Some people consider themselves to be morning larks i.e. they are early risers. Such people do not find any difficulty in waking up at the crack of dawn or falling asleep as soon as the evening hits.
Others call themselves night owls or evening people who can manage to stay up till the early hours of the morning and wake up later in the evening.
Previous research indicated that night owl are exposed to certain health issues particularly due to their daily rhythms. These issues include an inclination towards poor dietary habits which, in turn, increases the risk of diabetes and other metabolic conditions.
A recent study led by the researchers from the University of Birmingham found how the activity patterns occurring in the brains of night owls vary from those of morning people. It also highlights how these variations can affect their productivity levels and affect their lives in a world which usually favors early risers.
The findings of this study are featured in a journal named Sleep.
What Happens inside the Brains of Night Owls
For the study, the scientists took into account 38 normal and healthy people and divided them into two groups. 16 of them were early risers in one group and the rest of 22 were late sleepers and were placed in the second group.
The splitting of participants into two groups was based on their circadian rhythms derived by melanin and cortisol. These two hormones keep circulating in the body and determine the sleep-wake cycle.
The researchers kept monitoring the sleeping and waking patterns of the participants and instructed them to fill in questionnaires regarding their rhythms. On average, the late sleepers went to sleep at 2:30 a.m. and woke up at around 10:15 a.m.
For assessing the activity patterns in the brain, the investigators asked the participants to undergo MRI scans. They also tested their performance by exposing them to different tasks at different times of the day.
A difference in the activity patterns of the brain was noticed between the two groups. The night owls were found to have lower resting brain connectivity in the areas associated with consciousness. This was correlated with shorter time spans, slower reactions, and low energy levels.
Early risers were found to perform better with fast reaction times during morning tasks. They were also said to feel less sleepy.
On the contrary, the late sleepers were found to perform best and experienced a much faster reaction times around 8 p.m. Even at the peak performance levels, the night owls were not found to perform better than their counterpart.
This suggests that the resting state brain connectivity, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., was affected in the night owls which negatively affected their productivity.
Flexibility in the Social Expectations
The lead researcher said that the condition of the night owls throughout the day is similar to a jet lag. This emphasizes that staying awake all night may significantly affect their well-being, especially in the long run.
This mismatch between the social time as well as the biological time of a person is experienced by most of the people in the form of jet lag. It is commonly seen in people who are night owls yet trying to follow a normal working day.