Posted on May 19, 2023, 2 p.m.
Some people naturally prefer the night, these are night owls, other people naturally wake up early with the light, these are morning larks. Every person has a chronotype for how much sleep a person needs at a certain time, which was thought to be unchangeable. But recent research published in the journal Chronobiology International from Baylor University suggests that chronotypes might be more flexible than previously thought.
While genetics can predispose people towards a certain preference, this study suggests that this can also stem from certain behavioral choices. Whatever the reasons, unfortunately being a perpetual night owl has a long-standing connection to poorer sleep health, low alertness level, and diminished academic success.
For this study, the researcher set out to examine how factors including institutional, biological, and behavioral choice play roles in the sleep problems of college students, and to see if chronotypes might be more malleable than currently thought.
858 undergraduate students enrolled in demanding science courses were naked to assess their sleep behavior, sleep quality, their chronotype, and to rate their academic demands, stress levels, as well as report their caffeine and social media habits with a series of surveys.
Analysis of the data revealed similar stress levels between the chronotypes, but night owls showed significantly lower sleep quality and duration. The researchers suggest that evening chronotypes are at a disadvantage when they have to wake up early for classes or work, displaying several behaviors that delay bedtimes, shorten sleep duration, and worsen sleep quality such as using social media while in bed, napping more, and late day caffeine consumption resulting in less time spent sleeping, worsened sleep quality and greater tiredness while in class or at work.
Some of the students reported switching their chronotype as the semester continued, which was found to have a link with certain behavioral changes that ultimately resulted in improved sleep health, less tiredness, and higher semester GPAs.
“Engaging in healthier daytime behaviors can lead to better sleep that then feeds back into better daytime life,” said sleep researcher Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “When your daytime life is better, you can often get to bed and fall asleep earlier, enjoy better sleep quality and get into a good cycle.”
Those who were morning larks or who were able to switch their chronotype to mornings had better semester GPAs compared to those who were night owls or those who switched from morning to night chronotype. Morning larks also consumed less caffeine after 5PM, and had better sleep duration as well as sleep quality.
Some of the simple lifestyle changes noted to help improve sleep hygiene included avoiding electronics just before bedtime, avoiding caffeine or other stimulants at least 6 hours before bedtime, avoiding daytime naps, and avoiding exercising at night.
Chronotype malleability is a new concept, as such the researchers suggest that not all people should try to switch their chronotype, rather each individual should try to focus on getting the quality sleep that they need to be healthy and productive.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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