The Science Of Slumber: How Your Sleep Habits Impact Your Personality

by John Haltiwanger

For some people, the sound of an alarm clock incites murderous rage, and rightfully so. The monotonous beeping has interrupted the sweet peaceful bliss of sleep and signified that it's time to depart from the pleasant and warm confines of bed. It's offensive. It's wrong. Why, oh, why does the day have to begin?!

These individuals know why they're tired. They stayed up too late, most likely binging-watching some show they've already seen on Netflix. Or perhaps they are of the artistic persuasion and stayed up late to write, paint or play the guitar.

Not everyone is like this; there are actually people out there who enjoy the morning. They revel in the fact that it's a brand new day. They go to bed early and rise blissfully with the sun. Many of them even exercise (gasp!) before they head off to tackle the day.

We're all familiar with the old saying, "The early bird gets the worm." But when it comes down to it, that's not necessarily always true.

There is, however, substantial evidence that people's sleeping habits have a tremendous impact on their personalities. There is a science to your sleep preferences.

Night owls are artistic and intelligent

Have you ever tried to switch sleep schedules and completely failed in the process? Well, evolution can actually help explain this.

In essence, for safety purposes, some of our ancestors slept more during the day while others slept more during the night. That way, there was always someone keeping watch.

Back then, when humans were still nomadic hunters and gatherers, if everyone slept at the same time, it would have made the group more vulnerable to attack.

Whether you're a night owl or an early bird, there's a good chance that it's a consequence of genetics.

Early risers are even more likely to die in the morning (around 11 am), while night owls have a higher probability of dying in the evening (around 6 pm).

Obviously, this isn't very convenient for night owls in the present day, given the ubiquity of the nine-to-five schedule.

In truth, there are pros and cons for each sleeping preference. According to Mitchell Moffitt of ASAPScience:

Night owls exhibit significantly less white matter [in their brains], and as a result, there are fewer pathways for feel-good hormones such as serotonin or dopamine to travel through, but it's not all bad for the late-nighters. In fact, they tend to be much more creative, have been found to have higher cognitive abilities, and are known to be risk-takers.

Perhaps night owls find the quiet and peace of the night the perfect time to allow the creative juices to flow. There is a calm to the night that allows night owls to feel as though it belongs to only them.

With the distractions of the day gone, it makes sense that this would be the perfect time to paint, write or compose a song.

One might argue that sleep deprivation pushes the mind to the limits of its potential, sparking innovation and invention. As Annabel Venning contends for the Telegraph:

Perhaps it is the case that few of us would thrive on such an extreme schedule, but those who step beyond the confines of a worker bee's existence often find that doing so gives their mindset the unconventional edge that leads to radical, daring ideas.

Many of the greatest thinkers and leaders in history did not hold sleep in high regard. Leonardo da Vinci slept in short bursts, sometimes working on projects from dawn until dusk, or vice versa.

During World War II, Winston Churchill only slept four hours a night, and he was instrumental in bringing about an Allied victory.

Robert Frost, Alan Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Charles Dickens and Carol Ann Duffy were all known to write at night.

It also comes as no surprise that night owls are greater risk takers. Night is mischief's best friend; there's no better time to engage in tomfoolery.

Not to mention, success is often a product of risk. This is true in both business and our personal lives. Audacity often pays off.

Early birds are optimistic and energetic

While night owls might be prone to dark moods, early birds are positive and, in turn, quite productive. As Mitchell Moffitt states:

Early birds tend to display more positive social traits, such as being proactive and optimistic, and are less prone to depression or addictions to nicotine, alcohol, and food.

Indeed, early birds appear to live by the "carpe diem" philosophy. They take advantage of the light of day, and believe wholeheartedly in progress and possibility.

Perhaps this is why so many leaders, entrepreneurs and successful businesspeople are early risers. President Barack Obama, Anna Wintour and Richard Branson, among others, all believe fervently in the value of getting up early.

It allows one to make the most of the day. There is no rush, no confusion, but just enough time to plan and execute everything that must be done.

As Benjamin Franklin once stated:

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Moreover, not every artistic mind prefers the cover of darkness.

This does not necessarily mean that early birds have a greater advantage than night owls. For example, early birds lose steam earlier in the day, while night owls are able to get a second wind at later hours in the day and even increase productivity at times.

Conventional wisdom may tell us that early risers are always more successful, but the evidence suggests that it's not so black and white. There are always shades of grey.

We are who we are. Life is largely a matter of chance, as are sleeping preferences. With that said, it's quite amazing that the survival tactics of the earliest humans have impacted the way that we sleep today and, in turn, our personalities.

Our ancestors may have been primitive, but they're also the reason we're here. In a hostile and undeveloped world, they found a way to push forward.

Whether you're awake with the sun or up with the stars, it's remarkable to think that people who have been dead for thousands of years are still with us in their own way.

Citations: Early Bird Or Night Owl Your Sleep Schedule Says A Lot About Your Personality (Huffington Post), Early Bird vs Night Owl (ASAPscience), Writing at night (The Guardian ), Night vision drives creativity (The Telegraph), Thatcher Can people get by on four hours of sleep (BBC), Defend Your Research The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm (Harvard Business Review ), Daily Rituals (Slate), The One Thing These Crazy Successful People Do Every Morning (Huffington Post), Why I Wake Up Early (Virgin)