There are morning people and there are evening people. Some people wake up early and get going quickly, but burn out before the afternoon kicks in. Others, take ages to truly wake up and only really get going later in the day, happily carrying on with a spring in their step late until the evening.
Personality research shows that people with high scores on extroversion tend to be those who are not good in the mornings. Whereas the introverts are pretty good at getting up with the larks and making an early start. It’s all to do with a part of your brain known as the Ascending Reticular Activating System – which is in the back of your head where your brain joins your spinal cord. The ARAS controls your arousal and in introverts it tends to be in a state of high activity meaning they don’t need much stimulation to get them going. But in extroverts, the ARAS has low levels of activity and so more stimulation is needed to get such people going.
Indeed, this could well be why these people are extroverts – because they are constantly seeking stimulation in order to keep their brain aroused.
Ultimately, though, what it all means is that some people are good in the morning and others are good in the evenings.
But society – and work in particular – does not allow for that. Starting the office at 9am is too late for those introverted morning types and far too early for the owls amongst us. Similarly, schools force children to be there at 8.45am and finish at 3pm – just as the evening type children are getting going. And there’s another factor – changes in our brain as we go through the teenage years tend to reduce ARAS activity, making teenagers more sleepy in the morning.
Schools in the UK are experimenting with later starting times for teenagers – and already research has shown that attendance goes up with a later school start, truanting goes down and – more importantly – exam grades go up. Starting teenagers early at school is just plain silly if we want them to learn and be educated.
But it isn’t just about education. What’s the point of having staff at work at 9am if they are unproductive and then sending them home at 5pm just as they are getting going? For businesses that too is plain daft.
Flexible schooling and flexible working are increasing productivity, according to several studies.
Is your brain awake when you use the Internet?
Yet do we think about flexibility when it comes to Internet usage? We may be starting our working day at 11am if we are “night owls” but we’ll tend to peek at our emails before then, just to see what has happened overnight. What you find is that even if people do start their day late because they are evening people, they will use the Internet early – and that could mean they do things with low attention, in unproductive ways.
Perhaps if we work flexibly we should also put a cap on our Internet usage by not starting emails, social media and so on until our brain has actually woken up too?