Leadership Lessons Raising Our Guide Dog Puppy Rocco #5: Do Early Birds Get the Worms in Business?

January 16, 2011 by Ken Nowack

“Rise early. It is the early bird that catches the worm. Don’t be fooled by this absurd saw; I once knew a man who tried it. He got up at sunrise and a horse bit him.”

Mark Twain

Rocco, our 14-week guide dog in training does a lot of sleeping as a puppy.  It’s interesting to have watched all the guide dog puppies we have raised to see if they are a “night owl”  or a “lark.”  Research suggests that in young adults (much like young puppies) the brain’s circadian timing system–controlled mainly by melatonin–switches on later at night as pubertal development progresses.

In fact, in the past two decades studies have shown that teen-agers require considerably more sleep to perform optimally than do younger children or adults. Starting around the beginning of puberty and continuing into their early 20s, Carskadon and colleagues have shown, adolescents need about 9.2 hours of sleep each night, compared with the 7.5 to 8 hours that adults need1.  In addition to needing more sleep, adolescents experience a “phase shift” during puberty, falling asleep later at night than do younger children.  Yikes, maybe early school start times might actually be abusive! 

Rocco seems to be one of the few guide dog puppies we have had that seems to “sleep in” and actually take his time to get out of his pen in the morning and then leisurely go outside to “get busy” (guide dog terminology for relieving himself!).  He seems much more alert at night than in the early morning hours which seem totally consistent with research on “night owls.”

Are you a “night owl” with your greatest alertness, ability to concentrate and performance late at night or a “lark” that has a preference for getting up early to accomplish as much as possible?

Does it seem to be associated with job success and salary?

You should know that sleep-wake cycles are guided by two basic principles: They are linked to the light-dark cycle of the 24-day (circadian rhythms) and are aimed at helping us get an average number of hours of sleep each night (sleep homeostasis). Early and late risers have different patterns of hormone production at different times of the day and even body temperature (also a circadian rhythm which peaks in morning people early than night people corresponding to performance).

We also know that being a “night owl” or “lark” is genetically determined with early risers inheritinig two long versions of a particular gene known as PER3. Could this innocuous DNA sequence be associated with “the early bird getting the worm” more frequently?

A recent survey by Gallup suggests that 50% of employees report they are at their personal best of performing in the morning, 15% in the afternoon, 20% in the evening (up until 11pm) and 6% very late at night. In their survey, 70% of employees who earn at least $75,000 reported they do their best work in the morning compared to 40% who make under $30,000 (Results were based on telephone interviews with 1,019 adults in October 2007). They seem to be making an argument that early risers are really more successful.

However, other research is a bit less convincing. In one study, 356 people (29%) were defined as larks (to bed before 11pm and up before 8 am) and 318 (26%) were defined as owls (to bed at or after 11pm and up at or after 8 am). There was no indication that larks were richer than those with other sleeping patterns. On the contrary, owls had the largest mean income. There was also no evidence that larks were superior to those with other sleeping patterns with regard to their cognitive performance or their state of health2.

Whether you are a “night owl” or “lark” new evidence is mounting that it is best to do your best to leverage your genetic strengths and try to avoid too much shifting of our sleep clock.

In a recent study published in the journal Lancet Oncology, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) will label shift work as a “probable cause” of cancer. Shiftwork directly affects the production of hormones such as melatonin, which in turn plays an important role in our immune system making us more vulnerable to cancers. Prior research has established an adverse relationship between shift work and performance and accidents–these studies suggest a negative link to health.

It looks like the old Ben Franklin saying of “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” might need a revision–if anything, early risers appear to actually have a greater need for sleep, particularly if you are young….Be well….

[tags]insomnia, sleep, peak performance, envisia, envisia learning, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Carskadon, M., Woflson, A., Acebo, C. & Seifer, R. (1968).  Adolescent sleep patterns, circadian timing and sleepiness at a transition to early school days.  Sleep, 21, 871-881 []
  2. Gale, C. & Martyn, C. (1998). Larks and owls and health, wealth and wisdom. British Medical Journal. December 19, 317, 1675-1677 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Uncategorized

If You Enjoyed This Post...

You'll love getting updates when we post new articles on leadership development, 360 degree feedback and behavior change. Enter your email below to get a free copy of our book and get notified of new posts:

Follow Envisia Learning:

RSS Twitter linkedin Facebook

Are You Implementing a Leadership Development Program?

Call us to discuss how we can help you get more out of your leadership development program:

(800) 335-0779, x1