Morning People Have Different Brain Functions To Night Owls, A New Study Has Found

Mihajlo Ckovric/Stocksy

Whether you're someone who adores mornings or you're that person who's regularly awake past 2 a.m., you'll have surely noticed that certain times of day are not your strongest. But a new study has revealed that morning people have different brain functions to night owls. And the neurological findings go some way to proving why a 9 to 5 working day could be an outdated concept.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham conducted a series of tests on 38 people who identified as "night owls" or "morning larks." The former were defined as people who, on average, went to bed at 2.30 a.m. and woke up at 10:15 a.m. while the latter were characterised as those whose bedtime was just before 11 p.m. and wake-up time was 6.30 a.m.

Each participant's body clock was monitored continuously. They were also asked to answer questionnaires on their levels of sleepiness, and they underwent MRI scans. participants were also given a series of tasks to do at different times of day from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Morning people reported feeling least tired during early-morning tasks. They also had the fastest reaction time during the earlier part of the day; a reaction time that was significantly faster than night owls.

Those who went to bed and woke up later experienced the least amount of sleepiness and the fastest reaction times at 8 p.m. However, they did not perform significantly better than morning larks at this time.

New Africa/Shutterstock

On further inspection, researchers found that brain connectivity in regions that were able to predict lower sleepiness and better performance levels was significantly higher at all times in "morning larks." These results — which were published in the Sleep journal — have led experts to believe that brain connectivity in night owls could be diminished throughout the entire day.

Essentially, this means that night owls could find the traditional working day schedule particularly arduous. More importantly, the brain-related findings suggest the solution may not simply be a case of going to bed earlier.

Researchers are urging for more flexibility in the working world and for further research into the area.

"A huge number of people struggle to deliver their best performance during work or school hours they are not naturally suited to," the study's lead researcher Dr. Elise Facer-Childs said in a statement. "There is a critical need to increase our understanding of these issues in order to minimise health risks in society, as well as maximise productivity."
Juan Moyano/Stocksy

A 2007 study found that around 50 percent of people prefer to go to bed later and wake up after approximately 8:20 a.m. Taking this statistic into account, the new study could have far-reaching implications for those who are still constrained to traditional working or studying hours.

As the BBC reports, a 2018 YouGov poll found that only six percent of people in the UK now work 9 to 5. The most popular time change for full-time workers was 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., with 37 percent of those surveyed preferring this option. The second choice — chosen by 21 percent of respondents — was 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. People who were already working flexibly said they felt more motivated and were more likely to remain in their job for a longer period of time.