If you’re a morning person, the general belief is that you get things done in the early hours, and the same goes for night owls in the evening. However, researchers have found that this may not be the best strategy.
A team from Indiana University studied 237 people, and discovered that there can be some serious downsides to working during your own “peak hours.” These hours were determined by people’s circadian rhythms; the natural patterns of being awake and asleep that we have during the day. These are caused by peaks and troughs in cortisol; a hormone that makes us more aware and alert.
The study looked at how the subjects were self-handicapping, which is when you’re so worried about an upcoming event like a test that you’re willing to sabotage yourself so that something else can be held accountable for your failings. For example, going out drinking before an exam so you can blame your poor grades on being hungover, not your lack of intelligence.
The researchers had participants come in for testing at either 8am or 8pm to see whether morning and night people self-sabotaged more in their supposed peak times. They made the subjects take intelligence tests, and told them that their performance could be affected by stress.
Counter-intuitively, the people who were working in their peak times were the ones who were claiming more anxiety or stress, as opposed to people who weren’t and thus were less mentally engaged. Although this is the opposite to what you would expect, the team think that this happened because self-sabotage actually requires a lot of mental energy.
“Self handicapping is this weird strategy in general, when you’re so worried about failing that you do something to make yourself fail,” Julie Eyink, lead author of the study told Business Insider. “But it’s all for the service of trying to protect your self esteem and your beliefs about yourself, and people are willing to fail as long as they can still feel good about themselves afterwards.”