Larks and Owls…and Coronavirus

larks-and-owlsI know there’s a lot on your plate right now.

Here’s something you probably know already, but I’m going to invite you to look at it in a different way.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Social scientists  have a casual shorthand for each chrono-type; “Larks” and “Owls.” Larks are early to bed and early to rise, while Owls are at their best at night, and may turn in much later than their Lark spouses.

It’s not as clean and neat as “either-or.” But for many couples, it can seem that way. You’ll have a lot of different kinds of work to manage now. Understanding your individual circadian rhythms is an important first step.

New research has uncovered two additional chronotypes; “high-energy” spouses who are larks in the morning but hang out at night like Owls, and “lethargic” spouses who are late risers in the morning but turn in early like Larks at night.

However, Lark-Owl is the dominant paradigm that resonates with most couples. It has withstood the test of time in research over the past 40 years.

So why is this important to Love in the Time of Coronavirus? It’s important because couples will be grappling with working from home, dealing with kids, and running a household…perhaps without the usual helpers because of social distancing.

What’s needed here is a healthy mutual sense of your individual “Morningness” and “Eveningness.”

What are Morningness and Eveningness?

These four chrono-types reveal different morning/evening preferences. These differing levels of Morningness and Eveningness will have a powerful impact on which of you is more energetic and alert at any given time.

Researchers have been studying Larks and Owls for quite awhile. Here are some interesting differences between these two most common chronotypes:

  • Franklin was Mostly Wrong. Larks are not any more healthy, or wise than Owls. In fact, Owls are, in fact, often smarter and more accomplished.
  •  Owls Like Novelty. Several studies have connected Owls and novelty seeking. They tend to be a bit more restless. I think this tendency of Owls to be more risk-taking might account for why they tend to be more financially successful.
  • Owls are More Likely to be Bad Boys and Girls. because they are restless, they tend to overeat, drink, smoke and carouse more than Larks.
  • Larks are More Likely to be Goody-Two-Shoes. Larks are more agreeable, conscientious, cooperative, and pro-active and persistent than Owls. They also tend not to procrastinate.
  • Larks are More Upbeat. Research says larks have a more positive affect. Franklin was right on this. They do tend to be happier.
  • Owls Live with Perpetual Social Jetlag. When the world works on a different diurnal schedule, it may result in sleep loss and general crankiness.
  • Larks Get More Sleep. Larks have a better sleep rhythm, awake feeling more rested, and get more minutes of higher-quality sleep than Owls.
  • Creativity may be Highest During Your “Off-Hours.”2011 study by psychologists Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks suggest that when you’re a little tired, your creativity may be able to offer more insight. This is the incubation period described in the Zeigarnik Effect.

6 Tips for Larks and Owls

  •  Be a Bird Watcher. Have a conversation about this issue. When are you at your best…and when are you not? How larks-and-owlsis your partner similar or different from you? And what are the implications for who does what and when? Drill down into this question of Larks and Owls more deeply. It will help you to organize your household and minimize marital conflict.
  • Be Gracious. If you’re a Lark, any morning conversation with your Owl spouse will be fraught with peril. Don’t pepper your Owl with questions, overload them with information, or make unnecessary noise in the morning. Rein in your eagerness and let them rise to the occasion at their own speed.
  • Don’t Label Your Partner or Act Superior. Just because you’re up earlier in the morning doesn’t mean your Owl spouse is lazy. They’re conforming to their chrono-type, as you are. And stop being annoyed if your Lark spouse falls asleep in front of the TV. Be patient with each other and respect your differences.
  • Find Your Best Time Together. Pay attention to when both of you are in a “good enough” state of alertness. Prioritize these golden hours together and put them to your best use.
  • Don’t Try to Change Yor Chronotype, or Your Partner’s. Sleep hygiene is critical. Don’t try to change each other. Work creatively with who you are.
  • Take Advantage of the Benefits. Some tasks seem to naturally silo into Lark or Owl timelines. One of the advantages of Lark/Owl couples is that they can assign certain tasks in a sensible way.

Larks, Owls, and Marital Harmony

Spouses have a genetic predisposition to either rise early or go to bed late. A sleep divorce is not your only option.

During this period of hunkering down and working from home, it’s more likely that partners will have more marital conflict unless they adjust to each other to avoid getting out of sync with their perhaps differing circadian rhythms.

For the time being, you’ll be working from home, perhaps also temporarily homeschooling, and running the household too.

You’ll be attempting to do all of this with a social-distancing mindset. This means you’re both going to need to work more closely as a team than ever before.

Start by allocating time alone in the early morning or late evening for high-focus work, if possible. Maximize your time together, and take on chores that make sense for your chrono-type.

Start by looking at the question of Larks and Owls in your marriage, and accept your differences with patience and resilience.


Ready for a change in your relationship?

It starts with a no-obligation 15 minute phone call with our client services team.

Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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