Advice-givers love Ben Franklin because he accumulated a vast array of pithy quotables. “Early to bed and early to rise,” he and many others have claimed, can help make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Dominant classes in our society have certainly imposed such a schedule by arranging for important opportunities and appointments to happen early in the morning, but is there any intrinsic reason why mornings are better?
Young people — and people in general — are frequently accused of laziness if they prefer sleeping late, or if they intentionally schedule events late in the day. There seems to be a prevailing perception that “morning people” are industrious and dependable, and that everyone else is just too lazy to bother. This perception depends on the false premise that “evening people” could choose to become morning people if only they would try harder.
Decades of biological and psychological research have shown that “morningness” and “eveningness” are real, biological characteristics which change over time but which cannot simply be willed away. Human bodies undergo continuous, daily physiological changes, the patterns of which differ in certain respects between morning and evening people. For example, those who report a preference for mornings also experience their peak body temperatures earlier in the day than those who report a preference for evenings (Tankova, Adan, & Buela-Casal, 1994). As with most individual differences, morning and evening preference are part of a continuum of natural human traits (Natale & Cicogna, 2002).
The circadian spectrum is correlated with some other personal characteristics. Researchers have consistently found correlations between eveningness and extroversion, and between age and morningness (Tankova, Adan, & Buela-Casal, 1994). One trait which is not correlated with the morningness-eveningness dimension, however, is laziness. Being more productive later in the day is a common trait, and it is not evidence of being less productive overall.
Middle-aged people, who tend to be more morning-oriented, wield a lot of power in modern Western society, and their peak hours define the scheduling of many important events. When younger people complain that such events are too early in the morning, older people frequently dismiss such complaints as mere laziness. And when younger people deviate from the dominant system and schedule the few events they themselves control later in the day, older people consider such behavior frivolous, leisurely, and alien to the workings of the “real” world — the world dominated by morning people. This dismissiveness is a product of privilege, not maturity. Circadian differences exist, and taking advantage of them to maximize one’s own productivity is the antithesis of laziness.
Natale, V. & Cicogna, P. (2002). Morningness-eveningness dimension: is it really a continuum? Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 809-16.
Tankova, I., Adan, A. & Buela-Casal, G. (1994). Circadian typology and individual differences: A review. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 671-84.