CogniFit's Science blog: Early Riser? Night Owl? Blame Your Brain

Early Riser? Night Owl? Blame Your Brain

A study conducted by scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada has found that our brains function differently depending on whether we are late or early risers. We might want to adapt ourselves and our working schedule depending on what works best for us. The scientists used MRI scans on two groups of people with different sleeping and working habits.

One group stayed up until 3 AM and did their best work at night while the other group who were up and ready to work at 5AM did their best work during the day. Importantly, no coffee was allowed during the study to not affect the results and the energy of the participants.

The night owls might have the edge when it comes to peak physical performance since their central nervous system and their spinal cord seem to be both at their peak in the evening. Morning people’s brains worked best in the morning to get their muscles moving and seem to have the same average performance throughout the day (for example in a competition that requires to be physically fit).

Morning people became less efficient in the evening when the spinal cord system is at its peak and seem to be working less than their maximum performance on an ongoing basis since the brain and spinal cord systems aren’t working together. On the other hand, they can work well both in the morning and evening compared to the night owls who perform best at specific time of the day. The night owls would be at a disadvantage in the morning. For example, people who struggle athletically in the morning may want to go to the gym only during the evening where they might feel more awake and full of energy.

The night owls start slow and then seem to get stronger as the day goes on. The research only measured the brain’s ability to control movement, so there is no word on whether the cognitive abilities change for morning people versus evening people over the course of the day.

Other studies have shown that adolescents function better later in the day, because the chemical responsible for sleepiness kicks in later at night and lasts longer into the morning. So some schools are trying a system where classes start at 11:30 am instead of 8:30 to combat the early morning fatigue.

The results have other implications. Maybe early riser shouldn’t work a night shift or night owl athletes should arrange their training schedules later in the day.

So if you just want to pull the covers over your head and ignore the alarm clock in the morning, blame your brain and not your will power!