Sleeping patterns based on more than just preferences


Lexi Hilton

Night owls and early birds both have sleep patterns dependent on the presence of certain genes in their bodies, according to Medical News Today. “There are times I’ll go [to bed] before 11 p.m. and [sleep] just doesn’t happen,” Toghramadjian said.

Genetic predisposition leads early birds to love mornings


As summer approaches, students get excited for the chance to finally sleep in – or not. Some teenagers enjoy laying in bed until 1 p.m., while others love watching the sunrise, exercising or making a gourmet breakfast. For them, sleeping in is merely a waste of the day. “I don’t like just lying in bed doing nothing,” junior Maya Smith said. “I wake up at 6 a.m. even in the summer.”

Early birds are people who naturally rise early and feel most productive in the morning. Contrary to popular belief, most people have a genetically predetermined preference for waking up early or sleeping late. In Medical News Today, Andrew Lim, MD of the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) explains that there is a specific gene that distinguishes early birds from night owls. This “early bird gene” is reported by the magazine Psychology Today to also link to whether one will lose energy earlier or later in the day.

Freshman Henry Zietlow said he just naturally wakes around 6 (or 8 a.m. at the latest) even in the summer. “I like not feeling rushed in the morning,” Zietlow said. “I just eat breakfast, read the newspaper, and relax.”

Fast Fact

Early birds have more pathways for seratonin and dopamine.

According to Huffington Post, benefits of being an early bird include being more optimistic and proactive. Early birds are proven to be less prone to depression and addiction to drugs, alcohol, and food. These benefits can be credited to the extra white matter early birds have in their brains, which gives them more pathways for feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

Although 7 a.m. practices may seem daunting to some athletes, to early birds, morning exercise is the best way to start out their day: “I feel a lot better at school after swim workouts [in the morning]. Plus, my hair looks great,” Smith said.

Being an early bird in the summer is also beneficial to those participating in academic activities and college summer programs, since they have earlier start times. “I feel energized and wide away right when I wake up which is easier for working,” Zietlow said.

Consistent sleep routines are ideal, especially for teenagers, who have brains that aren’t fully developed yet, so waking up early may also mean going to bed early to get the recommended amount of sleep (between 8 and 10 hours for teenagers, according to the National Sleep Foundation).

Some students dislike going to bed early because they feel left out of late night activities, but for early birds, checking more off their to do list earlier in the day is a good compromise. “Sleepovers are always a challenge because my friends don’t like to wake up as early as I do, but I like being able to get things done early so it’s a good trade off, ” Smith said.

“Even though it gets a bad rep, I like being an early bird,” Zietlow said.

Shifted circadian rhythm keeps night owls awake


After regular late nights during the school year, it is nearly unfathomable that students at St. Paul Academy and Summit School would choose to stay up later than they have to in the summer, but the culture of night owls is a strong one and students find all kind of reasons to stay up past their bedtime, many of which stem from their biological clock.

For sophomore Raffi Toghramadjian, not knowing why he sleeps late is the reason why he is a night owl. “I just don’t get tired until midnight,” he said.

He doesn’t know what he does that keeps him awake. “I don’t really know what I do, that’s the problem — I just kind of do stuff,” Toghramadjian said.

Fast Fact

Night owls’ circadian rhythms are longer than average.

The hormone melatonin is the primary agent in causing the brain to become drowsy and eventually fall asleep. The time at which the pineal gland releases melatonin depends on the body’s circadian rhythms, often referred to as the body’s “internal clock.”

Toghramadjian is a prime example of a shifted circadian rhythm. “There are times I’ll go [to bed] before 11 p.m. and [sleep] just doesn’t happen,” he said.

He also cites starting his work late as a reason why he sleeps later: “One time I went to bed at [6 a.m.] because I had some homework I didn’t want to do so I didn’t start it.”

Toghramadjian admits he is “a pretty easily distracted person.” “I get home pretty late so I’ll talk to people at school and pretend to do work,” he said.

In general, the last thing he does before heading to bed is finish his homework. “Sometimes I’ll do other homework that I don’t really need to do [before more urgent work],” he said.

Night-owls like junior Ingrid Topp-Johnson find that they are most intellectually stimulated and creative considerably later than the average person, so they end up staying up far later than the predicted bedtime for most teenagers, between 10 and 11 p.m. Their natural circadian rhythm, which guides a person’s sleep-wake cycle, is longer than average, resulting in later bedtimes. Though many night owls will leave their homework till late, others use the night as personal time to do what they enjoy.

“I like to read…and I embroider while I watch Miami Vice,” Topp-Johnson said.

Topp-Johnson stays up to around midnight every night, not because of homework over-load but to spend time for herself and also to care for her pets.

“My fish get really antsy and I try to feed them three times a day but that only really works if I stay up late,” she said.

Despite delayed circadian rhythms for night owls, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends 9-10 hours of sleep for teenagers. With many schools starting around 8 A.M, the recommended amount of sleep is nearly impossible when school is in session.

“I get enough [sleep] to function, [but] I don’t know if I get a healthy amount,” Toghramadjian said.

Studies have noted a trend of sleep deprivation in teenagers. In recent years, even doctors have been pushing for schools to have later start times. A study by Dr. Judith Owens states that “Chronic sleep loss and associated sleepiness and daytime impairments in adolescence are a serious threat to the academic success, health, and safety of our nation’s youth and an important public health issue.”

Luckily, for night owl teens, not only do circadian rhythms fall back into place upon becoming an adult, the recommended amount of sleep also drops down to 7-8 hours .