What Is the Science Behind "Morning People"?

Is the ability to start the day off with a cheerful smile simply learned personality traits, or is there something more going on below the surface?

"Morning People": Scientific Causes

One way that human beings can easily be divided into two groups is with the way we greet the world each morning. You may be the type who stretches with a smile and then jumps out of bed to make the coffee while whistling, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.”

On the other hand, you may be the type that hits the snooze button and buries your head under the pillow while you contemplate the brutal unfairness of a world that begins the day at the crack of dawn.

Is the ability to start the day off with a cheerful smile, or the habit of being a night owl and late riser, simply learned personality traits, or is there something more going on below the surface? According to a study by 23andMe researcher David Hines, the answer lies within our genes, and how they control our own individual internal clock in response to circadian rhythms.

Study sheds some light on the "why" of morning people

Using the results of a survey in which volunteers listed themselves as night owls or morning people, 23andMe’s study showed that in the 15 genetic variants found in people who indicated themselves as morning people, almost half of these genes were located near the genes that control our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour master clock which controls our sleep/wake cycles.

Approximately half of the 15 variant genes were also located near ones which control how our eyes perceive light. The fact that these genes are located close together indicates that they play a role in a similar function, in this case the urge to be awake or asleep.

Age and gender roles in morning people vs. night owls

Also revealed in the study was the suggestion that more women tend to be early risers than men, at 48 percent for women versus 40 percent for men.Age also plays a role, as it seems that our sleeping patterns change over time. While most studies can clearly identify morning people and night owls during middle adulthood, those lines blur when younger and older populations are included in the research equations.

Young children are very often early risers, much to the dismay of their exhausted parents. Then as they become teenagers, most young people experience several years of preferring to sleep much later in the morning, even if they did not stay up especially late the night before. This is when parents can turn the tables on their children and begin to wake THEM up before they are ready.

Conversely, as we become older, there is a change in the circadian rhythm of our sleeping patterns. Older people generally go to sleep earlier and arise earlier in the morning. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are much more prevalent in aging or elderly people. With age, the total amount of nightly sleep shortens.

Benefits of being a morning person

Morning people report fewer problems with insomnia and are more likely to sleep soundly and need less than eight hours of sleep per night.

Morning people also tend to have a lower body mass index, as a gene associated with obesity (FTO gene) is found more commonly in night owls.

Early risers also seem to be less likely to be diagnosed with depression, are less likely to depend on caffeine, and report lower alcohol usage.

Harvard biologist, Christoph Randler completed a study on undergrad students which indicated morning people displayed a more “go-getter” attitude. While some studies indicate that night owls are more creative, morning people have a distinct advantage with proactivity, better job performance, and higher wages.

Finally, it also seems that morning people are happier than night owls.

At least according to a study by the University of Toronto in which 700 adults were surveyed on their sleeping habits, mood, and overall health. Adults who woke at 7 am or earlier reported greater feelings of happiness, cheerfulness, and positive mood.

It appears that having a master clock which is in sync with today’s nine to five world gives morning people an innate advantage.

While it appears that people have a built-in genetic tendency to be either a morning person or a night owl, research has shown that it is possible to adapt your sleeping habits to become a morning person despite your genetic predisposition. And then it’s just a matter of time before you begin to reap the benefits of being the early bird!

Resources: Science Alert, Popular Science, WebMD, Reader's Digest