If You Aren’t a Morning Person, Neuroscience Says Please Stop Trying to Be

Tim Cook gets up at 3.45 a.m. Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi gets up at 4 a.m. Disney CEO Bob Iger is a 4.30 kind of guy. 

Jack Dorsey sleeps in until 5.30. So does my buddy Richard Branson.

Rarely do night owls get good press.

Because hey: Successful people wake up early.

Well, at least some of them do.

As Adam Grant says, “The world’s most successful people aren’t worried about what time others wake up. They wake and work on the schedule that works for them.”

Science agrees. While you might think becoming an early bird is a simple matter of willpower and persistence, research shows that whether you’re an early rise or a night owl is predominately biological. Nearly half of your chronotype — your internal body clock — is inherited.

Take your circadian rhythm, the process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. On average, our biological clocks run on a 24.2 hour cycle. (Instead of having a periodic “leap day” to reset ourselves, we tend to adjust a little every day to account for the .2 hour difference.) 

But some people have internal clocks that run longer than 24.2 hours — which means, over time, they naturally fall asleep later and get up later.

In short, they didn’t decide to be night owls. They are night owls. It’s how they’re built.

While studies show that morning people tend to be more persistent and self-directed, and tend to be better planners… night owls tend to perform better on tests that measure memory, processing speed and cognitive ability. They tend to be more creative.

And, oddly enough, they tend to be a little more financially successful.

So if you want to set higher goals for yourself, should you try to become a morning person? Or if you want to be more open to new experiences, should you try to become a night owl?

Nope. You should be who you are — and stop trying to be something you’re not. Correlation isn’t causation. Successful people who are early risers aren’t necessarily successful as a result of waking up early; they’re successful because they’ve matched their body clocks to their schedules.

Sir Richard gets up “early” because it works for him. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian gets up “late” because it works for him.

When you start working doesn’t matter. What matters is what you get done in the hours between when you stop and start working. 

Success is all about what you accomplish.

Not the time of day you accomplish it.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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