Are you an Owl or a Lark? The Story of the Owl and the Lark

The Owl and the Lark


For years I’ve been interested in how we sleep. Do you know there are two aspects to us? Sleep and awake. Yes, really!

Every day every one of us has an internal battle and conflict between these two states (everyone knows this, especially the parents of adolescents). When you’re awake, there is a battle between your neutrons, hormones and other chemicals to get you asleep; this is called the homeostatic sleep drive, or process ‘S’. Conversely, when you’re asleep, there’s a similar battle to wake you from a different part of your hippocampus with its hormones and chemicals. This is the ‘C’ process (Circadian Arousal process), and its battle is to keep you awake. If this army had its way, you would wake up and never go to sleep. You understand that this is a battle we’re fortunate to have within us.


The battle between C and S: Are You an Owl or a Lark

This battle between the ‘C’ and ‘S’ process is uniquely paradoxical because the longer you are awake, the more specific the ‘S’ sleep process will win, and the reverse is true. If you’ve been asleep for a long time, that sleep process has less and less influence over that sleep. The longer one army controls the battlefield, the more likely it is to lose the fight. That’s why you wake up.

Now all this is academic, right? So where is it taking us?

Brain Rules

Well, just as there are two processes at play, two types of people are influenced, but these processes sit on either end of a continuum. “Brain Rules” author Brian Medina calls these people the Lark and the Owl.

I often meet these people as clients, and only recently have I gained the academic know-how of what’s happening.

Let’s look at the Lark and the Owl.

The Lark is at one end of the continuum sitting on an electrical power line, enjoying the dawn and early rising sun. She is the early riser, she’s frequently in bed early, and there’s a fair chance she wakes happily, feels most productive at work just before lunch, and her favourite meal is breakfast. She’s the early bird. She’s likely to drive our other bird nuts…….

And that other bird is the Owl. He’s lucky to be in bed before 3:00 am, and if you ask him to get up at sunrise, he’ll grow at you. He’s likely to feel most productive at about 6:00 pm, and, luckily for us Larks, he only makes up about 20% of the population. The Owl always needs an alarm clock to wake up, his favourite meal is dinner, and he props himself up during his working day with regular coffee. So it’s not difficult to tell which bird is the healthiest. It’s the Lark.

Understand that we’re describing the characters at the end of a continuum. Most people sit somewhere within the continuum.

Where do you sit? Are you a Lark or an Owl?

The reason I ask is because of health implications. The guy who wakes early gets his 8 hours of sleep by going to bed early will sleep better and have better health. On the other hand, consider the other guy. He regularly goes to bed late and wakes up tired; he has done this for years. If you’re one of these types, you likely have sleep debt, and your health is compromised. Significantly if you further complicate things by drinking coffee, alcohol and other addictive substances and don’t exercise.

So there you have it, folks, get your teenagers to bed early and up early, get that great breakfast into them and get their good sleep habits fired up now. Although they might not thank you for it now, they certainly will later.

Have an outstanding day

Here’s another take on this story…..HERE

Goodbye Owl, Hello Lark

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