If you’re looking to break free from a life of long nights, short days, and regular caffeine top-ups, a recent, international-scale study could help you with your escape plan. The study, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Birmingham and Surrey in the UK, and Monash University in Australia, shows that minor adjustments to night owls’ sleeping habits could improve their sleep/wake patterns. Additionally, researchers found that those changes led to other benefits like better mood, enhanced morning performance, and improved eating habits.
Researchers studied a group 22 of healthy night owls with an average sleep time of 02:30 am and wake time of 10:15 am. From that group, a group of participants was asked to do the following for three weeks:
- Wake up two to three earlier than their usual waking time and to spend their mornings in as much outdoor light as possible.
- Sleep two to three hours earlier than their usual bedtime and to limit their exposure to light in the evenings.
- Keep sleep/wake times the same on working and off-days.
- Have breakfast as soon as possible after waking up, a fixed lunchtime, and to avoid having dinner after 7 pm.
Participants who made the changes to their routines were shown have better cognitive performance and physical strength early on in the day when night owls are usually found to feel tired. Their peak performance times were also seen to shift from the evening to the afternoon. Earlier starts were also linked to more breakfast consumption among the participants, who also reported decreases in feelings of stress and depression, as well as better mental wellbeing in general.
Why does this matter?
Commenting on the study, co-author Dr. Andrew Bagshaw, from the University of Birmingham, says that having a later sleep/wake pattern than everyone else – being a night owl – could lead to a clash between your and the rest of society’s schedule. He says that this can have all types of consequences such as sleepiness during the day and low mental wellbeing, so he and the rest of the researchers wanted to see if there were simple things that people could do to avoid these effects.
Monash University’s Dr. Elise Facer-Childs agrees; she says that understanding the differences in the way people function and giving them the tools to work with them could be a significant help in our society where there is a constant pressure to be productive and give your all.
As well as being linked to reduced physical and cognitive performance, and lower mental wellbeing, previous research has also linked disturbed sleeping patterns to an increased risk of disease and death, so tackling this issue could also lead to better health outcomes for many people.
So, wannabe morning larks, your time is now!
Written by: Tesneem Ayoub
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