How Work Flexibility Could Improve Mental And Physical Health In Night Owls

According to U.S. News & World Report, researchers believe people who naturally tend to go to sleep later at night could benefit from more flexible work schedules outside the typical 9 to 5 timeframe. A 2018 study published in Current Psychiatry Reports aligns with this idea as it shows that the standard work schedule can negatively impact the mental and physical health of evening chronotypes. 

The Sleep Foundation defines chronotype as "the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time." And according to Purple, there are 4 chronotypes. Lions go to sleep at 10 p.m., wake up at 6 a.m, and are most productive between 8 a.m. and noon. Bears go to sleep at 11 p.m., wake up at 7 a.m., and are more productive between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dolphins go to sleep at 11:30 p.m., wake up at 6:30 a.m., and are most productive between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lastly, wolves go to sleep around midnight, wake up at 7:30 a.m., and are most productive between 5 p.m. and midnight. 

Psychology Today says about 15 to 20% of adults are lions, 50% are bears, 15 to 20% are wolves, and 10% are dolphins. Wolves are most likely to have their well-being boosted by a flexible work schedule. A 2022 study in Sleep shows a correlation between evening types and work and found them more likely to experience a myriad of health issues, including mental and financial suffering, in comparison to other chronotypes.

Being a night owl is more complicated than you think

Kelly Baron, an associate professor at the University of Utah who studies sleep health, told U.S. News & World Report that it's more difficult for late risers to perform well because a traditional schedule just doesn't work for them. Baron noted that one of the primary reasons why people use sick days is simply because of poor sleep habits. By allowing people to work when they're more alert, employees will be more productive.

Just because you're a night owl (or a wolf chronotype), doesn't mean you have unhealthy sleep habits. The Sleep Foundation said that someone's chronotype has no bearing on their circadian rhythm, which can be trained by adhering to a schedule, nor is it connected to how many hours of sleep you get at night. In fact, a 2016 study in Nature Communications found that your chronotype is more about genetics, which is why just going to bed earlier isn't necessarily the solution. Being forced to comply with what society deems a normal schedule can cause advanced or delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, an issue The Sleep Foundation says happens when your internal clock and sleeping time are disrupted.

Still, some experts question if prioritizing individual schedules over community schedules is really what's best. Stijn Massar, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, says sleep is one of life's greatest mysteries and at this point it's all still speculative (per U.S. News & World Report).