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Early Birds or Night Owls: Who Gets the Best Sleep?

Oct 29, 2013

Everyone knows that you need good sleep to function properly. But does it really matter whether you sleep under the light of the sun or the glow of the moon?

Social trends and many experts agree that the benefits of sleep tend to lean more toward the early birds. But, it might surprise you that being an early bird doesn’t necessarily mean getting up before the rooster crows at the break of dawn.

Night Owls Glow in the Moonlight

On the surface, you might think you can get more work done during the quiet, late hours of the night and lead a normal life if you adopt night owl sleeping patterns. But, it actually can be difficult for night owls to get into a regular sleep/awake pattern due to the physiological make up of your body and the general way that society conducts itself.

According to Chana Dufur, massage therapist at Elements Costa Mesa, everybody’s internal clock is set when you’re born to sleep at night and be awake during the day. So, night owls who go to bed past midnight are naturally defying the way that their internal clock was initially programed. In fact, various studies have shown that people with late-night tendencies actually run the risk of living less healthy lives than their early bird counterparts. For instance, researchers have found that night owls have a higher risk of high blood pressure, poorer quality of sleep, are less active and tend to smoke more.

“The brain is never quite sure what it’s supposed to be doing when you try to sleep during the day,” Dufur explains. “There are a lot of bad things that can happen when you don’t get enough sleep. Depression can start setting in, weight gain pursues and stress levels increase.”

Another important factor associated with sleep patterns is the natural rise and setting of the sun. When you sleep during the day, you aren’t getting the good nutrients you need from the sunlight and you aren’t getting the proper social interactions your brain needs from having people around you. It also is inevitable for night owls to have to break their sleeping patterns when they have to schedule appointments for things like doctor visits, in-person meetings and conversations, as the majority of businesses typically are open during daytime hours.

Early Birds Shine in the Sun

While researchers and common attitudes suggest that those who go to bed earlier tend to lead healthier lifestyles of productivity, energy and a decreased risk of disease, early birds still need to establish good sleeping habits such as rising no earlier than 5 a.m. and minimizing distractions before bed. Dufur’s rule of thumb for setting proper sleep patterns is to schedule eight hours of sleep every night and to set a bed time that falls between 9 p.m. and midnight.

To prepare for a good night’s rest, Dufur suggests:

  • Taking the television and all electronics out of your bedroom. It’s harder to get to sleep if you’re distracted by bright screens and real-time alerts.  
  • Minimizing strenuous physical activity up to two hours before going to bed.
  • Focus on relaxing and letting go of stress well before your bedtime. If you have a lot on your mind, write down your thoughts and leave your list somewhere outside your bedroom.
  • Rub lavender on the bottom of your feet to relax your body and lower your heart rate.

“Nobody can keep to a tight sleep schedule.  So that’s why you just have to strive to go to bed between 9 p.m. and midnight,” Dufur said. “If you eat right, sleep right and exercise right, then you are doing all of the important things you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

Hit the Sweet Spot for a Good Night’s Sleep

Whether you prefer burning the midnight oil or welcoming the sunrise each morning, it is most important to rest well and get an adequate amount of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise adults to log between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. However, sleeping enough seems to be a challenge for many Americans. According to an international survey released just last month, the U.S. reported sleeping 30-40 minutes less per night than all countries polled, with the average person only getting 6 hours and 31 minutes of sleep each night.

If you find yourself falling short on sleep, you may want to catch a catnap to revive and rejuvenate your tired mind and body. While it’s not a good idea to try to make up for old sleep that you’ve missed by sleeping for hours during the afternoon, a quick 20-30 minute nap may be what you need to re-energize and boost your alertness. Experts believe that the best napping strategies include sleeping in a slightly upright position for no more than 30 minutes between the times of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Sleep is a vital ingredient to a healthy lifestyle, but it can be the first one to go missing when life gets busy. Lay the foundation for healthy sleep patterns by going to bed at a reasonable time and maintaining an average of eight hours of shut eye each night. In the end, what really matters is that we all have a good night of sleeping right so that exhaustion doesn’t end up biting us during the daylight.

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