Larks, Hummingbirds, and Night Owls: When Are You Most Creative?

Creativity is the core of everything artistic and beautiful. Today I have another guest post from science writer, Cheryl Reifsnyder,  to explore the science behind when we are most creative. Enjoy!

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My 13-year-old recently decided that he wanted to start getting up earlier.

Since this kid rarely gets up for his alarm clock, I viewed this decision with a fair degree of skepticism. I figured it would last a day, or maybe a week. After that, he’d be back to grumbling when I announced bedtime and struggling to get going in the morning—you know, normal kid routine.

The next morning, he set his alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than usual. And he got up. By himself. Without complaining.

Not only that, but he repeated the feat daily for the next week and a half, getting up earlier every day, until he was rising at 5:30 AM. He also started going to bed earlier.

Did I mention that he’s thirteen?

What let him accomplish this significant schedule shift, all on his own?

He worked with his body rather than against it.

Larks, Hummingbirds, and Night Owls

Everyone has times of day when they are naturally more alert and energetic. Whether that time falls early or late seems to be determined by a genetically encoded internal clock. About 10% of us are larks—people who like to rise early and greet the dawn. About 20% fall at the opposite end of the spectrum: night owls who function best late in the day. The rest of us—hummingbirds—can function happily either early or late.

My kiddo (who has definite lark tendencies) changed his sleep schedule and his work habits to take advantage of his internal clock. He noticed that he has more energy first thing in the morning, so he started using that time to do his schoolwork. His grades have improved. He seems more confident and sure of himself—all because he paid attention to his body’s natural rhythms and started working with them.

What’s your best time of day?

By answering that question, and adjusting your schedule to match, you can boost your creativity and productivity.

Making the Change

Change is never easy, and changes to your sleep/wake schedule can be particularly challenging. Unless you can quit your job, quit school, or rearrange friends’ and family members’ social calendars, you may not be able to switch to a schedule that’s perfectly matched to your internal clock—but you can almost certainly make some small adjustments.

My son’s success had several key components.

1. He made small daily steps: he rose 15 minutes earlier each day rather than trying to make the change in a single step.

2. He didn’t just “work harder”: That is, he compensated for his earlier rising time by going to bed earlier. This might sound like a no-brainer, but how often have you tried to add something into your schedule without taking anything else out?

3. He worked with his body and personality: He identified morning as his most energized time of day and took advantage of that. This move to get up earlier wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if, like my other son, he was a physiologic night owl.

4. He took note of how the change affected his life: By paying attention to his improved grades, increased energy, and feelings of empowerment, he could then use those things to keep him going through tough times.

5. He changed for himself, not for some external reward: By using intrinsic motivation (working for himself) rather than extrinsic motivation (working to please someone else or gain a temporary external reward), he increased his chances of creating a permanent change in his life.

6. He identified potential obstacles and, when they arose, he cut himself some slack: For instance, one disadvantage of the early mornings is that his early bedtime doesn’t always coincide with the rest of the world’s schedule. When he wanted to go to a concert last week—which would put him home an hour later than he’d usually go to sleep—he still got up early, but he also listened to his body and took a nap when he needed one.

7. He asked for help: Since his schedule doesn’t perfectly mesh with the rest of the family’s, he’s asked the rest of us to be conscious of his desire to finish his day earlier. As a result, we’ve changed the schedule for many of the things we can change, such as dinner and our Sunday night family time.

What about you? Do you know your most energized, most creative time of day? Are you able to harness it?

About the author: Cheryl Reifsnyder lives and writes with her inspirational family, two energetic dogs, and a small mammal menagerie, all of which are fairly tame. She writes about cool science stuff for children and adults, daydreams about stories and characters 87% of the time, and tries not to plot novels while driving. Visit her website  or find her on Twitter @CherylRWrites.

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Thanks for the lovely post, Cheryl. What an awesome lesson in creative tendencies! :-)

What did you think of this post, and would you like to see more posts like this? Tell me in the comments!

If you liked this post, I invite you to read 5 Top Tips to Prosper as an Online Content Writer or others in the archives. Before you go, please subscribe to this blog through the available RSS options or via email. I’d be grateful if you took advantage of the sharing buttons at the bottom. Thank you for reading!

Feature images courtesy of Alan Cleaver. 

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25 Comments

  1. I am a night owl, always have been. I do most of my writing late at night. Most everything I do is late at night when most people are sleeping. 

  2. I am a total lark! I get up around 4AM and if I didn’t have a day job, I could do so much awesomeness LOL! But the day job benefits from all that energy. Enjoyed the post, very interesting.

