If you had a choice, what time slot should you select for your next big audition?
9am? Noon? 3pm?
Or 6pm, even 9pm?
Put another way, at what time of day are you most likely to perform your very best?
Larks and owls (and otters)
Researchers at the University of Birmingham recruited 121 competitive athletes to complete a comprehensive inventory of their daily activities, ranging from sleep/wake patterns to food intake, training schedules, and more.
The results were used to categorize the athletes as morning “larks,” intermediate folks, or evening “owls.” (Why didn’t the athletes in the middle get a bird nickname? I don’t know, so I’m just going to call them “otters.” Because otters are awesome . And do cute human-y things, like hold hands ).
From that pool of athletes, the researchers selected 20, who were all field hockey players at approximately the same age and fitness level (1/4th were larks, 1/2 were otters, and 1/4th were owls).
The 20 participants then completed the standard “bleep” fitness test at six different times of day – 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm – to see at what time of day they would perform their best.
Overall, performance was worst at 7am, and best at 4pm and 7pm. Performance at 10am, 1pm, and 10pm was somewhere in the middle.
So at first glance, it would seem that the best time for us to schedule an audition or performance is somewhere in the 4pm-7pm range.
However, the story gets a little more nuanced and interesting when you look at the larks, otters, and owls separately.
When separated by their circadian phenotype (or internal “body clock”), the researchers found that athletes’ performances varied quite a bit during the course of a day.
- Early larks performed their best on the bleep test around mid-day.
- Intermediate otters performed their best around mid-afternoon.
- Evening owls performed their best in the evening.
Furthermore, the consistency of each group’s performances varied quite a lot too. Larks’ and otters’ best and worst performances varied by about 7-10% on average. Meanwhile, the owls’ performances varied pretty wildly, with an average difference of 26% between their best and worst performances.
Sure, 7% may not seem like much, but as the authors note, a 1% gain/loss in performance is easily the difference between medaling and not medaling in the Olympics, and in some events, can even be the difference between 4th place and 1st place.
What time do you wake up?
The researchers also looked at athletes’ performances relative to their “entrained” wake-up time, or the time athletes reported waking up naturally without an alarm clock.
Because even if an early riser and late riser are both up and about during most of the same parts of a day, they do keep very different hours and have different biological days.
For instance, studies have found that larks have higher levels of cortisol in the morning (a hormone, too much of which isn’t good, but is essential for muscle function), and a particular pattern of cortisol levels during the day, relative to owls who have lower cortisol in the morning and also a distinctly different pattern of cortisol levels during the day.
So consider the 10am bleep test. The early larks’ average natural wake-up time was ~7am, giving them 3 hours to clear their heads and get revved up a bit. The otters’ entrained wake-up time was ~8am, so their body clocks would have been up for 2 hours before the test. The owls’ natural wake-up time, on the other hand, was 9:45am – only 15 minutes before their 10am bleep test! So it’s not surprising that the owls would perform more poorly in the morning/early afternoon bleep tests – their body clocks were still just getting out of bed, in a manner of speaking.
Using the athletes’ natural wake-up time (or the biological start of their day), and the time at which they had their best performances, the researchers then calculated the athletes’ average time to peak performance. For the larks, the average time from entrained wake-up to peak performance was 5.5 hours. For the otters, it was 6 hours. For the owls, on the other hand, it took 11 hours from their biological start of the day to get to peak performance levels. So on average, it took the night owls much longer to get to an optimal level of performance – great if you have a performance in the evening, but not so terrific if you have to perform during the daytime.
A few things to consider, before you turn your sleep schedule upside down. For one, this study used cardiovascular fitness as a measure of performance. Though the results are pretty interesting, and probably jibe with your own experience of jet-lagged performances or early morning vs. afternoon/evening auditions, the results may or may not translate directly to musicians in the same way. Plus, there are probably going to be differences between, say, a cellist and a trumpet player, which have very different physical demands.
Also, the study doesn’t necessarily prove that simply changing our entrained wakeup time will improve performance. There might be more to it than that.
