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How Your Sleep Type Impacts Cognitive Abilities + What To Do About It

Young Couple Asleep In Bed
Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy
November 10, 2022

You probably know whether you're an early bird or a night owl, but did you know your sleep chronotype may actually be related to your cognitive abilities? According to new research published in the journal Behavioral Sciences1, it is—here's what to know.

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Studying chronotypes in relation to cognitive abilities.

According to this study, previous research has indicated that people who are more energized in the evenings (aka "night owls") have better verbal intelligence. This study wanted to dig into those findings a bit further, studying how people's chronotype related to different cognitive abilities.

To do so, they figured out the chronotypes of 61 adults by monitoring them with a device that measured their daily activity levels, including, among other things, bedtime, wake time, total sleep time, and inter-daily stability (aka the strength of one's circadian rhythm, or how consistent their sleep schedule was every day).

Following the 10 days of observation, the cognitive abilities of the participants were tested, with researchers specifically looking for verbal, reasoning, and short-term memory abilities.

And in the end, the results indicated that the previous evidence suggesting night owls are more verbally intelligent may not hold up.

As study co-author and director of the University of Ottawa Sleep Research Laboratory Stuart Fogel, Ph.D., explains in a news release, "Once you account for key factors including bedtime and age, we found the opposite to be true, that morning types tend to have superior verbal ability," adding that this outcome was "surprising," and "signals this is much more complicated than anyone thought before."

Not an early bird? Here's what to do.

While you may not be able to decide whether you're an early bird or night owl, another notable finding of this study showed that early birds tended to have higher inter-daily stability, meaning their sleep schedules were more consistent than the night owls of the bunch.

As Fogel explains, "Our brain really craves regularity, and for us to be optimal in our own rhythms is to stick to that schedule and not be constantly trying to catch up."

That said, night owls may want to pay extra attention to minding their sleep schedule and try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.

And of course, no matter what time your body naturally wants to go to bed, it never hurts to set yourself up for a good night's sleep. So whether you're an early bird or a night owl, leaning on helpful tools like blackout curtains, quality sleep supplements, and sunrise alarm clocks can help you keep your circadian rhythm regulated.*

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The takeaway.

Your chronotype may not be a choice, but it goes without saying that it impacts everything from your energy levels throughout the day and, according to this research, even your cognitive abilities. In the end, what appears to matter most is the regularity of your circadian rhythm, giving us all one more reason to prioritize sleep schedule consistency.