People love to talk about personality traits — there are 2,400 different personality tests on the market right now that are used to give insights about our tendencies and habits. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Typically, the conversation revolves around how our personality traits impact things like careers and performance, with years of research to back it. But a less explored topic is how our personality affects how we sleep. A new 2021 study links personality traits, sleeping habits, and genetics. The study found that personality traits influence being a morning or night person, but genetics play an important role that still needs to be understood. Here’s everything you need to know about sleeping well, regardless of your chronotype. 

Personality Traits Influence Your Chronotype

We know what you’re thinking: What the heck is a chronotype? And are you sure I have one? Yes, we all have a chronotype. Put simply: A chronotype is a natural predisposition to sleep and wake at a certain time. You can think of it as either being an early bird or a night owl. 

The relationship between chronotype and personality traits has been explored before, though the results were often mixed. The latest study investigates the chronotype of the participant and the genetic components that influence things. Ultimately, the study found that personality traits correlate with being either a night owl or an early bird (or morning lark, whatever you call it.)

Predictors of an early bird:

  • A higher conscientiousness score was associated with an earlier chronotype. 
  • A lower openness to experience score was a significant predictor of an early bird. 

Predictors of a night owl:

  • People with straightforward, excitement-seeking, and less self-disciplined traits are more likely to be night owls. 

So how does all of this happen? Research has suggested that there may be an underlying genetic component to why some people score higher on conscientiousness and are early birds. 

There’s a Genetic Component to All of This

Remember, all the personality traits and internal clocks that we’ve talked about are rooted in biology, and some of these traits are hereditary. The morningness-eveningness tendencies and the corresponding personality traits were genetically correlated.  

A different study from UC Santa Cruz found that a common genetic mutation can throw off the biological clock, which causes delayed sleep phase disorder. Otherwise known as being a “night owl.” With delayed sleep phase disorder, you have difficulty falling asleep until late at night, and getting up in the morning is difficult. 

The night owl mutation is surprisingly common. It causes delayed sleep phase disorder by altering a particular component of the biological clock. “This mutation has dramatic effects on people’s sleep patterns, so it’s exciting to identify a concrete mechanism in the biological clock that links the biochemistry of this protein to the control of human sleep behavior,” said study author Carrie Partch.

Your chronotype can predict health risks

You didn’t choose to be a night owl. It’s in your DNA. Your chronotype also has the ability to predict your risk of future health problems. Unfortunately, night owls do tend to have a higher risk of health issues. Night owls have to work against their natural body clock to go to work. Because of that, they often pick up unhealthy habits like not getting enough sleep and late-night snacking. Night owls are at a higher risk for things like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. 

Tips to Change Your Sleep Habits

Whether you want to become an early bird or need to adjust to a new work schedule, you can change your sleep habits

  1. Make gradual changes. To make sure the changes stick, you need to take small steps to start. Begin by adjusting the time you sleep and wake up by 15 to 20 minutes. Once you get used to the new time, change it by another 15 minutes closer to your goal time.
  2. Don’t stay in bed. Don’t hit the snooze button. When it’s time to wake up, get out of bed. The same goes if you can’t fall asleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, get up and go do a relaxing activity until you’re tired. You don’t want to associate anything else but sleep with your bed. 
  3. Keep it consistent. No matter what changes you make, you have to keep it consistent. Try to wake up and go to sleep within the same 20-minute window each day. 
  4. Stay away from caffeine. Okay, you don’t have to swear it off entirely. However, you want to avoid caffeine at least 5 hours before you get ready for bed. That way, the caffeine is completely out of your system before you go to sleep.

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

The 2021 study is a great start to understanding our sleep. Still, more research needs to be done to fully understand the relationship between your sleeping patterns and personality traits. While a genetic mutation might contribute to whether you are a night owl or not, it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, never to see the daylight hours. Your chronotype may mean you tend to lean one way or another, but it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck in that box. Some planning and lifestyle changes can help you sleep how you want to.