By September 18, 2009 Read More →

Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds

LarksOwlsAndHummingbirds

When it comes to sleep patterns, some people really are night owls or early birds.

According to John Medina in the book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School , 30 % of the population is an owl or a lark (an early bird in scientific literature.)

The rest of us are called hummingbirds where some of us are more owlish and some are more larkish and some are in between.

The general sleep pattern of a lark is they tend to get up before 6 a.m. (without an alarm), and want to go to bed around 9 p.m.  Owls tend to wake up naturally closer to 10 a.m. and don’t want to go to bed before 3 a.m.  In general, this means larks tend to get better sleep in our society, and owls build a sleep debt.

I think the key is to know yourself and find what works for you, but this is another lens for looking at your own sleep patterns over your life time.

Larks

Larks are the early birds that catch the worm.  Medina writes:

In general, larks report being most alert around noon and feel most productive at work a few hours before they eat lunch. They don’t need an alarm clock, because they invariably get up before the alarm rings — often before 6 a.m. Larks cheerfully report their favorite mealtime as breakfast and generally consume much less coffee than non-larks.  Getting increasingly drowsy in the early evenings, most larks to go be (or want to go to bed) around 9 p.m.

Owls

Owls are most productive at night, burning the midnight oil. Medina writes:

In general, owls report being most alert around 6 p.m., experiencing their most productive work times in the late evening. They rarely want to go to bed before 3 a.m. Owls invariably need an alarm clock to get them up in the morning, with extreme owls requiring multiple alarms to ensure arousal.  Indeed, if owls had their druthers, most would not wake up much before 10 a.m. Not surprisingly, late chronotypes report their favorite mealtime as dinner, and they would drink gallons of coffee all day long to prop themselves up at work.

You can Detect It in Early Childhood

Sleep patterns show up early.  Medina writes:

The behavior of larks and owls are very specific.  Researchers think these patterns are detectable in early childhood and burned into the genetic complexities of the brain that govern our sleep/wake-cycle.

Photo by merec0.

20 Comments on "Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds"

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  1. Hi JD,

    That is really interesting. I like the imagery and the information makes sense. After reading all the descriptions, I am a happy hummingbird. Yay! :)

  2. JB King says:

    Is it possible to switch from one pattern to the other? Or are we hard-wired to be at some point in the spectrum that we can’t shift?

    I’m not expecting concrete answers, just hoping those questions stir up some interesting thoughts. At times I have been quite Owlish and at times quite Larkish, with transitions usually taking a little time to go from one to the other unless I have some catalyst to drive the process, e.g. Owlish me has to get up at 5 a.m. to get to work for something really early in the morning or Larkish me has an event that will go into the early morning hours that I’ll push myself through.

    Now I’m curious as to how well has this been studied and what changes in the last couple of centuries have had an impact on this? I’d imagine that light bulbs and having a world that is always on wasn’t the case back in the 19th century. Or were there folks working late by candlelight all the time? Hhhmm… Just something to ponder.

  3. So is a hummingbird more able to self select a pattern. Mine seems to shift over time, but I really don’t try to force it.

  4. I guess we’re lucky in our family that all four of us are morning persons – otherwise it can be quite a challenge, I imagine.

  5. Dr. K says:

    Thanks to habits acquired over three decades of training-related travel around the planet, I have become ironically untethered to the clock, and have three patterns that work wherever I am. Go to bed by midnight, wake up at 6. Stay up until 3, wake up at 7 and take naps. Go to bed at 10, wake up at the crack of dawn. I don’t need alarm clocks on the road or at home (though I use the one in my iphone because I like to listen to the music when it comes on…I’m already awake when it starts…and, well, better safe than sorry when there’s an audience waiting)

    I take a nap whenever I feel like it when I’m in the office, that keeps me fresh. It could be a morning nap or an afternoon nap, or an early evening nap…I just go with it. Naps last about 10 minutes, 15 at the most.

    And then every few months, for a single night, I go to bed early and wake up late (9ish) It always amazes me when it happens, since I do so well on a few hours sleep. So I suppose all this makes me an owlarkingbird?

    Best wishes,
    Rick

  6. I don’t know what I am any more. Used to be a morning bird, but the spring time change always messes me up for about 11.93 months. Wish time changing would be out-lawed in this state. Some States have already.

  7. Louisa says:

    Hahaha! I used to be both lark and owl – afternoons were my slowest times. Now I think I can literally sleep anywhere anytime, I’m so exhausted most of the time.

  8. mmm, I’m not sure about detecting it in childhood…
    Either I’ve changed (hopefully for the better) or at last I’m becoming me!

  9. I’m definitely not an owl. I love being a lark – the best year of my life I woke at 5am everyday and slept at 9pm. Now I compromise and sleep around midnight, but am up about 6am.

  10. It looks like i am a lark that lived owl life for some time. I felt not very comfortable and now i ma getting back to what nature prescribed for me – i wake up early indeed before the alarm clock and have no probs to go sleep early.
    What’s next for me would be getting up even a bit more earlier and do my exercises – little training for body and eyes, and next blog sketches.

