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Morning lark vs. night owl: The biology of early birds and midnight oil-burners

Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr

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We all know that colleague who is lively and chipper first thing in the morning while the rest of the office is still bleary-eyed and sleepy. Conversely, we also probably all know someone who can stay up late into the evening and still function the next day. At some point, most of us have probably stopped to wonder what their secret is.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? What makes certain people function better in the morning and others function better at night? What are the benefits and drawbacks to falling into one of these categories?

Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Take our quiz and add up your score to find out!

1. How alert do you feel during the first half hour after you wake up in the morning?

a) Not at all alert [1 point]

b) Slightly alert [2 points]

c) Fairly alert [3 points]

d) Very alert [4 points]

2. How hungry do you feel during the first half hour after you wake up?

a) Not at all hungry [1 point]

b) Slightly hungry [2 points]

c) Fairly hungry [3 points]

d) Very hungry [4 points]

3.  A friend wants to exercise with you during the week, and the best time for him is between 6 to 7 a.m. Bearing in mind nothing but your own internal "clock," how do you think you would perform?

a) Very poorly [1 point]

b) Poorly [2 points]

c) Reasonably [3 points]

d) Well [4 points]

4.  You want to be at your peak performance for a test that you know is going to be mentally exhausting and will last two hours. You are entirely free to plan your day. Considering only your internal "clock," which one of the four testing times would you choose?

a) 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. [1 point]

b) 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. [2 points]

c) 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. [3 points]

d) 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. [4 points]

5.  If you went to bed at 10 p.m. how tired would you be?

a) Not at all tired [1 point]

b) A little tired [2 points]

c) Fairly tired [3 points]

d) Very tired [4 points]

6. If there is a specific time at which you have to get up in the morning, to what extent are you dependent on being woken up by an alarm clock?

a) Very dependent [1 point]

b) Fairly dependent [2 points]

c) Slightly dependent [3 points]

d) Not at all dependent [4 points]

7.  For some reason you have gone to bed several hours later than usual, but there is no need to get up at any particular time the next morning. Which one of the following events are you most likely to experience?

a) Wake up later than usual [1 point]

b) Wake up at the usual time and go back to sleep [2 points]

c) Wake up at the usual time and doze [3 points]

d) Wake up at the usual time and not go back to sleep [4 points]

8. Do you consider yourself to be a "morning" or "evening" type of person?

a) Evening [1 point]

b) More evening than morning [2 points]

c) More morning than evening [3 points]

d) Morning [4 points]


You're done! Now, add up your score!

True Owls love to sleep late into the morning and have no trouble staying up late into the night. They’re most alert a few hours later than other people.

10-14 points: YOU'RE A SEMI-OWL. 
You love the night life, and enjoy staying up late and sleeping late into the morning. But you can also be flexible and adapt when your sleep pattern is disrupted

On the whole you’re likely to be happy getting up between 6:00 and 7:00am and dropping off to sleep between 10:00pm and 11 p.m. You’re likely to be most alert in the morning and early evening and have a period of low alertness in the afternoon.

23-28 points: RISE AND SHINE.
You tend to be a morning person and like to rise relatively early and not stay up too late. You don’t cope very well when your sleep pattern is disrupted.

29-32 points: YOU'RE AN EXTREME LARK. 
True Larks tend to jump out of bed as early as 4:00 or 5:00am and drop off to sleep by 9:00pm. They’re likely to be at their best in the morning, and do poorly when their sleep pattern is disrupted.

Source: “Sleepfaring: A Journey into the Science of Sleep,” (Oxford University Press) by Jim Horne, Loughborough University Sleep Research Center.


Mareike Weith, associate professor of psychology at Albion College in Michigan. Her work focuses on how factors like time of day and incentives influence the cognitive process.

Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, M.D, assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a researcher at Johns Hopkins’ Sleep Disorder Center