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Are Your A Night Or Morning Person? Understanding Your Sleeping Cycle

The world runs on a 9-to-5 schedule no matter where you are in the world.
Daylight hours are preferred for getting work done and the rest of the day is spent catching up on non-work activities.

Rinse, lather and repeat from Monday to Friday for most of us. But have you felt that you can’t operate on this schedule? Or does this type of sleep/wake cycle fit you to a T?

You may be an night owl or a morning lark depending on when you prefer to be awake.

Owls are nocturnal, while larks are diurnal. That is, the owl sleep cycle results in an individual who is wide-awake during the early hours of the morning, while larks have been asleep long before midnight.

These patterns are primal rhythms going all the way to the cellular level and are not easily changed.

Sleep Cycles Are In Your Genes

Did or do you have a grandparent or parent who stayed up late or woke up early?

Have you found yourself mirroring that person’s sleep cycle?

Chances are very strong that’s where your circadian rhythm came from. The circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, is something that comes from a family member.

It’s an evolutionary thing resulting from the need to have someone tending the fire and keeping watch at night, then having someone relieve the person on night duty. The early riser took over the job of keeping watch until the rest of the encampment woke up and allowed the night watch person to sleep in safety.

Not since the Industrial Revolution has there been much need for people to stay up overnight and watch a campfire. True, there have been night watchman jobs and the like, but these jobs tend to be fewer than the day job.

This forces the night owl to wake and sleep on a cycle that causes an issue known as social jet lag.

Understanding The Differences Between An Owl And A Lark

Around half of the population can adjust easily between going to bed a little earlier or later along with losing an hour or two of sleep here and there. For these people, the body doesn’t pay much attention to the differentiation in sleep cycles.

The rest of the population fall into either a delayed sleep cycle (owls) and advanced sleep cycle (larks).

Larks have a schedule of early to bed, early to rise. They tend to fall asleep earlier in the evening and wake up early in the morning. In fact, they may be awake and ready to go while everyone else in the house is just starting to rouse.

Owls are the exact opposite. They go to bed late and wake up late, sometimes way past what is perceived as societal norms. They have a much harder time adapting to a daylight schedule and don’t adapt to the loss of sleep when having to rise early.

Shifting the sleep cycle to one that’s not normal for the individual results in the sense of jet lag. The body is going to have its sleep no matter what. Someone working a shift that’s outside his or her norm is going to experience jet lag, even though he or she never left his or her geographical area.

The body feels as if it is out of sync with itself and is going to catch up on the “lost sleep” at the first available opportunity, typically on a day off.

Is It Healthy Or Unhealthy?

Society tends to praise larks for their bright and early antics while condemning night owls as bums who can’t be bothered to get up “on time.”

What is being overlooked is the fact that these sleep cycles is built into the brain and body. There is no escaping them or getting around them. So for that individual person, yes, it’s healthy.

Larks have no problem with their sleep cycle, as they fit right in with societal expectations.

Pin ItOwls, however, need to work on their sleep cycles in order to avoid feeling tired. Special lamps are available that slowly increase the light in the room at a certain time, mimicking the rising of the sun. This stimulates the brain to wake up and the body follows. It’s a temporary fix because the brain is going to revert to its innate settings at the first available opportunity.

But as long as the owl-type sleeper stays consistent with waking up to an alarm at the same time along with using the sunrise lamp, he or she should be able to adjust with little problem.

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Katherine Hurst
By Catherine Gordon
Catherine Gordon (PhD) has a background teaching and researching analytic philosophy. She is also a practising therapist who works with individuals and couples on issues relating to relationship difficulties, emotional well-being and self-improvement.

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