18th March 2021

World Sleep Day – Are you an ‘early bird’ or ‘night owl’?

It’s World Sleep Day on Friday 19 March and the slogan this year is ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future.’

But when it comes to sleep and work, how do we ensure you’re being as productive as possible?

The best place to start is to understand whether you’re an early bird – someone who is wide awake and raring to go at the crack of dawn – or a night owl – someone who is more productive later into a day and prefers to sleep in.

According to some researchers this is all down to a molecular “switch” wired into the biological clocks of extreme early risers which leads them to operate on a daily cycle of about 20 hours instead of a full 24-hour cycle. Others say it’s all about genetics. If your parents were late going to bed, chances are you will be too. In fact, it may run in the entire family.

Regardless of which applies to you, here are some tips to help you stay productive through the day:

1. Prioritise

For early risers, you should aim to get your most important work done in the morning, but make sure you get some exercise or eat a good breakfast before you get started. Also, try and avoid calls where you can to keep you focused on your key tasks for the day, as well as considering allocating specific time in the day to check and respond to your emails.

Dr. Michael J. Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, believes if the nature of your work will allow for it, it’s best to let employees have some flexibility in their schedules.

2. Automate

For night owls, try to automate as much as you can throughout the day – for example, any digital advertising campaigns you have set to go live – so you still have mental reserves left when you sit down to work at night. Try also to plan out what you are going to do tomorrow, the night before, so you’re ready to go the next day.

3. Work together

Importantly, but often forgotten by many team leaders is to find out how others work. We’re all different with different lives and schedules. Some of us have children, some don’t, some people have to care for relatives and some people like exercising first thing in the morning. So, it’s important to make sure you plan ahead and map out workloads with when it’s best for your team-mates to complete work.

Make sure you communicate with your teammates and managers with how you like to work and when you feel most productive. Team leaders should know who their early bird’s and night owl’s are so that they can plan work and meetings in accordingly.

4. Know your peak

Whether you’re a morning or night-time person, make sure you know your peak performance times and schedule in the tough work then. For early risers, it’s probably mid-morning, but for night owls it’s probably later in the afternoon. Regardless of your bodyclock, try to avoid scheduling meetings and doing important tasks after a large meal when alertness, body temperature and glucose levels drop.

Also consider if it is worth blocking out time and letting colleagues know that you are not to be disturbed in this period, helping to maximise your output and not be distracted.

5. Have a break

But most importantly, and something we all too frequently forget, is taking regular breaks. Regardless of your morning or night-time preference, nobody can maintain high levels of energy throughout an eight-hour day. Productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says: “Sometimes the smartest thing to do is to take a break and go for a walk”. And when you need something to eat, try and make healthier choices. Binging on fizzy drinks and crisps will alter your blood sugar levels and make it difficult to focus on your job. A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology shows that not only do healthy foods provide us the energy we need, they can also make us happier, more engaged, and more creative.