Everyone has days they don’t bring their best self to work after a night of patchy sleep. Inevitably, busy lifestyles, chores, kids, and pets occasionally interfere with optimal Zs. Still, if you routinely find yourself unable to focus or be very productive at work, it could be literally costing you.
A recent Economics and Human Biology study discovered a link between chronotypes and wages in middle-aged adults. (1) Your chronotype is your tendency to be what the researchers call a “morning lark” or an “evening owl,” and one particular chronotype is linked to less healthy habits and lower wages in middle age. You’ve likely guessed that evening owls — those who stay up late and typically don’t enjoy early mornings — are at risk.
We spoke to Dr. June Seliber-Klein, MD, sleep board-certified and chief medical officer of Ognomy Inc., to find out what to learn from this study and how to improve your health and avoid missing out on promotions and higher pay.
Evening Chronotypes and Health
People who prefer to stay up late — evening chronotypes — tend to be less physically active and more likely to smoke and drink more alcohol than morning chronotypes. These evening owls also have a higher likelihood of struggling with insomnia and sleeping fewer than 7 hours each night, which is the minimum recommended for health. “We know that sleep deprivation is associated with poor health outcomes,” says Seliber-Klein.
One reason evening chronotypes are more likely to have poor health outcomes is that life often demands early mornings, whether you like them or not, according to Seliber-Klein. Most people work during the day and get up early enough to organize themselves (and often, their children) to make it to work on time.
How Poor Sleep and Health Lead to Earning Less
The Economics and Human Biology study revealed that lower wages indirectly result from having an evening chronotype, not because these individuals inherently make poor lifestyle choices. A lack of sleep indirectly leads to poorer health, which, in turn, reduces job performance.
“A mismatch between your chronotype and your work schedule does cause lower productivity as well as possibly more sick time and more late arrival,” says Seliber-Klein. Research backs this up: poor sleep gets in the way of job satisfaction, work engagement and happiness, quality of life, morbidity, and productivity. (2)
It’s no surprise, then, that getting better sleep supercharges productivity and engagement at work by increasing attention span, boosting memory, and improving mood, according to an article published in Nature. (3) Employees with superior focus, attention, and memory who are proactive and easy to get along with are much more likely to land that promotion, according to science.
What You Can Do If You Have An Evening Chronotype
Trying to force yourself to adjust to a morning person’s world is tricky and can leave you with side effects of poor sleep quality. If at all possible, Seliber-Klein recommends aligning your chronotype with your work schedule. “Someone who has an evening chronotype will need to decide if they would like to fight their chronotype or if they can find meaningful work in sync with their chronotype,” she says.
You may be able to switch to an afternoon or evening shift at work or switch up your working hours if you work from home. Just don’t let your schedule get in the way of engaging in healthy habits. “If you are working in sync with your chronotype, you still want to make sure that you get daily sunlight and the appropriate hours of sleep as well as regular exercise,” advises Seliber-Klein.
Changing work hours is not an option for many people, so supporting yourself by adopting healthy sleep hygiene practices is your best bet. This includes avoiding screens near bedtime, darkening the room, choosing low-stress activities to wind down, and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning to reset your internal clock. “It’s also best to keep the same schedule seven days a week and not shift to your preferred sleeping hours on the weekend,” says Seliber-Klein.
Although on the surface, this study suggests that night-loving people are more inclined to make poor lifestyle choices that mean they earn less money, the truth is society aligns more closely with morning chronotypes, which leaves evening owls at risk of getting too little sleep. A lack of sleep quantity and quality interferes with productivity and mental and physical well-being, increasing chances of missed work and poor job performance.
Improving your sleep habits and adjusting your working schedule can help you be more engaged, proactive, and successful at work, leading to promotions and higher wages.
1. Andrew Conlin, Iiro Nerg, Leena Ala-Mursula, Tapio Räihä, Marko Korhonen,
“The association between chronotype and wages at mid-age,” Economics & Human Biology, Volume 50, 2023, 101266, ISSN 1570-677X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehb.2023.101266.
Seliber-Klein, June. Author interview. September 2023.
2. Magnavita N, Garbarino S. Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017; 14(11):1347. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14111347
3. Forrester, Nikki. “How better sleep can improve productivity,” Nature, July 17, 2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02307-z