But at the end of the day, it does seem like it’s better to be a lark or an otter than an owl when it comes to daytime performances. So with audition season right around the corner (and the inevitable morning auditions times that someone is going to get stuck with), it wouldn’t hurt to get into the habit of going to bed a bit earlier. After all, you can always use the latest Facebook meme as an excuse to get out of bed in the morning, rather than getting sucked into the internet black hole at night when our willpower is waning and microwave pasta cookers and kitchen knives that can cut through beer cans, nails, and logs seem like the best thing ever.
Are performances frustratingly inconsistent? Try the 5-min Mental Skills Audit, and find out the specific mental blocks that might be holding you back.
Frustrated that audiences rarely get to hear the real you? Try the 5-min Mental Skills Audit, and find out the specific mental blocks that may be holding you back.
What Are the Differences Between Early Birds and Night Owls?
Are you an early bird or a night owl? If you fall neatly into one of these two categories you know that it can say a lot about you and the way you operate.
There are two different biological clocks (known as chronotypes) in terms of sleeping and waking: the early birds (also known as larks) and the night owls. The early bird or lark is a person who likes to fall asleep at an earlier hour and also likes to wake up early. The night owl, on the other hand, is someone who is the exact opposite.
The early birds can often be critical of the night owls. Early birds have been known to say that night owls are lacking motivation to get up and start the day. Night owls often feel guilty for not having that kind of energy in the morning.
Contrary to how it may appear, night owls too can be just as successful and motivated as their early bird counterparts.
Much is the Same about Early Birds and Night Owls
Interestingly enough, research has demonstrated that both early birds and night owls can be equally successful and that the time they rise and sleep has little to do with their successes in life.
Although most people mistakenly believe that night owls are lazy individuals lacking motivation, (their most typical characteristic being their use of the alarm’s snooze button or their general aversion for waking up early), in truth though, night owls are just really more at ease with their nighttime surroundings. It has nothing to do with productivity.
Each chronotype’s character traits both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and in terms of success, as always, it all boils down to whoever is willing to put in work and effort.
The belief that early birds, in stark contrast to night owls, are the most successful and motivated types of individuals is simply not true.
In fact, research studies show that only a few key differences exist between early birds and night owls.
The 8 Differences Between Early Birds and Night Owls
1. Night Owls Have More Daytime Fatigue
One study found that night owls are more prone to suffering from fatigue during the day.
2. Night Owls Have Greater Morning-time Irritability
Night owls are, naturally more irritable in the mornings, particularly when forced to wake up early than what feels right to them.
3. Early Birds are More Prone to Perfectionism
Early birds are more likely to be extreme perfectionists. They like things done the way they like them.
4. Productivity and Creativity
Early birds tend to be more productive and creative in the morning-time, whereas night owls are more productive and creative in the evening hours. Neither one is better than the other. Just different timings.
5. Different Spending Habits
Another difference is that studies have shown that night owls and larks tend to have different spending habits. Night owls have a tendency to spend more, but larks, on the other hand, strategically plan out their life including their spending habits.
Another example is a study that showed that the night owl happens to be “smarter” than the early bird. The study tested over 400 different people in reading, writing, and mathematics, and found that its night owl participants got higher scores compared to the early birds.
Nonetheless, intelligence doesn’t always correlate with being more successful.
While night owls may generally be smarter, early birds, often, are likely to do better in the real world, and this is because most white-collar jobs happen in the morning, making it more suitable for them.
Studies also show that night owls really love their caffeine whereas early birds are not quite as interested in it.
Night owls are also more likely to consume alcohol than early birds.
Similarities Between Early Birds and Night Owls
Other than that, not much is really different between an Early Bird and a Night Owl.
Most people assume that night owls are more creative during the night, but in fact, one study revealed that night owls can actually be creative during the daytime as well. Similarly, early birds can also become creative at night, hence seemingly contradicting each of the type’s traits or potentials.
(Also read: Does a Full Moon Really Make People Crazy?)
Also, when both night owls and early birds can adapt and become productive at times when they wouldn’t naturally be. Thus, both can become successful no matter the time of day and no matter their chronotype.
Yes, each chronotype may be different with their sleeping patterns and with their character traits to some extent, but it should never be used to define success.
It is helpful to know whether you are a night owl or an early bird in order to craft your life in a way that suits you best, but other than that, the only way anyone can become successful is if you dedicate you time and effort into it. In the end it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a night owl or a day lark.