aren't more or most teenagers night owls? I totally remember that being the case for my son when he was one, and for that matter, myself when I was one. But I love studies because they really do make us question things and think differently.

    When my husband and I were karaoke business owners, we were in our 40s and up until 4am sometimes! But our day jobs were typical 9 to 5 business hours. We're both high achievers no matter what our hours.

    You pointed out this in the studies: Intelligence enables flexibility. So maybe, if we are intelligent we can flex to business hours, or decide the heck with it.

    Love this post!
    My recent post Want to Double Your Resolution and Habit Success?

    • Lucky you, Pat. Both you and your husband are part of the 70% of humanity that can handle both. But try being a night owl and work in government in D.C. Getting up around 4 in the morning will definitely result in evening people performing badly. Considering that 20% of humanity are night owls I can't help wondering how that has impacted the US government?:-) The worst case scenario is probably a POTUS that's an evening person. His bad performance will have a negative impact on the world:-)

  6. Catarina — I'm definitely a night owl. When I worked in the corporate world I had to adapt to getting up at 6 in the morning but it isn't my natural rhythm. Now I work late and sleep late. When I mention that to "larks" they are askance and imply that something must be wrong with me. Why do larks feel so superior when they can't keep their eyes open after 10 o'clock at night!
    My recent post Life After Fifty and the “Brand” New You

  7. Superb post, Catarina, and I'm glad to see you're getting a good reaction to it.

    I am neither a night owl, not an early bird. I do my best and most creative work between 11 am and 5 pm. I never make appointments for before 10 am, as I know I just won't be fully there mentally.

    I don't think either camp is more intelligent than the other. I think we all have a different biorhythm that we should follow, and the intelligent ones, find a job or flexible work situation that enables them to work when they are most productive. Thank goodness for progress!
    My recent post the importance of trust

    • Agree with you, Doreen. Also avoid early meetings. The worst are breakfast meetings that I have never attended anywhere in the world. Recently was asked by a business association to give a speech at 7.30 in the morning. Declined because it will not be a great speech.:-)

  8. I am a night owl. I just function better at night. I seem to get a second wind at 8:00 PM and then I am ready to face the night. At night is when I come up with ideas that do not come to me during the day. Of course this also is the reason I have insomnia. Getting up early in the morning is a chore for me. I could never have a 9:00-5:00 job. Having my own business allows me to work within my parameters of working and thinking at night.
    My recent post “Don’t Satisfy the Customer Surprise ‘Em” Lessons from Dr. Kriegel

    • Another night owl, Arleen. Personally don't have insomnia because of it but in the morning I'm a waste of time. Have tried since I was a kid but getting up early simply doesn't suit me.

  9. Such an intriguing title for this post. I know everyone has their own best zone for working, but I'm not sure I buy into night owls being more intelligent. More productive perhaps – depending on the environment. If one's natural rhythms have you working at times when you're likely to be less distracted or interrupted by others, you will be more productive. I used to be a morning person, but find that is changing as I get older and no longer have to meet someone else's schedule. This post made me think of studies and papers that have come out about teenagers, who like to stay up late and sleep late. Suggestions are that we should change school hours to be later for teens. But that would be difficult for the teachers and for school bus schedules.

    • Donna, the reason behind the headline is simply to provoke and hence attract readers. And it works. If anyone believes intelligence has anything to do with if you are a morning of evening person they probably are not very intelligent:-)

  10. My husband would love this! He is one of these people that always stays up late and then is exhausted the next day. I guess I am kind of flexible. I have had all types of schedules as an adult from waking up at 3am to going to bed at 3 am. This is due to my years as an actress. From all these schedules, I believe I am happiest going to bed at midnight and waking up at 8am. Currently I go to bed at 10pm and wake up around 6am. I seriously feel like a little kid resisting my bed time every night. It just doesn’t feel natural to me to fall asleep that early. Come morning though, I wake up full of energy and feel alert all day. So I guess this schedule allows me to feel well rested. The bedtime will always feel unnatural.

  11. I am a night owl. I am far more productive working in the middle of the night than during the day/early evening when my children are up. I am still able to wake early in the morning. I generally have five hours sleep a night – need at least six and am working on this!

    • Of course it has nothing to do with intelligence, Cheryl. It's really amusing how every time I publish this article morning people feel the need to point that out. You have to be really stupid to believe it has. But the headline really increase readership A LOT.

  12. After reading this Katerina I'm going to hangout in bed all morning tomorrow. And let's do away with the pre-office hours breakfast meeting. Always hated those.

  13. Finally a study that supports my night owl habits! I don’t believe it has much to do with intelligence, but it may have something to do with having uninterrupted time to think your thoughts and get things done. I know once my kids go to bed, I’m suddenly more creative and productive. Perhaps if we switched to later office hours, people would suddenly be more productive in the morning before they have to deal with everyone else?

    • Of course it has nothing to do with intelligence, Meredith. It's simply that we have different body rhythms. Have you always been a night owl lor just became one when you got kids?

