**This is an updated post**
You’re either an early bird or a night owl. But when it comes to learning, when is the best time to study? Is it better to study at night or in the morning? And what does science have to say about it?
Our bodies’ cycles of alertness and focus are governed by Circadian rhythms. They are what forms our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that then drives when we are hungry, when we are tired and even when we undertake activities such as work and study.
But that’s just the beginning of the story. There are a whole bunch of lifestyle factors that influence when the best study time is for each individual person.
The truth is, there is no definitive “best” time to study, as every person is different. But there are benefits to studying during the day or night.
The benefits of studying during the day
It’s not hard to argue that studying during the day is a smart choice. After all, we’re usually refreshed in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
During the day you are less likely to require indoor lighting. Sunlight is actually good for your eyes. It provides just the right spectrum of light to maintain optimal eyesight and actually works with the pituitary gland to make you alert and awake. True fact!
Indoor lighting has actually been shown to interrupt the sleep cycle and most sleep doctors recommend that you expose yourself to as little artificial light at night as possible at night, including TV, computer and smartphone screens. This is why some devices now include a “blue light filter” which limits the amount of blue light displayed on the screen.
Positives of studying during the day:
- Natural light can help you focus, as opposed to artificial light.
- Your natural Circadian rhythms will be at work.
- You’ll be refreshed and alert, meaning you’ll be able to retain information better.
Tips for studying during the day:
- Find a space to study (inside or outside) that gives you plenty of natural light to see by.
- Eliminate possible distractions – does listening to music help you focus and block out distracting noises, like traffic sounds, or your loud neighbours?
- Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, contrary to popular belief. But a healthy breakfast (think brain foods like avocados, blueberries and whole grains) will help improve your levels of concentration.
The benefits of studying at night
“But wait! I’m a night owl!” we hear you cry. Or perhaps you work a 9-to-5 job, or are looking after young children during the day and can only study after they’ve fallen asleep at night.
If night-time is when you feel like you are most productive, or when you have time to study, then don’t panic. Just as there are plenty of positives for studying during the day, there are various reasons why night-time is the best time to study for some.
The most obvious advantage of studying at night is the abundance of peace and quiet you have. Night-time is when people are more relaxed, quiet and contemplative. That environment can be exactly what some people need to get into the right headspace for study.
If you find that you can’t get a breakthrough on a project during the day, try taking a look after dark. You might find that you’re looking at things in a new way.
At night, the pressures of the daytime behind them, many feel that their mind is free to wander through more alternatives at night. And this can be useful for assessment-writing or working on creative pursuits.
Many authors, songwriters and scientists prefer to work at night because they feel that they tend to think more creatively after-hours. This is backed up by a study completed at the University of the Sacred Heart in Milan which showed that night owls were more likely to be creative than early birds.
Barack Obama himself is a self-confessed night owl.
Positives of studying during the evening:
- Peace and quiet – less distractions so you can knuckle down.
- Your daily tasks are done, so you can concentrate on your work.
- Night-time is when people tend to feel more creative.
Tips for studying at night:
- Limit possible distractions – turn your phone on silent and leave the TV off.
- Try to avoid caffeine, as it can take up to four hours to cycle through the body. It might give you a spike of energy, but it could prevent you from having a good night’s sleep.
- Create a routine that still gives you enough time for a good night’s rest.
What does the science say?
While Circadian rhythms are different for everyone, there are patterns that indicate that people really do fit into the “early bird” or the “night owl” categories.
The typical morning person will find that they are rearing to go as early as 7am. That burst of energy will last until around 10am when they need a little rest. Maybe this is when they take a coffee break and stretch their legs. Then they will get another burst of energy until around 3pm when they start to wind down.
The “night owl” tends to be the complete opposite. They will be sluggish until around midday when they have their first burst of energy. This will last until 3pm when they will have their second burst that will last until 7pm. From there, they will start winding down around 10pm and go quickly from activity to sleep.
So, when is it best to study?
It all depends on your lifestyle. Younger people with a routine that sees them more active at night will find that studying at night comes more naturally to them. If you’re an adult and re-entering study after a long time away, you might find that daytime is better suited to your established routine.
The important factor for everyone is making sure you are getting enough sleep. So whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, there’s nothing stopping you from taking on study in your own time and at your own pace right now.
Have you thought about taking up online study?
Whether you’re a morning or a night person, Open Colleges’ flexible online study means that you can study when you want, where you want. There are no deadlines and no classrooms, so you can fit study around your life. Learn more here.