July 24, 2024


The idea that night owls who don’t go to bed until the wee hours of the morning have trouble getting anything done during the day may need to be reconsidered.

It turns out that staying up late can be good for our brain power, as research suggests that people who identify as night owls can be sharper than those who go to bed early.

Researchers led by academics at Imperial College London studied data from the UK Biobank study on more than 26,000 people who completed intelligence, reasoning, reaction time and memory tests.

They then examined how participants’ sleep duration, quality and chronotype (which determines what time of day we feel most alert and productive) affected brain performance.

They found that late risers and those classified as “intermediate” had “superior cognitive function,” while morning larks had the lowest scores.

Going to bed late is strongly associated with creative types. Artists, writers and musicians known to be night owls include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James Joyce, Kanye West and Lady Gaga.

But while politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Barack Obama famously seemed to thrive on little sleep, the study found that sleep duration is important for brain function, with those who get between seven and nine hours of shut-eye every night performing the best in cognitive tests.

Dr Raha West, lead author and clinical research fellow at the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: “While understanding and working with your natural sleep tendencies is essential, it’s just as important to remember to get just enough sleep , not too much. long or too short. It is essential to keep your brain healthy and functioning at its best.”

Prof Daqing Ma, the co-leader of the study who is also from Imperial’s Department of Surgery and Cancer, added: “We found that sleep duration has a direct effect on brain function, and we believe that the proactive management of sleep patterns is very important for promoting and protecting the way our brain works.

“We would prefer to see policy interventions to improve sleep patterns in the general population.”

But some experts urged caution in interpreting the findings. Jacqui Hanley, head of research funding at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Without a detailed picture of what’s going on in the brain, we don’t know whether being a ‘morning’ or ‘evening’ person affects memory and thinking, or if a decline in cognition causes changes to sleep patterns.”

Jessica Chelekis, a senior lecturer in sustainability global value chains and sleep expert at Brunel University in London, said there were “important limitations” to the study as the research did not take into account educational attainment, or the time of day the cognitive tests were carried out in the include results. The main value of the study was challenging stereotypes around sleep, she added.



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