The night owl problem: the surprising reason late sleepers are less happy

Name: Night owls.

Age: They come in all ages.

Appearance: Tired and unhappy, at least when the rest of us see them.

What do you mean by the rest of us? The early birds.

I’m not an early bird. I just get up because my alarm goes off. Oh well, at least you’re happy.

I’m not happy. I hate my job. You’re happier than the night owls are, at any rate.

Who says? Science.

Science who? Science in the guise of a Journal of Sleep Research article called The mediating role of perceived social support in the relationship between morningness-eveningness and subjective wellbeing

I don’t even understand the title. The study, from the University of Warsaw, reinforces previous evidence that being an early riser is positively related to reported happiness.

And being a night owl isn’t? “Evening-oriented individuals show greater difficulties in self-regulation, together with a reduced ability to process and regulate negative emotions,” according to the study.

But why should that be? Nobody really knew for certain – it might be the extra daylight or better sleep patterns. But this new study suggests another factor is at work.

What other factor? The notion that morning people receive – and perceive – higher levels of social support from friends, family and significant others.

Everybody loves an early riser. Or, more likely, they don’t like a late one: being sluggish and uncommunicative in the mornings may elicit strong disapproval from, say, the parents of groggy teenagers.

It’s prejudice, is what it is. It’s also thought that morning people are better aligned with the schedules of many common social activities – school, work, etc – that occur during the day.

Discrimination, pure and simple. That’s entirely possible. “Neither type of chronotype is worse or better, it’s just that some people have a natural preference for going to bed and waking up early, while others prefer a later daily schedule,” said the study’s lead author, Joanna Gorgol, in a plea for understanding.

If they taught chemistry at midnight, I might have another A-level to my name. More importantly, social support is itself a strong predictor of subjective wellbeing, which in turn may lead to better sleep.

Sorry, what? I was yawning too loudly to hear you. Never mind.

Do say: “Early to bed and early to rise, enhances your standing in everyone’s eyes.”

Don’t say: “So I like to stay up all night, and sleep all day, in a coffin. Don’t judge me.”

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