THE BLOG
04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You A Lark or an Owl?

Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast - Oscar Wilde

Dear Benjamin Franklin, with his infamous dictum "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," branded the night owl - the other half of the circadian lifestyle - as somehow guilty of moral incertitude.

However, if you want sanity in your life, know who you are as a sleeper - a lark or an owl - and simply accept your nocturnal biology and that of your partner's. Leave the moral-indulgency clause alone.

Larks (those who spring from bed in the early A.M. with rabid enthusiasm) often do feel morally superior to owls (late-nighters who burn energy into wee hours and are asleep when the roosters crow). But research suggests genetics may have a good deal to do with it.

Stanford University sleep expert Emmanuel Mignot theorizes that a mutation on chromosome 4 - the clock gene - plays a big role in your preference for morning or evening life. Larks may seem gruesomely alert and perky in unconscionable hours, and owls seem moody, a bit lazy, and rhythmically off balance, but neither is really true.

He says both larks and owls show a normal circadian rhythm, but their cycles differ, with owls' cycles peaking about 2 hours later than larks'. This difference occurs in all physical cycles, including the daily rise and fall of body temperature and the increase and decrease in various hormones. It's simply biology.

According to Michael Smolensky, Ph.D. and Lynne Lamber, authors of The Body Clock, Larks and Owls report the following in terms of alter-ness, productivity, mood, temperature, sleep and wake patterns, etc. Look and see where you may fall: [Larks to left / Owls to right]

Most Alert: Larks/Owls: Noon/ 6 P.M.
Most productive: Late morning/Late morning, and late evening
Most active: Around 2:30 P.M./Around 5:30 P.M.
Best mood: Between 9 A.M. and 4 P.M./Steady rise from about 8 AM -10 PM
Temperature highest: Around 3:30 P.M./Around 8 P.M.
Age: Most persons over age 60/Most college students and 20-somethings
Bedtime: Go to bed 2 hours earlier than owls; fall asleep faster/More variable bedtimes; stay up later on weekends and holidays
Wake time: Awaken at desired time/Awaken about same time as larks on workdays, 1-2 hours later on days off
Use of alarm clock: Don't need it/Need multiple alarms
Temperature lowest: Around 3:30 A.M./Around 6 A.M.
Quality of sleep: Lifelong, sleep more soundly; wake up more refreshed, usually 3.4 hours after temperature minimum, daily low point on body clock/Lifelong: get less sleep; wake up sleepier, usually 2.5 hours after temperature minimum
Nap: Rarely take more and longer naps/ fall asleep more easily in daytime
Mid-sleep time: Around 3:30 A.M./Around 6 A.M.
Favorite exercise time: Morning/Evening
Peak heart rate: Around 11 A.M./Around 6 P.M.
Lowest heart rate: Around 3 A.M./Around 7 A.M.
Mood: Mood declines slightly over day/Mood rises substantially over day
Morning behavior: Chatty/Bearish
Evening behavior: Out of steam/Full of energy
Meal times: Eat breakfast 1-2 hours earlier than owls/Often skip breakfast; eat other meals at same times as larks on work days, 90 minutes later on days off
Favorite meal: Breakfast/Dinner
Daily caffeine use: Cups/Pots
Shift work adaptability: Work best on day shifts/Work best on evening shifts; tolerate night and rotating shift work better
Travel: More jet lag/Adapt faster to time zone changes, particularly going west
Peak melatonin secretion: About 3:30 A.M./About 5:30 A.M.

Either way, though, whether lark or owl you will still need the similar required amount of
sleep - say, seven to eight hours, and if you try to push yourself too hard either way, you won't be well-rested even with that number, say sleep experts.

If you must make an adjustment sleep experts say what will help are tricks that traditionally help reset the biological clock as when trying to counter jet-lag: get outside in the sunlight early after awakening; have a warm breakfast [most owls skip] and exercise earlier in the day rather than later in the afternoon or evening.

It's best, of course, if partners are paired alike -two larks or two owls - because they innately understand each other's rhythms. But if you're not, the best course of action is to stop judging, being irritated by it, feeling or dispensing guilt - and, most important, trying to alter yourself. This last activity causes much useless stress.

Of course, if you're an owl and must wake early for work, you can, as mentioned above, accustom yourself to the circadian change. But if you still don't spring as peppy as other 5 A.M.'ers, even after years of trying, accept that it's just fine. (It's interesting; few larks ever feel the need to work themselves over into night owls.) Accept that your partner is just fine the way they are, too.

I know this one through experience. I am without a doubt a night owl; my mother, the ultimate lark. All during my school years I suffered in stunned silence as my mother would enter my room, fling open the drapes, and shout, "Good morning! Isn't it a beautiful day!" after having walked several miles, made breakfast, and had hours of productivity.

She'd regale me with stories from all the other larks she gabbed with on her walk. Asleep and unconscious, I'd hide until she shut the door. Why? Probably because I believed larkishness was better than owlishness, and who was I not to be taught this lesson? However, that all changed when I got to college and learned the art of late to bed, late to rise makes a wise woman whatever she wants.

To purchase Janet's book: "The Well-Rested Woman: 60 Soothing Suggestions for Getting a Good Night's Sleep," or for more information on sleep and sleep counseling visit Janet's website: www.wellrestedwoman.com.
You can follow her on Twitter http://twitter.com/wellrestedwomen