A night owl, evening person or simply owl, is a person who tends to stay up until late at night, or to the very early hours of the morning. Night owls who are involuntarily unable to fall asleep for several hours after a normal time may have delayed sleep phase disorder.
The opposite of a night owl is an early bird – a lark as opposed to an owl – which is someone who tends to begin sleeping at a time that is considered early and also wakes early. Researchers traditionally use the terms morningness and eveningness for the two chronotypes or diurnality and nocturnality in animal behavior. In several countries, especially in Scandinavia, early birds are called A-people and a night owl is called a B-person.
While staying up after dark was considered a negative trait, this changed in 17th and 18th century Europe (and subsequently spread beyond) due to the development and implementation of artificial lighting: more domestic lights, added street lighting, and adaptation by the royal and upper social classes. The introduction of chocolate, coffee and tea, and cafes that stayed open through dawn, became part of the new culture.
Usually, people who are night owls stay awake past midnight, and extreme night owls may stay awake until just before or even after dawn.
Some night owls have a preference or habit for staying up late, or stay up to work the night shift. Night owls who work the day shift often have difficulties adapting to standard daytime working hours.
Night owls have often been blamed for unpunctuality or attitude problems. Employers, however, have begun to learn to increase productivity by respecting body clocks through flexible working hours, while the Danish "B-Society" of night owls and the American Start School Later movement lobby actively for more school and workplace flexibility for the post-agricultural world.
Some research has found that night owls are more intelligent and creative and more likely to get high-paying jobs than larks, or morning persons. A study among 1000 adolescents by the University of Madrid found that night owls scored higher than early birds on inductive reasoning tests, which often serve as a proxy for intelligence. However, they lag behind larks in academic performance, and they tend to have unhealthier eating habits, as well as higher rates of smoking.
Some night owls with great difficulty adopting normal sleeping and waking times may have delayed sleep-phase disorder. Morning light therapy may be helpful in shifting sleep rhythms for the night owl.
The tendency to be a night owl exists on a spectrum, with most people being typical, some people having a small or moderate tendency to be a night owl, and a few having an extreme tendency to be a night owl. An individual's own tendency can change over time and is influenced by multiple factors, including:
- a genetic predisposition, which can cause the tendency to run in families,
- the person's age, with teenagers and young adults tending to be night owls more than young children or elderly people, and
- the environment the person lives in, except for the patterns of light they are exposed to through seasonal changes as well as through lifestyle (such as spending the day indoors and using electric lights in the evening).
The genetic make-up of the circadian timing system underpins the difference between early and late chronotypes, or early birds and night owls. While it has been suggested that circadian rhythms may change over time, including dramatic changes that turn a morning lark to a night owl or vice versa, evidence for familial patterns of early or late waking would seem to contradict this, and individual changes are likely on a smaller scale.
Night owls tend to thrive in careers that do not require working in the early morning. People who want to work in the evening are often employed at restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, retail stores, and some personal care businesses. Night owls who work the night shift may work in emergency services, in transportation, or at round-the-clock facilities, such as hospitals and some manufacturing plants.
Many businesses that operate in the evening or at night need employees at all levels, from entry-level employees to managers to skilled staff, whenever they are open. For example, most hospitals employ many types of workers around the clock:
- non-medical staff such as security guards, IT specialists, cleaning and maintenance workers, cooks and food service staff, and admissions clerks;
- medical staff such as nurses, paramedics, radiographers, pharmacists, and phlebotomists;
- managers for each of the main hospital wards or activities, including janitorial supervisors and head nurses.
Industries that tend to be less favorable to night owls include farming, construction, education, and working for public utilities. Many employees in these industries start working before 7:00 a.m.
A list of famous night owls includes:
In popular culture
- In Pliny the Elder's Natural History, he states Vita vigila est, "to be alive is to be watchful", a military metaphor for keeping watch in the night.
- For Robert Louis Stevenson, "There is a romance about all those who are abroad in the black hours."
- In Jayne Ann Krentz's Truth or Dare, "Arcadia and Harry were both creatures of the night. They managed to appear oddly stylish at one-thirty in the morning."
- British author Hilary Rubinstein wrote: "Blessed are the owls, for they shall inherit the mystery and magic of the night."
- In the Little River Band song "The Night Owls": "Be strong, find the heart of a night owl falling/Stay up till dawn until the night is gone"
- Chronobiology – the study of sleep cycles and other time-dependent biological systems
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorder
- Insomnia – the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Morningness–eveningness questionnaire (MEQ)
- Munich Chronotype Questionnaire (MCTQ)
- Nightlife – activities, mostly entertainment-oriented, done between sundown and sunrise
- Zeitgeber – environmental factors, such as bright light, that reinforce sleep–wake cycles
- Horne JA, Östberg O (1976). "A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness-eveningness in human circadian rhythms". Int J Chronobiol. 4 (2): 97–110. PMID 1027738.
- James, Kyle (1 March 2007). "Late Sleepers in Denmark Rally for Societal Change". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- Morris, Chris (14 June 2007). "Late risers unite in Denmark". BBC News Channel. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- Benjamin Schwarz (April 2012). "Night Owls". Atlantic Magazine. pp. 82–83.
