Wake up call

Early bird programming vs. night owl hacking – which is more productive?

JAXenter Editorial Team
Tired worker image via Shutterstock

Ask any programmer and they’ll be able to tell you what time of the day (or night) they’re most productive. As tech employers grow more and more tolerant to alternative work routines, studies are showing that ‘night owl’ developers are often like nocturnal predators.

The discussion around productivity and being an ‘early bird’ or ‘night owl’ is probably one of the oldest water-cooler topics. And for many years it has remained an unsettled debate. As more and more tech firms open up to letting their developer teams work remotely, the once unquestionable 9-5 routine is becoming increasingly flexible.

After a little exploration and research, experts are standing behind claims that early risers possess a rather sunny disposition, while their late-night counterparts can often be prone to melancholy.

Early birds are happier

A study conducted by the University of Toronto called Happy as a Lark: Morning-Type Younger and Older Adults Are Higher in Positive Affect” has delivered strong evidence suggesting that early risers are happier and more satisfied people. This claim isn’t just confined to the workplace, but can be applied to life in general. However, being an early riser doesn’t merely have emotional benefits. The participants of the study were also able to demonstrate subjectively better health. Researchers attribute this to the fact that the immune system is strengthened by the generally longer and more restful sleep early risers tend to get.

Another reason behind the poorer performance of night owls in this study was attributed to a kind of “social jet lag”. In most cases, night owls are forced to get up earlier than they want to, with the lack of sleep leading to a negative mood.

The study was also supportive of another rather clichéd notion: Early risers are usually older than the latter group. As people age, they tend to wake up earlier and earlier. The study’s cohort of 60-year-olds made up the majority of people in the early risers category, while only 7 percent of young adults exhibited early riser membership.

Night owls can be antisocial

In sharp contrast to the positive findings for early risers by Canadian researchers, the results of a study by the University of Western Sydney titled “Creatures of the night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad traits” paint a different picture.

For Australian researchers, night owls are significantly more likely to exhibit traits of the so-called “dark triad”, a psychological personality construct. This construct is comprised of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. A characteristic of psychopathy, for example, is a reduced level of empathy and a tendency towards anti-social behaviour, while Machiavellian traits are described as manipulative and exploitative.

In the above study, researchers have felt the need to compare “night owls” to nocturnal predators. Night owls allegedly strive to exploit the potential of the late and twilight hours during which other people sleep or have decreased cognitive function. The researchers suggest that there is an “evolutionary arms race” at hand and see the “dark triad” as a representation of corresponding personality traits to avoid reprisals from other people.

SEE ALSO: What motivates developers? (Hint: probably not money)

This veil of darkness offers protection from discovery and the frequently avoided casual tryst, as well as insurance against breaches of trust. A possible link between antisocial personality traits and the “dark triad” are highlighted by researchers via evidence of sexual activities and crimes taking place at night.

Of course, the question of whether this is relevant to your own work habits is always debatable, but this might just get you thinking twice if you’ve wanted to tell colleagues you’ve been coding all night!

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments