By KARIN LILLIS • Published: March 20th, 2017
Sleep deprivation is linked to a loss of concentration skills and the ability to accurately complete tasks. Night owls typically work better during the late hours than those who are early risers. But a new study suggests that after a long, sleepless night, early risers are faster to act when presented with a problem but make more mistakes when doing so.
In a small study of 13 men and 13 women with an average age of 25, participants had to remain awake for 18 hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., and go about their normal routines. They were separated into two groups: night owls and early risers. At the start and finish of each session, the participants completed a questionnaire that measured average reaction time, error rates and efficiency.
The researchers found little difference between the two groups at the beginning of the day, but after 18 hours awake, they were markedly apart on conflict-of-attention exercises, or tasks that required them to concentrate on a problem and tune out background stimulus.
Early risers took on the tasks quicker, but they made more errors than the night owls. The researchers said the findings suggest night owls sacrifice speed for accuracy, working at a slower pace but yielding more accurate results. The team surmised that night owls take a more serious approach when a task requires significant time and attention.
The findings might impact the way certain professionals — like pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers — are trained, the team said. The ability to deal with emergencies that require a fast reaction time and the ability to process complex information could be dictated by your sleep habits.