The world is of the larks, let’s face it. The division between early risers (“larks”) and tugs (“owls”) continues to tickle the experts’ attention. After having established that the former are more long-lived and healthy, they have concentrated on the functioning of the brain according to the chronotype.

The latest study on the theme (University of Birmingham), published in the newspaper Sleep, monitored the lifestyle and the biological clock of 38 people, divided between «owls» and «larks» (or between those who love to do the small hours and those who wake up early and go to bed early), using magnetic resonance imaging to observe brain reactions and a battery of tests to assess cognitive performance.

woman stretching sitting on bed inside bedroom

TWO OPPOSITE TENDENCIES

Owls and larks, two opposite animals that do not meet during the day and who have entered the language of scientists as a synonym of lifestyles and opposite tendencies with respect to the passage of time. Two different worlds written in the genetic heritage, marked by habits of life and brains that work differently.

In British research, scholars have “scanned” the brain of a first sample of volunteer night owls, used to falling asleep at 2.30 am and not waking up before 10.30am. The result showed a poorer connectivity in the brain regions responsible for maintaining consciousness, compared to early morning tests. The deficit was revealed in a series of tasks that were then submitted to night owls throughout the day, between 8am and 8 pm. Less attentive, more sleepy and with slow reaction times. The early risers, however, appeared more connected and the volunteers, in the tasks assigned by the researchers, were more vigilant, dynamic and quick.

A DAY SET FOR EARLY RISERS 

The “larks”, who go to bed before 11pm and wake up around 6:30am, boast a brain that works best in all that regards readiness and attention. Although, as Elise Facer-Childs at the head of the research team, points out, the results are somewhat driven by the fact that the tests took place over a period of time that favours by definition the early risers. The constraints of working and study days favour those who wake up early..

woman covered in white blanket sleeping on white bed comforter

MOVE THE CLOCK HANDS 

The study, in addition to highlighting the slow carburation timing of night owls, also shows that society and working rhythms benefit early risers, penalising a significant portion of humanity that for various reasons has the time zone moved forward. So much so that, according to some experts, if you entered the office a little later or the school bell rang “calmly” there would be a general increase in productivity. Someone tried to move the hands of the clock forward as far as the lessons were concerned, observing more attention from the students. In short, one wonders if the natural human propensity is sometimes forced by rhythms that are not very congenial and if it would be desirable to do a job that respects its own chronotype as much as possible.

GENERALISATIONS (often true)

However, the variables to be taken into account in the analysis of the biological clock are extremely complex and impossible to eliminate. This is the case of Birmingham research: it is probable (though not always true) that in the case of night owls the lifestyle is different, which could contribute to a slower reaction time. “Night is a bad counselor” according to another proverb, because it can lead to unhealthy behaviour (smoking, alcohol …). However, among owls and skylarks there is a middle way made by many people who do not have a particular hourly trend and who probably adapt better to what life offers day by day.