Sep. 12, 2011 at 8:27 AM ET
The early bird might catch the worm because it sleeps better than the night owl, not just because it awakens earlier.
At least that appears to be the case for humans, according to a new study.
Researchers found that night owls -- “evening-type individuals”-- are significantly more likely to suffer from poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness and disturbing nightmares than early birds -- “morning-type individuals”-- or folks whose bedtime falls somewhere between the two.
“Evening-type people have more nightmares because of their sleep patterns,” says lead author Yavuz Selvi, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yuzuncu Yil University in Van, Turkey, whose paper was published online Aug. 25 in the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms.
Staying awake late at night and waking up late in the morning disrupts the relationship between the body’s internal clock and its ability to maintain normal sleep patterns, Selvi explains. In other words, it really screws up your circadian rhythm.
Nightmares usually awaken you, so if they occur frequently, you might begin to fear falling asleep, cutting into your snooze time even more. Epidemiological studies have found that nearly nine in 10 adults reporting having at least one nightmare in the previous year, Selvi says, with 2 percent to 6 percent reporting weekly nightmares.
He and his coauthors studied 264 medical students, ages 17 to 26 years old, who weren’t yet dealing with crazy hours in their training. The researchers administered a battery of tests to assess whether the students were morning or evening types, the quality of their sleep and how frequently they experienced nightmares and how disturbing they were.
The “Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire” taken by the students asked what time they’d go to bed and get up if they were entirely free to plan their day and evening. Other questions touched on such matters as what time they’d prefer to hit the gym and how wide-awake they feel when they get up in the morning.
The test revealed that 59 of the students were evening types, 67 morning types and the rest fell in the “intermediate” range. Men were more likely than women to be night owls; vice versa when it came to early birds.
As a self-described night owl, I wasn’t thrilled to learn from Selvi that the consequences of my sleep habits could go way beyond my morning sluggishness and frequent urge to nap.
“A possible relationship has emerged between eveningness and certain mental disorders, including substance abuse, bulimia, sleep disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, suicidality and mood disorders,” he told me.
One reason night owls tend to get stressed out, Selvi says, is because it’s tough to hold a job or attend classes if your brain doesn’t kick in until noon or so.
Yikes. How about you? Are you a night owl, an early bird or something in between? Would you like to change your sleep habits, or does your pattern work for you?