What is morningness?
The term morningness (and its companion, eveningness) describes an individual’s circadian (or “body clock”) preferences.
Those who prefer to engage in activity earlier in the day enjoy a preference for morningness (and for those who like to stay up late, eveningness).
Both morningness and eveningness relate to a person’s overall chronotype. You know what these are through the age-old expressions “night owl” and “early bird.”
Most people fit somewhere in the middle, with a normal bedtime and rise time, while others tend to push their rhythms to either end of this continuum.
These preferences are found to be more or less determined by a very young age, but they have also been shown to change depending on your age.
Newer chronotype discussions have evolved to further examine how we can best use our daytime energy. In The Power of When, Dr. Michael Breus offers up new animal distinctions, such as Dolphin and Bear, to describe how our sleep-wake preferences can be better understood in order to shape the way we spend our daytime energy. Breus’ hypothesis suggests there really is a right time to do everything. (Take the quiz to determine your chronotype.)
Most chronotypes, however they are defined, are correlated with nighttime sleep quality and quantity. Whether one is better than the other overall depends on the research you follow, however.
Which is better? Morningness or eveningness?
Some studies indicate better sleep overall for people who prefer to go to bed (and wake up) early. Others show later sleepers and risers may have advantages over their morning-loving peers.
Whether morningness is a better trait than eveningness continues to be debated. However, it’s probably not useful to generalize about one’s chronotypes without also considering context.
The modern-day, work-centered lifestyle demands morningness; the “early to bed, early to rise” crowd can best assimilate the 9-to-5 workday schedule, and our society tends to see these people as harder, more ambitious workers.
In fact, in the last couple of years’ SHC has seen an uptick in personal stories where people decided to force a switch to morningness because they felt it was in their best interest. A growing cadre of those who proclaim they are “proud to be a morning person” is another aspect of this trend.
However, modern living (global economies and the Internet as two shaping influences) also brings new options that allow for job flexibility. Many people who lack morningness find they do better working later. Today’s employers may now find they can support work hours for these employees outside the “normal” routine.
This is especially true when their productivity is shown to be improved for those who can meet the demands of a global schedule (digital networking and teleconferenced meetings late at night).
Also, night owls report creative energy that surges in the later hours that make their work contributions highly valued among astute employers.
But employers, educational administrators and counselors want to know: is it possible to effectively measure morningness or eveningness?
The standard instrument for measuring one’s circadian preference is the Morningness–Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ).
This self-reported questionnaire, developed in 1976 by James A. Horne and Olov Östberg, includes 19 items that define a person’s preference for going to bed and waking up. The MEQ also identifies the timing of optimal energy for physical and mental performance.
Five categories of chronotype are distinguished as:
- definite evening-type sleep
- moderate evening-type sleep
- neither-type sleep
- moderate morning-type sleep
- definite morning-type sleep
Why understanding chronotypes matters
Your tendency for late nights or early mornings can significantly influence your daytime performance and behaviors as a student or employee.
Recent research from Taiwan showed that the quality of daytime naps depends upon both your morningness–eveningness preference and how much quality nighttime sleep you normally get. If you are a night owl with an early morning job, you may actually need to plan for an afternoon coffee nap to recharge and make up for lost sleep the night before.
This has growing implications for employer-employee relationships everywhere and may even influence the timing and structure of educational systems.
For instance, a study published this month in ScienceDirect shows that medical school students with eveningness preferences tended to score lower on tests and have lower grade averages.
However, the researchers point out that chronotype alone should not be the only factor in understanding these outcomes. Within the context of their specific schedules—a heavy curricular burden combined with social activities, the demands and emotional stress common to hospital work, and career-related pressure to achieve—these students will still experience challenges regardless their level of morningness or eveningness.
This is precisely why one’s preference for late night or early mornings should not be the only way to assess one’s ability to succeed in school or at work. It also shows that educators and employers might benefit from practicing flexibility when it comes to scheduling classes or shifts, if they want to see improvements in learning or productivity. Workers and students should consider joining the dialog as well.
Related to daytime behaviors, teenagers have been assessed for risk-taking behaviors based on their chronotypes. The results of this research show that those who prefer morningness tend to make fewer risky choices (such as smoking). By knowing a student’s circadian preferences, counselors and therapists could better assist them with behavior problems.
Finally, measuring morningness and eveningness in someone with sleep problems may make it fundamentally easier to identify an undetected circadian rhythm sleep disorder.