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Are You a Night Owl? How to Get Better Sleep in an Early-Bird World

June 07, 2023

You feel jet-lagged every morning, but never left your zip code. You catch a second wind every night, just when you should be in bed. Your collection of “Not a morning person” coffee mugs is getting out of hand. You’re probably a night owl — and dealing with some unique sleep challenges. Our sleep expert has advice. [insert-cta-small id=43127]

The early bird/night owl divide is real.

Sleep experts say 7 out of 10 people are so-called “larks”: naturally inclined to go to bed early, and wake up with the sun and a spring in their step. Which means the other 3 out of 10 people are night owls: wired to wake up later and stay up longer. Mornings are a blur. Afternoons are better. Nighttime is the right time. “If you wake up at 7 a.m. without an alarm the day after Thanksgiving, you’re a lark,” says Steven Thau, MD, a pulmonologist and sleep specialist with St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. “If you hit your stride around 10 p.m., you’re an owl.”

It’s tough being a night owl in an early-bird world.

Your body may prefer to wake at noon and go to bed at 4 a.m., thank you very much. For many people, though, that’s not practical. School drop-off and morning huddles simply will not wait. “The rest of the world is on the early to bed, early to rise schedule,” says Dr. Thau. You may not be able to change society’s obsession with a 9-to-5 schedule. However, you can still get the sleep you need — between 7.5 and 9 hours, for most people. You just have to ignore your natural sleep preferences. > Related: It’s Time to Hit Snooze on These 5 Sleep Myths

If you’re a night owl, how do you get enough sleep?

  1. Get up at the same time every day. “You can’t force yourself to fall asleep, but you can force yourself to wake up,” says Dr. Thau. Try bright lights and physical activity to shake off grogginess. By the time a reasonable bedtime rolls around, you’ll be likelier to fall asleep because you’ve been awake long enough.
  2. Do not sleep in, even on days off. “The weekends can become a trap for night owls,” says Dr. Thau. “If you follow your biological schedule and sleep in till noon, guess what? When 11 p.m. rolls around, you’re not going to be tired.”
  3. Wind down properly (i.e. avoid screens). Like the other items on this list, this applies to everyone. But for owls, who amp up in the evening, it’s especially important. “You’ll feel sleepier sooner if you shut off screens earlier,” says Dr. Thau. “As you decrease stimulation, you increase the chance for sleepiness.
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If you still need help, talk to a sleep expert.

So you’ve tried everything, and a good night’s sleep still eludes you. Time to bring in an expert. “When there’s something wrong with your phone charger, your phone will run out of juice halfway through the day,” says Dr. Thau. “When you have a sleep condition, the same thing happens to you.” A sleep study can get to the bottom of any issues. You’ll be healthier. Dreaded mornings will get easier. You may even start feeling — a bit — more like a lark. Of course, you can still keep collecting those coffee mugs.

Ayer Neuroscience Institute