I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase early bird or larks and night owls used to describe those of us who can get up early and those who like to stay up late. But did you know your lark or night owl status is called your chronotype?

Around 10% of people qualify as defined ‘larks’ and 20% are ‘owls’, with the rest of us somewhere in between.

Previous studies have suggested that larks experience better quality sleep and night owls tend to experience tiredness in the day and drink more alcohol overall. Recently, it has been found that there are structural brain differences between early risers and those who like to stay up late, in particular, differences in the white fatty matter in the brain that speeds up transmission of the nerve signals.

Can you train your brain to become a lark?

I’ve talked about circadian rhythms before, the natural sleep/wake cycles our brains go through during the night. And while these rhythms are basically hard-wired into our genetics, there are things you can do to influence your chronotype through lifestyle changes.

But be warned, forcing yourself to go to bed earlier so you wake up earlier may not be the answer, this could throw your circadian rhythm out of whack and result in a disturbed night. Likewise, forcing yourself to get up earlier so you’re tired at bedtime is unlikely to work either – you’ll just be knackered in the daytime.

What does it all mean?

Chronotypes are natural, whichever one you are, there is no wrong or right, just different, but as a species we are pushing the boundaries of night owl-ness with artificial light from tv and device screens later at night, which skews the body clock even more, having a negative impact on health. Our work patterns are predominantly based around a 9-5 routine and kind of favour the larks so it’s harder for night owls to get adequate sleep – and you really can’t ‘make up’ for lost sleep at the weekends – it doesn’t work like that.

So, if you’re knackered in the day but struggle to settle at night – try to reduce the amount of light (especially from screens) you’re getting in the evenings (read with a low lamp rather than watching tv) and maximise it in the mornings (walking or taking the kids to school is perfect for this). If you get some bright daylight (or a daylight lamp) lighting up your face first thing, you can shift your body clock!

Signed: Night Owl