- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 17 February 2016
- Written by ERIN MCMULLEN FEATURES EDITOR
While Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” American journalist James Thurber claimed, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and dead.” If whether or not a person identifies as an early bird or a night owl also has the ability to determine the quality of their life, which one of these two men are we supposed to believe?
Everyone knows that getting enough sleep each night is crucial in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but for many college students a proper sleeping schedule is simply not possible. Between homework, extracurricular responsibilities, and opportunities to socialize, sleep is often hard to come by.
Because of their busy schedules, many young adults turn into nocturnal beings upon entering college, regardless of whether or not their sleeping habits aligned more with the thoughts of Franklin during their time in high school.
Alyssa Healey, a senior health studies student, claims that she has been a night owl her entire life. “I was always the last friend asleep at sleepovers,” she explained. “Now it still hasn’t changed and there is definitely homework involved.”
College students should get about six and a half to seven hours of sleep a night. Healey, however, typically averages about five hours, but feels as though she actually works best with less sleep than the ordinary person. “If those nights come where I truly get an excessive amount of sleep then I get groggy the next day,” she said.
Although this particular sleeping behavior may very well be true for some students, there are others who share the exact opposite experience.
Hayley Toft, a junior fine arts student, has sleeping tendencies that contradict Healey’s. “I normally go to bed between 11 pm and 12:30 am and I wake up between 6:45 and 7:15 in the morning,” she explained.
Toft’s class schedule requires her to be awake by around 7:15 am on most days anyway, but she usually wakes up before her alarm even sounds in the morning. Regardless of her seemingly natural early rising tendencies, Toft added, “I get tired during the day all the time.”
Researchers have actually found that a person’s sleeping patterns are based more on genetics than on personal preference, although the latter also plays a pivotal role.
When studied, it was discovered that those who were night owls showed reduced integrity of white matter in several areas of the brain, according to a Huffington Post article written by Michael J. Breus.
White matter is fatty tissue found in the brain that facilitates communication among nerve cells, and a brain’s loss of or diminished white matter has been linked to depression and disruptions of normal cognitive function.
It still isn’t clear what causes the difference in white matter between early birds and night owls, but it has been proven owls, but it has been proven that those who stay up and sleep in late have a higher chance of feeling depressed, eating less healthy diets, and also experiencing more day to day stress than their early rising counterparts.
While these kinds of people tend to exhibit addictive personalities and antisocial tendencies, research also demonstrated that people who stay up late are more productive and display greater reasoning and analytical abilities.
Early birds, on the other hand, are typically more easygoing and overall satisfied with their lives. They are less likely to fall victim to substance abuse, and rarely find themselves dealing with feelings of anxiety or stress.
Researchers have also found that the human body comes equipped with its very own biological clock.
Katherine Sharkey, Associate Director of the Sleep for Science Research Lab, explained in a WebMD article that this clock is about 24 hours, thanks to the Earth’s 24-hour-light-dark cycle.
“Some people have a slightly longer natural cycle, and some are slightly shorter,” Sharkey added.
Those with longer cycles tend to be night owls, while men and women with shorter cycles would typically be considered early birds.
While biology does play a large role when it comes to a person’s sleeping habits, an individual’s personal choices revolving around bedtime are equally as important.
Being well rested allows students to remain focused and alert in class, which will have obvious positive effects on their academic achievements.
For the students who fit under the category of night owl who are looking to improve their sleeping habits, there are a handful of ways for them to work on bettering themselves when their eyes are closed.
Studies have shown that decreasing nighttime exposure to artificial light, like that from a computer or iPhone screen, and increasing daytime exposure to natural sunlight can actually shift a person’s sleep-wake cycle.
Sleeping in a dark room is also another way to gradually make the change from night owl to early bird, as is forgoing one last look at Twitter or Instagram before falling asleep.
It can be hard for a person to change their already-set bedtime ritual, but in order for an individual to alter their sleep habits for the better, those changes are necessary.
Biology and personal choice are both at play when it comes to whether or not a person can be classified as an early bird or a night owl, but for now, the question of which one gets the worm is still up for debate.
IMAGE TAKEN from themindbodyshift.com