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Early Risers Not Meant to Work at Night

Early risers are not made to work at night, suggests a new study published in Experimental Brain Research. Reason? They will make more mistakes in their tasks.

What’s with early risers and the night? Can they ever see eye-to-eye? They probably never will, suggests a new study conducted by researchers from Higher School of Economics and Oxford University. It is, indeed, nothing new that early risers are less efficient working after the sun has long set. But, the recent findings zoom into the specificities of the matter—they show that, though early risers display a faster reaction time than night owls when it comes to uncommon attention-related tasks performed at night, they commit more mistakes.

When researchers Nicola Barclay and Andriy Myachykov investigated the effects of sleep deprivation, they found that a greater time spent awake would impact on the attention system of both early risers and night owls. Data was gathered from participants who had to stay awake for 18 hours while sticking to their usual routine, after which they would have to fill in an Attention Network Test (ANT) and a Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire. The results of the evening ANT (as opposed to the morning one) show stark differences between the two categories of individuals. The morning people were quicker at completing the tests—a finding deemed contradictory since night owls are expected to be faster working at night. However, it makes sense because night owls will take the tasks more seriously, and thus actually take their time in doing it well; they will focus more (as opposed to the early birds) on the task.

“To deal with the most difficult test — resolving a conflict of attention — it was necessary not only to concentrate on the main visual stimulus, but at the same time to ignore accompanying stimulus that distract from the core task,” says Andriy Myachykov. “An interesting fact is that although night owls spent more time finishing than early birds, their accuracy in completing the task was higher,”.

Because they were slower, the evening people were more efficient at performing the tasks.

“On the one hand, it’s known that night owls are more efficient in the late hours, but how this influences the speed and accuracy with which attention-related tasks are completed remains unclear. Our study demonstrated how night owls working late at night ‘sacrifice’ speed for accuracy,” explains Andriy Myachykov.

These findings can be used in a number of fields: from the education system (performance of students might be better at night or during the day, relative to which category do the pupils belong) to the aviation one (reaction time plays an important role).

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