Stay up late or wake up early: Which is better?


Fact Box

  • The CDC recommends at least 7 hours of sleep for average adults 18-60 years of age.
  • The concept of a 9-5 work schedule originated with Henry Ford's institution of an eight-hour work day for some of his employees in 1926. 
  • CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, reportedly starts his day as early as 3:45 am to be able to check emails and exercise before starting work.
  • According to biographer John Richardson, famous artist Pablo Picasso was a 'night owl,' working through the night and not going to bed until sometimes four or five in the morning.

Hanna (Wake Up Early)

Biologist Christoph Randler did a university study on 367 students to determine if waking up earlier improves their success rate. Ultimately, he found that “early birds” were “better positioned for career success because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.” His findings revealed that the students who started their day earlier were more confident in their work, spent more time identifying goals for themselves, and completed more projects on time than those who didn’t wake up early. This was due to their increased alertness and productivity levels, which in turn elevated their personal confidence. Brain scans show precisely why this is. It takes about thirty minutes to go from sleep inertia to full cognitive function, which means that when you wake up early, you’re giving yourself the time to become fully alert before starting your daily tasks. 

Confidence and alertness aren’t the only things early rising does for your body. Waking up early has also been proven to enhance sleep quality, meaning you are more likely to experience restorative, complete sleep cycles. In turn, this works to elevate your mood and lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, and infection. It also leads to healthier skin, hair, and nails due to lower cortisol levels. 

If you’re a woman, the quality of sleep you get from waking up early can improve or even treat symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety or depression. This is because chronotypes can influence the risk of depression. One study found that women with early chronotypes had a lower risk of depression than those with intermediate or late chronotypes.

Overall, waking up early is beneficial for your physical and mental wellbeing to a great extent, while staying up late has the opposite effect

Perry (Stay Up Late)

In a perfect world, everyone would be on the same schedule and wake up early. However, the truth is that our sleep times have been genetically determined for us and vary widely. For those who naturally tend to stay up late, there are many advantages. 

In a world that revolves around 9-5 jobs and 'morning people,' distractions are par for the course: phones ringing, deliveries being made, etc. But these fade away in the solitude of staying up late, allowing one to focus and even experiment more. Early risers can experience this as well--but only for a few hours before everyone else wakes up. Additionally, if working on a project at night, one can go to sleep knowing the task is complete, instead of waiting to work on it in the morning when there may not be enough time. 

It's a common misconception that early risers are healthier than night owls, but this is not completely true. Consistent sleep schedules matter more than when someone goes to sleep. That means the problems we often associate with staying up late are actually the fault of modern and strict working schedules

Interestingly, one 2019 study found that those who shorten their sleep in the first half of the night experience 'better performance and mood the next day' than those who sacrificed sleep in the second half of the night or early morning.   

Finally, the time constraints of a typical 9-5 job make waking up early impossible for some when factoring in commute times, cooking, and self-care--forcing bedtime further and further back. As long as one gets enough consistent sleep, staying up late may be the perfect fit.

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