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Is it healthier to be a morning bird or night owl?

Do you spring out of bed before your alarm goes off or would you rather stay up into the wee hours of the night? And can being an “early bird” or “night owl” affect your health?

“People are naturally ‘morning larks’ or ‘night owls,’” says Paul Zolty, M.D., a Piedmont sleep medicine physician. “Over time, you might become more of a morning lark or a night owl. For example, adolescents are frequently night owls, while older adults may tend to become morning larks.”

What determines if you’re a morning bird or night owl?

Your environment and genetics can influence your sleep schedule and preferences, says Dr. Zolty.

If you stay up late using a digital device like a tablet, smartphone, laptop or television, the light exposure will affect your melatonin production, he explains. Melatonin is a hormone that signals to your body that it’s time to go to sleep. Being exposed to bright light throughout the evening and night can shift your circadian rhythms (your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle). Eventually, your body will become used to going to bed and waking up later.

Dr. Zolty also notes that genomic studies have found a small percentage of people (about 0.6%) who have genes that cause them to naturally be night owls.

Is it better to go to bed earlier or later?

“As long as there is no conflict in your life activities and you maintain healthy sleep habits and healthy awake habits, you should be fine,” says Dr. Zolty.

Heathy sleep-related habits include:

  • Going to bed and waking up around the same time each day

  • Avoiding electronic devices 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime

  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, such as gentle stretching, taking a bath or shower, reading, meditating or listening to calming music

  • Avoiding heavy meals and intense exercise at least three hours before bed

  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products, especially in the afternoon

  • Sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room with a comfortable mattress and pillow

  • Seeing your health care provider if you have trouble sleeping or suspect you have a sleep disorder

Can you change your sleeping patterns?

If you’re a night owl, for example, and would like to wake up earlier, it’s possible to change your sleep patterns, says Dr. Zolty.

“You can optimize your screen time, exercise, diet, medication intake and nighttime routine to change your sleep patterns,” he says. “Targeted advice regarding light exposure and melatonin use can also be very effective.”

If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep or don’t feel rested even after sleeping eight-plus hours, see a sleep medicine specialist. They can help you get to the root of the issue, so you can have more energy each day.

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