Morning people, those chipper folks who bound out of bed before their alarm clocks ring, chirp at the morning sun, and somehow squeeze in a few chores before getting to work, have an unfair advantage in business. On average, they earn about 5 percent more than night owl types (Bonke 2012). Perhaps it’s not surprising, but it is unfair. It’s not as if people who are more active at night than in the morning are less dedicated to their jobs. They’re not lazier or less competent. The reason is the workplace is rigged to favor morning people.
Some people assume, whether consciously or not, that people who are more active and focused in the morning perform better at work. We have all kinds of idioms and adages about morning people and their moral superiority.
But really, the work day itself is set up to suit their personal productivity style. Early risers are most alert in the morning, when it’s an ideal time to get work done in office settings. Night owls, meanwhile, often don’t hit their stride until much later in the day, sometimes well after the hour when they’re encouraged to leave the office.
That’s all true, but there’s more to it.
Sleep Before a Typical Workday
The typical workday in North America and Europe starts between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Factoring in, say, 90 to 120 minutes for morning preparations (showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, taking care of children or pets) and commuting, many people end up setting their alarms for 6:30 a.m. or earlier.
The 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. start time, with a 6:30 wake-up call, allows for morning people to get sufficient sleep. Most morning people don’t have any trouble falling asleep around 10 or 11 p.m. That means they have enough time to sleep seven or eight hours. The amount of sleep each person needs can vary by a lot, but the bell curve of sleep needs shows most people fall in the range of seven to eight hours.
Now let’s think about night owls. Their bodies can’t be forced to fall asleep much earlier than when their internal clock wants, which could be midnight or later. With a 6:30 wake-up time and 8 or 9 a.m. start at work, it doesn’t give them enough hours in the night to get the sleep they need.
What Can You Do?
Flexible work hours and remote jobs are slowly gaining traction, which benefits evening-type people because they can shift the hours that they sleep and work to better suit their biological needs. While certain kinds of jobs, such as those in the service industry, need to start at a particular time, many knowledge worker jobs are time-independent. Even the idea of making sales calls during certain hours becomes moot when you deal with international time zones.
If you are an evening-type person who has unfairly earned less money over your career due to the fact that the work day is set up to favor morning people, it’s likely to your advantage to either find an organization that supports working different hours or encourage your employer to do so. Not all companies are on the bandwagon yet, but there is compelling evidence to support flexible schedules.
Bonke, J. (2012). Do Morning-Type People Earn More than Evening-Type People? How Chronotypes Influence Income. Annals of Economics and Statistics, No. 105/106: 55-72.
Image by Henti Smith, CC.