Rich or poor, young or old, everybody needs sleep. For some, the day’s unconscious hours are deemed a necessary evil—basically a waste of valuable time. For others, sleep is an enjoyable (even dreamy) interval. For a lucky few, sleep is a magical time machine to breakfast.
Whatever your attitude toward the Land of Nod, odds are good that when you prefer to grab your forty winks reveals more about you than you know.
There’s even a 50-cent word for different bedtime inclinations: It’s called your “chronotype.” Tied both to natural circadian (24-hour) rhythms and to external cues like changes in light or temperature, your habitual bedtime affects brain function and may subject you to shifts in mood.
While some are required to turn in early for work reasons, most “larks” (as they’re known to sleep researchers) are genetically hard-wired to hit the hay soon after the sun goes down. Not surprisingly, these early risers are often mentally sharpest in the mornings—and they’re more punctual. But a study reported in Newsweek showed that 10.5 hours after waking, larks fared worse on tests of attention and focus than did a comparable group of “owls” 10.5 hours after their chosen wake-up time.
Of course, the after-midnight set have their own troubles to contend with. Some suffer from a disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome that keeps them awake into the wee hours night after night. Treatments like light therapy and melatonin supplements can help in such cases. And, as CBS News reports, your chronotype can and does change over time.
The conventional wisdom that people tend to go to bed earlier as they age? It turns out to be true. Ditto the belief that older people need less sleep to function effectively. Perhaps most surprising is the finding that people who are flexible about bedtimes (“hummingbirds,” they’re called) often outperform night owls forced to rise early and larks who try to stay up late.
As in much of life, “know thyself” seems to be the key to successful sleep management. (That and a really good bed.)