- "Night owl". www.dictionary.com. Retrieved 2018-07-21.
- Stefan Klein, Time (2008) p. 20
- Greene, Gayle (2008). Insomniac. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 345. ISBN 9780520259966. OCLC 85817911.
- Klein, p. 33
- Nuwer, Rachel. "Night Owl and Early Bird Teens Think Differently". Smithsonian. Smithsonian. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
- "IF YOU WANT TO GET AHEAD, BE A NIGHT OWL" by Roger Dobson; THE INDEPENDENT March 24, 2013
- Walker, R. J., Christopher, A. N., Wieth, M. B., & Buchanan, J. (2015). Personality, time-of-day preference, and eating behavior: The mediational role of morning-eveningness. Personality and Individual Differences, 77, 13–17.
- Laura H. Smith/Charles H. Elliott, Seasonal Affective Disorder for Dummies (2007) p. 73
- Maestripieri, Dario (2014-01-01). "Night Owl Women are Similar to Men in Their Relationship Orientation, Risk-taking Propensities, and Cortisol Levels: Implications for the Adaptive Significance and Evolution of Eveningness". Evolutionary Psychology. 12 (1): 147470491401200111. doi:10.1177/147470491401200111. ISSN 1474-7049.
- Roenneberg, Till; Merrow, Martha (23 May 2016). "The Circadian Clock and Human Health". Current Biology. 26 (10): R432–R443. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.011. PMID 27218855.
- Philip Lee Williams, On the Morning (2006) p. 41
- Jeff Belanger/Kirsten Dalley, The Nightmare Encyclopedia (2005) p. 83
- Walker, R. J., Kribs, Z. D., Christopher, A. N., Shewach, O. R., & Wieth, M. B. (2014). Age, the Big Five, and time-of-day preference: A mediational model. Personality and Individual Differences, 56, 170–174.
- Klein, p. 21
- Roenneberg, Till; Kuehnle, Tim; Juda, Myriam; Kantermann, Thomas; Allebrandt, Karla; Gordijn, Marijke; Merrow, Martha (December 2007). "Epidemiology of the human circadian clock". Sleep Medicine Reviews. 11 (6): 429–438. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2007.07.005. hdl:11370/65d6f03a-88cd-405c-a067-4afbc1b9ba9d. ISSN 1087-0792. PMID 17936039.
- Torpey, Elka (October 2015). "Career Outlook: Careers for night owls and early birds". U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
- "Authors' sleep patterns & productivity". ShortList. 2014-01-28.
- "Castro: his last battle". the Guardian. 2008-02-19. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
- "Daily Rituals: Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, and other artists who did great work in the wee hours". Slate. 18 April 2013.
- "11 Bizarre Sleeping Habits Of Highly Successful People". SF Gate. 2013-11-23.
- "Authors' sleep patterns & productivity". shortList. 2014-01-28.
- "I studied the sleep habits of some of the world's greatest writers". Insider. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
- "The Vulture Transcript: Fran Lebowitz on Sarah Palin, Keith Richards, Her Side Career As a Law & Order Judge, and Much More". Vulture.
- "At Night".
- "On the Cover: Marilyn Manson". Spin. 2007-05-17. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
- Harrison Salisbury (1992). The New Emperors. HarperCollins. p. 103.
- Buckley, William F. (2004). Miles Gone Bye: A Literary Autobiography. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 978-0895260895.
- Buncombe, Andrew (2 July 2016). "Barack Obama: The nocturnal habits of America's 'night guy' president revealed". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
- "EXCLUSIVE: Inside Prince's Secret Midnight Outings". Antoinette Bueno.
- McCullough, David (1992). Truman. Simon & Schuster. p. 508. ISBN 978-0671456542.
- "Maybe your sleep problem isn't a problem". NY Times. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
- McKeen, William (2008). Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-393-06192-5.
Sandy maintained the house, tiptoeing around until three o'clock in the afternoon, Hunter's usual waking hour.
- Carpenter, Humphrey (2014-03-04). J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547524429.
- Elsworth, Catherine (2007-06-13). "Travolta turns night owl to protect privacy". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
- "FZ: Drowning in the News Bath".
- Rogers, Mary (May 18, 1997). "A Midnight Conversation with Van Cliburn" (PDF). Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 20, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- Elder, Pliny the (2015-08-29). Delphi Complete Works of Pliny the Elder (Illustrated). Delphi Classics.
- Quoted in Rubinstein p. 211
- Jayne Ann Krentz, Truth and Dare (Penguin 2004) p. 258
- Hilary Rubinstein, The Complete Insomniac (London 1974) p. 19
- The Little River Band All-Time Greatest Hits 1990 CEMA Special Markets
- Louise Miller, Careers for Night Owls and Other Insomniacs (2002)
- J. Dunlap et al., Chronobiology (2004)
- Sleep Discrimination
- Intelligence and Creativity in Night Owls vs. Early Birds[permanent dead link] with several references to different studies
- Sleep deprivation impacts night owls and early risers differently