Why morning people should not work at night
It has been known for a long time that early risers work less efficiently at night than night owls do. But researchers from the Higher School of Economics and Oxford University have uncovered new and distinctive features between the night activities of these two types of individuals. At night, early risers demonstrate a quicker reaction time when solving unusual attention-related tasks than night owls, but these early risers make more mistakes along the way.
Twenty-six volunteers (13 male, 13 female) with an average age of 25 participated in the study. Participants were required to stay awake for 18 hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., and adhere to their normal routine. At the beginning and end of their time spent awake, the participants completed an Attention Network Test (ANT) and a Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire to help assess their chronotype.
The researchers did not find any important differences between the results of the ANT test the early birds and night owls completed in the morning, but the evening test showed a more pronounced contrast. The early birds completed tests quicker than the night owls, which was a rather unexpected and contradictory outcome, though the researchers did find an explanation for this: “it makes sense because night owls will take the tasks more seriously, and thus actually take their time in doing it well; they will focus more (as opposed to the early birds) on the task.”
“To deal with the most difficult test, resolving a conflict of attention, it was necessary not only to concentrate on the main visual stimulus, but at the same time to ignore accompanying stimulus that distract from the core task,” says Andriy Myachykov. “An interesting fact is that although night owls spent more time finishing than early birds, their accuracy in completing the task was higher.”
Researchers believe that their findings could be useful for further research and consider their results "preliminary" to future studies with a possibly larger sample and participants from the extreme chronotypes rather than the full chronotype spectrum.
While considered preliminary by the researchers themselves, the information gathered by the study could be very relevant to many individuals especially those who work at odd times of the day, and for those with careers that challenge individuals with sleep deprivation, such as emergency workers and nurses in hospitals.