The night owl's guide to productivity

Published: Oct 22, 2013, 09:16 IST | Soma Das

Early risers often claim to get a head start in eating, exercising and working better. But if you are a chronic night owl who burns the midnight oil and has a late start to the day, don't fret. Soma Das finds out why it's cool to burn the midnight oil, and be a winner too!

The world seems tailor-made for the morning lark variety with work timings often matching with their peak productive hours. Plus, these folks get an early start to a systematic schedule. However, if you fall into the opposite group — the night owl category — there’s much to cheer for as well. After all, you are in august company, with the likes of Thomas Edison, Elvis Presley and AR Rahman. And if you run to the beat of your own clock, there are certain tweaks that can help.

Late can be good too
Life coach Khyati Birla emphasises that people must take into account that a night person is different from a person suffering from a sleep disorder: “The primary difference is that a late sleeper feels a surge in alertness, energy and cognitive function towards the evening as opposed to someone suffering from a sleep disorder who will feel fatigue and anxiety.”

She adds that night owls consider themselves as more productive because they keep late hours wherein there are little external disturbances. “This allows them to expedite their work, freeing their time and attention for other tasks. Physiologically, they feel more alert during the latter half of the day. It adds to their productivity except for the fact that they are productive during the times when the world doesn’t work. The most unfortunate situation for a night owl would be that wherein their job requires them to be alert during the early hours of the day,” says Birla.

She further emphasises that if a person’s work profile allows them to be flexible with the working hours then it’s not advisable to mess with the internal body clock. A night owl is not dysfunctional; they just have a different circadian rhythm than the rest.”

Owl, lark or hummingbird?
Psychologist Dr Sanjoy Mukerji elaborates on the three types of sleeping behaviour observed in people: Lark, Owl and Hummingbird. “About 10% people are Larks; they are early to bed and early to rise, 20% are Owls and they have tendency to sleep late and wake up late and 70% people are Hummingbirds, who have features of both larks as well as owls,” he states.

His suggestion for late risers is to make up for the lost time by not wasting any time after waking up aka time management. “People have a particular pace but to make the most of the lost time one need to expedite. For instance, accomplishing morning chores such as brushing and bathing; if one takes an hour then cut it down to half an hour. Multi-tasking is another vital thing to save time. Begin to reduce the time you occupy in everything you do.”

The smart way
Birla suggests certain simple measures for night persons to cope up: “Prioritise and become ruthlessly organised about the work that needs to be done. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals for the day and methodically, work your way through the list. Invest in a daily planner that allows you to plan your day effectively. Find out what takes up most of your time and rate its relevance. Focus on utilising all your resources to complete tasks you’ve set for yourself. Focus on what’s important rather than consuming your time and pulling down your energy levels.”

She admits that almost all the night owls she knows have a system that allows them to spot and use relevant mechanisms quickly to deliver the
bottom line.

Birla also advises night owls to find out when they are at their most alert and schedule activities accordingly. “Find other night owls in your personal and professional circle and learn how they deal with their time-work conflicts. Also, cut down on stress, which plays on the mind and keeps you from relaxing. If you want to recalibrate your body clock, reset it by small amounts per week. For example, instead of sleeping by 1 am try sleeping by 12.45 am. Follow a sleep protocol for 90 days by taking a warm bath about 90 minutes before the new schedule.”

How to > Eat Right

Late risers are at a disadvantage compared to early risers as their metabolism rate is on the lower side. The biggest culprits are heavy meals that they often consume late in the night when the body is in a restive period. This causes them to gain weight and reduces productivity. No matter what time you sleep or get up, have heavy meals at the start of the day. You can also start having frequent meals through the day and eat smaller portions. Stay away from junk food, which has a bad effect on the metabolism. Instead, opt for snacks such as sandwiches, egg whites, salads, etc. Ensure your protein intake is higher. Consume lentils, dal, chicken, fish, curd, almonds, fruits, wholewheat bread, etc.
Vitamin D is also essential as night owls miss out on sunshine. Get your levels checked and at least ensure you spend some time in the sunlight.

How to > Exercise Right

Stick to the workout regime. Nowadays, offices have gyms on the premises; go for a 45-workout routine. The best time to train in the gym is from 4 pm to 7 pm. There are less allergens and pollutants in the air. It is also easier for the body to recuperate (in the morning, you have the whole day to go and are in a rush). Evenings are usually preferred by people who are into professional bodybuilding, who prioritise exercise and are goal-oriented. Plus, the body is rested and you have had a good pre-workout meal, which helps the training. Your fitness routine should include 35-40 minute of exercise. The idea is to tone up. Those who exercise in the morning, should opt for cardio while those who exercise in the evening can opt for resistance training like lifting weights, using kettle bells, TRX training, etc. Ensure you get a good amount of sleep as it helps repair the muscles. Sip on a night-time protein drink (as per recommendation).

Information courtesy: Anjali Peswani, Dietician & Dr Rishi Sherekar, Sports Medicine Specialist 

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