  3. I’m a lark, and my husband is a night owl. That means, in general, I’m tired all the time because I end up staying up late for him, and then getting up early for me. But I write best in the morning so…yeah.

    • That’s my situation! I try to hit the sack early, but it doesn’t usually work…sometimes a nap helps :)

  4. My husband and I are both night owls, but he has to get up at 5 every morning for work, thus I get up as well.  So at night, we stay up way too late and get up early so yes, I take a nap during the day or I will not survive.  I have learned though, I am able to study (I’m in college), or do homework in those wee hours in peace and quiet before my kids get up in the morning.

  5. Awesome post. I agree that we often add something new without allowing for the time it takes up.

  6. I am impressed by your son that at such a young age he really is taking things in his own hands. Good for him! I’m probably most creative during the day, but unfortunately many times I can only write at night after the little one has gone to bed so I’m tired and therefore less creative!

    • Maria, I feel your pain on this. Everything changes in the schedule when little ones are born. 

  7. I am very impressed by your Son. WOW!
    I’m definitely a lark as I am up by 4 – 4.30 most mornings, however it takes me at least 2 – 3 hrs to get going. Maybe I’m really a hummingbird with a sleep problem?

    • Lottie, Cheryl’s son seems like an awesome kid. I’m sure she’s very proud of him!

  8. I’m one of the lucky ones and work well early mornings and late at night. Hmm…maybe I’m unlucky! I don’t end up with much sleep. I must be a hummingbird though, ‘cos I’m big on sugar consumption, too! Hah! 

    Fun and informative post! The tips to work with your natural body clock are excellent. Anything that can assist in the creative process is a good thing and working with ourselves, rather than against, is essential to a happy life. Thanks to Cheryl and Amberr! 

    • It’s a pleasure, Intricate Knot. I’ll be by to visit you momentarily, too. 

  9. I love night time. I had heard before scientifically that most people are productive in the mornings because they have just awoken from resting. I never bought it because when I try to go to bed early and just lay there with so many ideas and thoughts flowing through my head.

    Maybe one’s ability to rem cycle has to do with if you wake up rested and ready to work or if you get up like me where your mind is still groggy and needs a pint of coffee in order to jump-start itself for the day.

  10. Having kids changed my natural body clock…I am now a morning person after surviving the first 3 months of my first son’s life, during which time he didn’t sleep AT ALL (he had colic)…we can change! I now LOVE the work I get done in the early mornings.

  11. Night Owl here. Comes from years of insomnia, I just learned to put my lack of sleeping to good use. I was able to fix my sleep schedule as an adult and sleep better at night. But sometimes I need to work to 1 or 2am to feel exhausted enough for sleep. Never have an issue waking up early though. 

    • Susan, I’m a night owl myself, but my schedule dictates the need to be more versatile like the hummingbird. 

  12. I would say I am definitely a morning person as at this time I am more positive and full of energy. I tend to crash out literally wherever I happen to be at around 8pm in the evening yet I get up full of life at around midnight. So I am not too sure whether I am a hummingbird or a night owl??? I have tried to write/study in the morning but I never seem to get to it. So I will take a leaf out of your son’s book and take small steps. You must be very proud of your son.

  13. Lark here..it’s 5:00 and I’m ready to fill the cup for the 2nd cup of coffee as I read the rest of the night owl posts!
    Mona

  14. Interesting, Cheryl, and it answers my question as to how to get up earlier.  I’m a lark by nature, but in the winter I find myself naturally sleeping in a bit later.  Early morning is my best writing time, for sure!

  15. Wow, Cheryl! Your son is really inspiring!

    I am a night owl by nature, but since I have an 8-year-old who wakes up no later than 7:00 and a job I have to be at three days a week by 8:00, I can’t give in to my night owl tendencies. :( 

  16. Thank you to everyone who left great comments for Cheryl. I really enjoyed her post, too! 

  17. Excellent post — thank you! And I’m totally in awe of Cheryl’s son!

  18. I am most alert/productive in morning, but certainly not 5:30am. Cheryl’s 13 yr old sure was mature to figure this out on his own! Impressed! Amber, guest posts are great!

Your thoughtful comments are love to me. Thank you!

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AMBERR MEADOWS

WHO AM I?

I’m an Atlanta, Georgia Social Media Manager, blogger, writer, and brand ambassador with a passion for travel, photography, social media, blogging, creativity, and great books. I'm a thinker, dreamer, lover, and compassionate soul. Expect a heavy dose of humor lightly sprinkled with sarcasm. Welcome!

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