Understanding ‘Night Owls’: What Makes People Nocturnal


Nocturnal People in GermanyIn a group, there’s always the energetic morning person. This individual seems to cherish being up and earlier than most and is almost always filled with glee at first glance of sunrise. And then, there’s the night owl. This person sleeps during daytime and is up all night. If by chance they’re awake during the day, the night owls probably do whatever it takes to keep the sunlight out. Window treatment manufacturers such as YesBlinds.com.au are likely to have night owls as regular customers.

There seems to be a great divide between morning larks and night owls. But is this merely due to habits, or something more? Any individual’s preference for early mornings or late nights is defined as his/her chronotype. A person’s chronotype is largely linked with genes, lifestyle, cognitive function, and even a risk for health issues like depression. What this means is that there’s proof of a physical difference between morning people and all-nighters.

Genetic Predisposition

Scientists from Oxfordshire, Cambridge, and New York University, and other experts identified an aptly-named gene responsible for night owl behaviour. The so-called ‘after-hours gene,’ according to a study published in the Science journal, is an altered version of another gene which was previously not linked with the maintenance of the circadian rhythm (aka ‘body clock.’)

The researchers observed how often mice chose to participate in an exercise. They eventually noticed that some of the mice had 27-hour days, indicating a major difference in their body clocks compared to others. Upon analysis of the ‘night owl’ mice, the scientists identified the special ‘after-hours’ gene which is an altered version of the FbxI3 gene. The mice in question had body clocks which run on longer cycles than those with normal copies of the FbxI3.

Practical Smarts And Brain Differences

Night owls’ different schedules also mean they have different ways of doing things. Therefore, they can find alternative solutions to problems that morning people can’t tackle as fast. According to a 2006 study published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal, a night owl’s level of creativity is often more profound due to an unconventional schedule. It means they are likely to devise alternative solutions when needed – a major hallmark of creative thinking.

Another study, this time from Aachen University in Germany, reveals a reduced integrity of white matter in a night owl’s brain. White matter refers to fatty tissue which helps with nerve cell communication. What this also means is that night owls are, unfortunately, at a higher risk of depression.

Night owls are different from morning people, though not always in positive terms. Still, they have a unique way of addressing their problems, thanks to their unusual body clocks.

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