Our study found that the performance of “night owls” and “morning larks” varied considerably on both cognitive and physical tasks. file404 / Shutterstock
Whether you’re a morning person or love burning the midnight oil, we’re all controlled by so-called “body clocks”. These body clocks (which regulate our circadian rhythms) are inside almost every cell in the body and control when we feel awake and tired during a 24-hour period. But as it turns out, our latest study found that our body clocks have a much bigger impact on us than we previously realised. In fact, our body clocks actually effect how well a person performs on both mental and physical tasks.
Our circadian rhythms are controlled by the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus, which detects light. When cells in your eyes register that it’s dark outside, they send these signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It then releases the hormone melatonin, which makes you feel tired.
Your chronotype is another factor that determines how your biological clocks affect your daily behaviours. For example, early chronotypes (“morning larks”) rise early and are most active in the morning, but feel tired late in the afternoon or early evening. Late chronotypes (“night owls”) are tired during the morning, but feel awake in the evening.
These individuals differences may also be seen in multiple other physiological, behavioural and genetic rhythms that happen over a near 24-hour period. For example, chronotype determines the time melatonin is released. For morning larks, melatonin can rise around 6pm, making them feel tired by 9pm or 10pm. For night owls, melatonin can increase at 10pm/11pm or even later, meaning many aren’t tired until 2am or 3am.
Genetics can determine your body clock type, but it’s also largely influenced by schedule and lifestyle. It also changes over your lifetime. People tend to be larks during the first ten years of their life, then shift towards night owls during adolescence and their early twenties. By the time you’re 60, you’ll probably have similar sleeping patterns to when you were ten. However, even with these lifetime changes, the factors that determine your chronotype are unique to every individual.
Peak performance and the body clock
Our study recruited 56 healthy people and asked them to perform a series of cognitive tasks (to measure reaction time and their ability to plan and process information), and a physical task to measure their maximum grip strength. The tests were completed at three different times between 8am and 8pm to see how an person’s performance varied throughout the day. Our results showed peak performance differed significantly between larks and owls.
Larks performed best earlier in the day (8am in cognitive tasks and 2pm in physical tasks), and were 7% to 8% better than night owls at these times. Night owls performed best at 8pm in both cognitive and physical tasks. Grip strength was found to be significantly better during the evening for owls by 3.7% compared to larks.
Peak performance was also related to the number of hours it takes for you to perform your best after waking up. Larks performed their best in cognitive tasks immediately after waking up, and seven hours after waking up in the physical task. Night owls performed best in all tasks around 12 hours after waking up.
When it comes to elite performance, athletes are striving for minute gains where a winning margin can be narrow. For example, at the 2016 Olympics, if the last placed competitor in the men’s 100m sprint had run 0.25 seconds faster, he would’ve beaten Usain Bolt.
Our new study shows that compared to larks, night owls are significantly sleepier in the morning, making their reaction time slower by 8.4%. They’re also 7.4% weaker (using a maximum grip strength test) than their morning lark counterparts.
Night owls also seem to show a larger variation in peak performance throughout the day, suggesting they may be more sensitive to time-of-day changes than larks. For example, a night owl competing against a morning lark at 8am would be more impaired than a lark competing against a night owl at 8pm.
However, other things, like travelling, can also affect performance. Moving across time zones de-synchronises our body clocks, which need a chance to adjust. People that constantly change their sleeping patterns may experience “social jetlag”, which impairs performance too.
Understanding your body clock might help you determine your winning chances. Shahjehan / Shutterstock
Since athletic success depends on the smallest margins, understanding precisely what time peak performance is likely could mean the difference between winning a gold medal or finishing in last place. Our study found that overall, morning larks tended to perform better earlier in the day, and night owls performed better later in the evening.
Knowing just how much our body clock affects us could be useful even in our everyday life. It can help us understand more about how we can gain maximum productivity in business or the best academic performance in school.
The typical structure of our society greatly favours larks over owls. Since our typical working day doesn’t let night owls follow their preferred sleep and wake patterns, maybe it’s time we start thinking about being more flexible.
About The Author
Elise Facer-Childs, Research fellow in sleep, circadian rhythms and neuroimaging, University of Birmingham
Studio: Shanghai Press
Label: Shanghai Press
Publisher: Shanghai Press
Manufacturer: Shanghai Press
In ancient China, a day was divided into 12 two-hour periods. In each two-hour period there is a different channel or collateral with vital energy "on duty." This book uses descriptive illustrations and texts to clearly explain how to utilize the theories of collaterals and channels, including:
- How to read signals from your body
- Prompts for the schedule of daily life
- Tips for choosing appropriate beverages and food
- Simple ways of massaging acupuncture points
By establishing habits that conform to the rhythm of life, you will see notable and long-lasting effects. So start listening to Mother Nature and your own body and get on track towards achieving good health.
Change Your Schedule, Change Your Life: How to Harness the Power of Clock Genes to Lose Weight, Optimize Your Workout, and Finally Get a Good Night's Sleep
Binding: Kindle Edition
Format: Kindle eBook
- Deepak Chopra
Studio: Harper Wave
Label: Harper Wave
Publisher: Harper Wave
Manufacturer: Harper Wave
An eye-opening handbook from a leading Ayurvedic physician that blends cutting-edge science on "clock genes" with ancient eastern wisdom to help us understand how to harness the power of chronobiology to effortlessly lose weight, sleep better, exercise stronger, reduce stress, and boost our wellbeing.
"It’s not you, it’s your schedule." Does it sound like magic? It’s not. We’ve all heard of circadian rhythms—those biological processes that give us jet lag and make us night owls or early birds. But few of us know just how profoundly these diurnal patterns affect our overall health.
Bad habits like skipping meals, squeezing in workouts when it’s convenient, working late into the night to maximize productivity and then trying to "catch up" on sleep during the weekend disrupt our natural cycles. A growing body of research on chronobiology reveals just how sensitive the human body is to these rhythms all the way down to the genetic level. Our "clock genes" control more than we realize, and small changes can make the difference between battling our bodies, and effortlessly managing weight, sleep, stress, inflammation, and more.
Marrying ancient Ayurvedic wisdom with the latest scientific research, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar’s holistic step-by-step 30-day plan gives you the tools—and the schedule—you need to transform your life. With diagnostic quizzes to determine your specific mind-body type, you will learn to adapt you schedule for effortless wellness for life.
The Women's Health Body Clock Diet: The 6-Week Plan to Reboot Your Metabolism and Lose Weight Naturally
- RODALE PRESS
Brand: RODALE PRESS
Studio: Rodale Books
Label: Rodale Books
Publisher: Rodale Books
Manufacturer: Rodale Books
The Women’s Health Body Clock Diet taps the latest scientific research on the interplay of chronobiology and hormones to help you adjust your body clock and other internal timekeepers for optimum health and fat-burning capacity. This three-phase plan will resynchronize a body wracked by dysfunctional eating, too much stress and stimulation, and disruptive sleep patterns. This book will provide you with:
• Three simple reset “buttons” that will rapidly shift your master body clock back into proper rhythm in less than 2 weeks
• A meal plan (one that says cookies are A-OK!) crafted by a registered dietitian and certified eating disorders specialist
• An hour-by-hour daily action plan to take advantage of your body’s natural hormone “bursts” to burn more calories, reduce sugar cravings, and optimize sleep to whittle your middle
Using simple tools to stamp out cravings and identify nonphysical hunger cues, you’ll establish a positive approach to healthy eating and weight loss that will keep you deliciously lean for life.