Well that would be nice, and the research does point to those late to bed and late to rise types being more intelligent and richer – but to be honest the measured differences are tiny so if you are trying to get rich there may be better ways to do it. Besides that, chronotypes, how we respond to different types of day, seem to be mostly inborn.
Also, this means that we should take those stories that seem to abound in some parts of the internet of those mega successful types who follow a strict religious early morning routine are ascribing their success to the wrong thing – outcome bias at its best.
So, what are chronotypes, are they scientifically founded, and what does this mean for you and also for your business? Biases and perceptions around energy levels can lead to negativity in the workplace but also to using your employee’s ability suboptimally.
The principle of chronotypes refers to having different sleep patterns and these have been supported by scientific research. The classic early to bed and early to rise is known as the “lark” and the late to bed and late to rise is known as the “owl”. A team of Russian researchers found that there are actually four types, the above two complemented by a type that is active early and late, we call that a “hummingbird” and one that is tired early and tired late, and we call that a “dove”. But let’s stick to the classic two types (there is the most research here) and what the science says about these types.
First of all, these types do exist, and they are controlled by how individual genes activate in each of our cells – this is not just a psychological phenomenon, but our cells have their daily rhythms and different functions come on-line at different times of day. Obviously, we are broadly controlled by light and dark but (these stimulate cascades of chemicals triggering different physiological responses) each of us can have these very differently controlled. From an evolutionary perspective it would be good for a tribe to have different individuals with different activity patterns meaning different individuals are alert at different times and can alert the tribe to any dangers.
What is also clear is that there are patterns that change with age – babies – those who have or have had babies will understand very well that their patterns do not match those of their parents. Not a bit. Children tend to be up early, but then come the dreaded teenage phase and our sprightly little children transform into groggy moody beasts. This is well measured and researched that there is dramatic shift in sleep patterns – they become more owlish and their bodily activity is poorly matched to things such as school timetables – some schools have experimented with later starts for teenagers – with great success. As we age, we then tend to become more larkish.
In the workplace there is also something called morning bias – those who are early in the office bright and active, create a much better impression than those who roll in late, sluggish and need a few cuppas to get going. These impressions can lead to better performance reviews with a whole series of positive knock on effects – yet a closer look will reveal all is not what it seems and bright and early is not always best:
So, there has been some evidence that larks are more conscientious, more persistent and more proactive – all good for the workplace. They are on the winning end of morning bias and often don’t need alarm clocks to get up. They also tend to feel refreshed in the morning. Their mood does decline during the day, but they rarely snooze during the day also. Some research has pointed to them being happier. As may be expected, they perform sports better earlier in the day.
Owls on the others hand are obviously on the losing end of morning bias. They wake up sleepy, need alarm clocks and often feel sleepy during the day – their mood, however, increases during the day. They also adapt better to jetlag. Their sports performance as expected, is better in the evening. This is an interesting note that top sports people are expected to perform at different times of day – I’ve never yet seen sports team selections differing according to times of day. It could be worth considering (something I’ve experienced in my sports performances). Different pieces of research point to other amusing correlations. Owls seem to be slightly smarter, yay, play baseball better, but also have more vices, and procrastinate more than larks.
What is logical is that both types are in a better mood in their time zones and perform better cognitively in their preferred time zones, larks in the morning, owls in the afternoon/evening. However, the surprise might be that each type is more creative outside of their time zones! This is because they cannot use their normal cognitive powers and so their brains may wander more and come up with more creative solutions – this is completely counter intuitive as each would prefer and assume to be better in their time zones (which they are when it comes to standard cognitive performance and productivity).
So, this can have interesting implications – many of which could be driven by the boss. If the boss is a lark, they may expect others to be like them – enjoy and set early morning meetings, for example, and owls may get a bad rap or be considered lazy. As with personality differences these differences should be accepted, accommodated where possible but more importantly used to their best effect – personality diversity can lead teams to excel but only with understanding.
And yes, to bang our drum, in our Human Behavioural Framework we also measure chronotypes – and to our knowledge are the only ones to do this in the corporate space. Why? Simply it is a critical factor in how we perform and be at our best in the workplace, and understanding this can enable you to get the best out of yourself and enable teams to get the best out of each other.
A final question is: can we learn to be different?
Yes, a little but as I mentioned at the start, these are controlled by genes and so seem to be deeply embedded. I have made an effort in recent years to become more larkish, for practical reasons, and have had some success but, alas, I confess, I sit here, putting the finishing touches to this, at guess what time, yes it is late evening, I feel good and motivated and am enjoying the writing – that owl in me is still strong, if only the world would match my time schedules…but then again the fun sometimes is that it doesn’t