  11. Avani Mehta says:

    Used to be a lark. Now am like an owl. I think productivity should be tied with when are you most productive after waking up rather that precise timings. That is, if you are productive the first half of your waking day, you should be a lark and if it’s second half then owl.

  12. Hilary says:

    Hi JD .. I’m a larking hummingbird – and always have been: can’t take late nights ever since a young ‘lady’! I work much better at this time of day and it’s a struggle at night.

    Finding our own time space is important – ie what suits us as a human body – we are different. If I eat breakfast I feel terrible, if I eat a big breakfast or a non-salad lunch I feel terrible .. and the same with sleep – I miss so much.

    I love your owl .. thanks -Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  13. JD says:

    @ Nadia

    I don’t think I’m an owl or lark, so I think I fall into the hummingbird bucket too (with more owl in the winter and more lark in the summer.)

    @ JB

    From the science, it sounds like if you’re a lark or owl, it’s baked in. So it sounds like while you can fight the pattern, you might get better results working with the pattern.

    @ Fred

    I get the impression the hummingbird is flexible. I noticed when I was camping for a month, I felt my best when I was more like a lark. I’m always my most creative as a night owl though.

    @ Vered

    That’s actually a good point. I know scenarios where larks and owls don’t mix well in the morning.

    @ Dr. K

    It sounds like you’ve built quite the range of flexibility. Just when I thought it was OK to be a hummingbird, now I want the ultimate flexibility of an owlarkingbird :)

    @ Jannie

    I have a feeling that if you aren’t sure what you are, it’s probably a hummingbird. I suspect that the owls and larks are obvious. For example, some people I know wake up brutally early and they are in their zone. They have always waken up brutally early. Others I know are part vamp. They only come out at night.

    @ Louisa

    I used to suck at sleeping. Now, I’m really good at it. I guess practice makes perfect :)

    @ Juliet

    I was curious about it too, since I know my pattern changed quite a bit. I suspect it’s only obvious for the true lark or owl scenario.

    @ Daphne

    It sounds like you’ve found your ideal sleep pattern and that’s great. I think that’s the key … figuring out our own best sleep patterns and leveraging them.

    @ Alik

    You reminded me how you can either stretch the day into the next, or you can get a jump start. It sounds like you’ve mastered getting a jump start on your day.

    @ Avani

    I think the key is to find your best patterns for creativity and productivity. I used to think I was more creative at night, but it might just be that it’s a different ambiance. I need to test some more. So far, I’ve always been more productive earlier in the day.

    @ Hilary

    I like how you connected it back to eating patterns too. I used to think what I ate didn’t matter, but it really does impact my performance.

  14. BunnygotBlog says:

    I use to be an lark until I started my business then I turned into an owl now I am a mixture. If no appointments I work or stay up as long as my husband does he is defiantly an owl.

    Interesting article J.D. keep up the great job.

  15. J.D. Meier says:

    @ BunnygotBlog

    Thank you. I’ve found that the same quiet I used to rely on at night, I can find early enough in the morning. I’m more flexible now than I used to be.

  16. Patricia says:

    I just know that sleep is extremely important to me and especially when I am involved in the healing process – I think my cells and mind correct themselves during the night sleep. I wake up without an alarm about 6:30am and humingbird through a full day and am ready for bed by 9:30 or 10 – I just can not think or read or concentrate any more.

    I loved the picture on this one…the owl is smiling in satisfaction I think – so it can not be the one calling outside my window most nights!

    Thank you for your nice work and words

  17. JD says:

    @ Patricia

    I was so happy to find a smiling owl I just had to use this pic.

  18. Gina Fredenburgh says:

    I am a lifelong owl. Even as a small child, I would not fall asleep until late at night. I recall my father letting me sit up and watch Twilight Zone with him. If I was awake at 2 or 3 am, I would read a book by flashlight. Although I learned to be function as a lark when in the military, I have always reverted to my preferred schedule whenever the opportunity arises: get up at about 11 and go to bed at 2 am. Now, my work requires a presence by the “standard” morning start time. If I stick to a schedule, I can do it, but mentally I am at my sharpest in accordance with my “natural” rhythm, and feel most productive from about 2 pm until 9 pm.

  19. JD says:

    @ Gina

    I think it’s great that you really know your pattern and you have ways for adapting to make the most of it. I think some people never get to know what their best is, because they don’t know their best sleep pattern.

  20. PI says:

    I am a lifelong owl. Even as a small child, I would not fall asleep until late at night. I recall my father letting me sit up and watch Twilight Zone with him. If I was awake at 2 or 3 am, I would read a book by flashlight. Although I learned to be function as a lark when in the military, I have always reverted to my preferred schedule whenever the opportunity arises: get up at about 11 and go to bed at 2 am. Now, my work requires a presence by the “standard” morning start time. If I stick to a schedule, I can do it, but mentally I am at my sharpest in accordance with my “natural” rhythm, and feel most productive from about 2 pm until 9 pm.