  14. Researcher (and believe me I use the term VERY loosely) Satoshi Kanazawa is the author of other sensationally based non-scientific studies. In one of his earliest papers, he attempted to show that the Asian culture inhibited creativity. But wait it gets better. In another study, he concluded Africans are predisposed to stupidity And his definitive example of “I get paid for being a quack” was his claim that black women were “objectively” less beautiful than other races. As far as this study, (for lack of a better term) I find it hard to accept the results of any study, which discusses IQ that doesn’t even use an IQ test for their findings. Take this study with a grain of salt.

    • Wow, Pamela. The purpose of the headline was to provoke people. And it really works. Readership goes sky high. Seems it provoked you more than anyone ever. Anyone believing that intelligence has anyting to do with the matter should have their head examined. Loved writing this article when HBR wrote about the research that was carried out in Liege, which you seem to have ignored. Kanazawa is just another study I found when researching. How could you believe that I a) believe intelligence has anything to do with if you are an evening or morning person b) firmly believe the results of studies? A horrendous example that researchers claimed to have proven was that all members of one religion had an unusual gene in common. They were hence not a religion but a people.

      • Catarina, I didn't mean to imply that you agree with these findings. I realized the Liege study was a separate study. I didn't compare the two because there wasn't anything to compare; like apples to oranges. Yes, they are both studies, but completely different.
        The Liege study looked at brain activity in regard to sustained focus and attention. The correlation between time, duration of sleep and brain patterns and their effect on attention. It wasn't looking at intelligence at all.
        I loved that you created this post, are you kidding? You're open minded and a spirited thinker. Using your blog as a stage for world events, not posting from a bubble of your own belief system, is a testimony to self-efficacy. I'm really not perturbed by this at all. I'm a psychologist I love commenting on individual differences; I'm not attached to it. Your posts always make me think, that's terrific.

        • Glad we agree. By the way, Harvard Business Review implied that the Liege study suggested that evening people are more intelligent. The link I attached is just a short synopsis. But I still don't believe intelligence has anything to do with our body rhythms. On the other hand, if all human beings were able to work in accordance with when they are most productive society as a whole would benefit enormously by" intelligence" surging:-) As you know, if you work in government in D.C. you have no choice but to get up around 4 o'clock in the morning. Imagine how that impacts night owls ability to be "intelligent". Am certain that they make mistakes because of being forced to work hours that don't suit them.

          • I understand how Harvard Business interpreted the data as it applies to the business world they’re using the word, intelligence in terms of being focused and sharp. The University Of Liege is a true scientific study. And the methodology is first rate. Another reason Satoshi’s work isn’t even in the same ballpark.
            Yes, I agree with you. We are too focused on defining universal norms and standards for sleeping, eating, working and educating. We need to broaden our focus on individual working styles and preferences. Great conversation, thank you.

  15. I think that we simply adapt to our circumstances and do what is necessary at the time to make due. Think it's more about necessity versus need, not about intelligence. If you are not tied to a corporate job/clock and can go by your own body rhythms, I feel I'm more productive. But that's just me.

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    • It has nothing to do with intelligence, Susan. But the headline really provokes and generate a lot of readers. We all have different body rhythms and it's horrendous in the corporate world when we are night owls. Am, like you, much more productive now that I don't have to get up early.

  16. Used to be “You can sleep when you’re dead” then it was power napping in the afternoon. The end result is we are creatures of habit and work best when we work best.

  17. Hello Catarina
    I doubt about this theory as we always listen and even feel that when we get up early in morning we are fresh and we have a long day to complete out tasks. As the day proceed our performance level decreases. This also change from person to person. I feel that there is no hard and fast rule about it. At times people who wake up early are intelligent and sometime night owls. As you said the intelligence is a not related to getup and sleeping time there are many more factors are involved too.

    But if I consider this theory according to my belief then in our religions we are asked to wake up early and enjoy the benefits of a long day and sleep late. So A person who is morning Lark and a night owl can be intelligent but if adopts one … not sure, if true.

    • Thank you for giving us your points of view, Andleeb. If you are a morning of everning person has nothing to do with intelligence or religion. It's genetic and not much we can do about it:-)

  18. I wonder about this concept of night owls and early birds, is not a result of our evolution. Imagine our early ancestors, those pseudo humans who first began to have abstract thought. During the day they had to forage for food, and fight for their existence. I was not until night, that they had time to think. Maybe being a night owl is just a historical memory of those long past days.

    • Maybe, William. But don't forget that in the beginning mankind woke up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. After working during the day light hours I'm not sure they had much energy to think in the evening. In the beginning they most likely didn't even have fire to be able to see when it was dark.

  19. Loved this post. As a night owl I'm always dismayed by the belief that getting to work early is a reflection of anything more than sleeping patterns. Living in Ottawa, if I rose and slept with the sun over the winter I'd have more in common with hibernating bears than humans and no doubt my disposition would match. :)

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