I have had a couple of conversations with people recently about the whole Night Owl/Morning Lark concept, being someone who is late to bed or a naturally early riser and whether is it really a genetic thing or is it possible to change this. To my delight in researching the studies around this topic I have come across a new term – Hummingbirds. I adore these little birds and loved seeing large flocks of them in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep, I am not one! Are you?
There are people for whom their circadian rhythms are hard wired and they find it difficult to change. Latest studies estimate that 1 in 10 of us is a Lark and naturally bounce out of bed early in the morning. Another 2 in 10 are Owls and become more lively as the day progresses and are at our best early evening and night time. The rest hover in-between and can adapt to either situation, the Hummingbirds.
I see this when working in daycare with the young children. Most of the children are Hummingbirds and are lively throughout the day, perhaps slightly quieter first thing in the morning and becoming a little more grisly towards the evening. However you do see outstanding examples of Owls and Larks too.
One little 18 month old is a happy little boy, he arrives in the morning and gets on with his day. He is perfectly sociable and enjoys taking part in the activities and being around the other children. He has his midday nap and when he gets up he is a completely different child, he is far more energetic, laughs, shows his cheeky side, and is generally far more outgoing. It is amazing to watch. With his being so young, his sleep patterns take up most of the day and are standard for a child his age, but watching his temperament and behaviour you can see that he will be someone who comes alive later in the day.
Likewise, there is a little baby of 7 months, who rarely sleeps in the morning. He enjoys rolling around on the floor and playing with the toys. Try and get him to have a morning nap is difficult, put him in his cot and he will cry. You may be lucky to get 15 minutes from him. However he will sleep in the afternoon. it will be interesting to see how this develops but I suspect he will become an Lark.
The Hummingbirds have the advantages of being flexible and adaptable, they can get up early to start a shift, catch a flight etc as well as party till the early hours. The Hummingbird can also adapt more easily to life changes like a staying up late when at college, getting up earlier when starting in the workforce, having early rising children, switching to later sleep patterns when they retire.
I am a hard wired Night Owl and it has been difficult to bring my sleep times forward to Midnight to 8.30am, (my preferred times were 2am to 10am) and at the moment I can not see it getting any earlier. I struggle when on shift patterns and these are only variations of a couple of hours, not a day/night shift pattern such as hospital staff. The way I cope now is to tell myself that the two days a week that I need to get up before 8.30 are the exception and not the norm. Psychologically that works for me.
Hummingbirds profit well from the modern lifestyle and work well throughout the day. Some Owls and Larks are in jobs that suit their hours but how do you make this work if you are in the 9-5. In reality the best thing to do is to work out your personal timings and when you do things well and incorporate those into your day. These can apply to Hummingbirds too as you may show a slight preference to when you are feeling more alert and when you are feeling more tired.
- You are alert in the mornings? Then use this time to be your most creative, working on projects, compiling reports etc. Then save your more mundane and routine tasks for later in the day when you are feeling tired or sluggish – checking emails, filling in stats forms etc.
- You take a while to get going in the mornings? Instead of staring into space waiting for inspiration use the time for the routine tasks that do not take much effort and save your meaningful and creative work for the afternoons when you are feeling more dynamic.
More and more jobs offer flexible hours and you can also also use these to your advantage.
So which do you think you are – Owl, Lark or Hummingbird?
Charlotte Welply is a life coach and speaker and specializes in insomnia and other sleep difficulties.
There are links on her website www.charlottewelply.com to free guided mediations and pamphlets to help you and your children sleep, as well as information on upcoming courses. You can also follow her on facebook https://www.facebook.com/charlottewelply and twitter @CharlotteWelply for tips, news and information about the world of sleep.