Night Owls Might Be 2x Likely To Underperform At Work

It should be no surprise that the traditional 9-5 work day doesn't benefit night owls. A new study out of Finland has claims that compared to early birds, night owls are twice as likely to underperform in the workplace. Simply put, early risers tend to work better in the morning and night owls work better in the evening; and for the most part, it's all genetic. The preference of morning vs. night is called chronotype and is a reflection of a person's underlying circadian rhythm.

The study collected data from 5,881 people regarding their work life, health and sleep patterns.

  • 10% of men and 12% of women were night owls; 72% of worked in day jobs
    • The remaining participants were split evenly 50-50: early risers and "intermediate chronotypes" (people somewhere in the middle)
  • 25% of night owls rated their own work performance as poor
    • They also were "higher risk" of retiring early due to disability

The study was published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine. Kristen Knutson, an associate professor at Northwestern University that studies the link between sleep, circadian rhythms and diseases, has this to say on the subject:

"If evening types have to work in the early morning, they won't rate their work ability as high as morning types. The reverse would be true as well. If normal business hours were 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., the early morning types would feel worse than evening types. The underlying mechanism is our internal biological clock that dictates the time of day we perform best."

The moral of this study is that the traditional workday doesn't benefit everyone. In fact, Suzanne Hood, an associate professor at Bishop's University in Quebec, Canada says:

Night owls shouldn't be alarmed by the findings... Rating job performance doesn't necessarily tell you about the quality of the work in real terms. Also, the study was observational -- it doesn't mean that being a night owl makes you less able to work... Employers could benefit from people with different chronotypes. For example, the employee who seems like a slow starter in the morning might be the person who's most able to work effectively into the evening to meet an important deadline.

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