'There is a romance," said Robert Louis Stevenson, "about all those who are abroad in the black hours." Now research on teenagers suggests that night owls, far from being lazy, indisciplined slug-a-beds who can't get up in the morning, may be indeed be brighter than the much better-regarded early risers.
In scientific tests, evening types showed more of the kind of intelligence that has been linked to prestigious jobs and higher incomes. Larks or morning types, however, tend to get better school grades, possibly because lessons were at the wrong time of the day for night owls.
Researchers carried out tests comparing larks and night owls. The body clocks of some people make them evening types, night owls who stay up late and sleep in later in the morning. Others, the larks, are at their peak in the morning, going to bed and getting up early.
Nearly 1,000 teenagers took part in the research at the University of Madrid, which involved a battery of tests that included measures of school performance and inductive intelligence. Academic performance was checked using final grades in the major subjects.
Around one in four of the teenagers were classed as morning types, and 32 per cent as night owls, with the remainder fitting neither profile.
The results showed that evening types scored higher than morning types on inductive reasoning, which has been shown to be a good estimate of general intelligence and one of the strongest predictors of academic performance. A further piece of good news for the owls is that inductive reasoning is linked to innovative thinking and more prestigious occupations, and tends to earn higher incomes.
Famous night owls include President Obama, Charles Darwin, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Keith Richards and Elvis Presley.
One theory to explain the extra brain power of night owls is that intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be nocturnal because in ancestral times any activities at night would have been novel and would, therefore, have been more likely to attract people with inquisitive minds.
Other research with adults has similarly found night owls to be brighter. One study showed that evening types among US Air Force recruits were significantly more able to think laterally than morning types, even when they were evaluated in the morning. A University of Southampton study found that night owls had larger mean incomes and were more likely to have a comfortable home, a non-manual job and access to a car.
The study also found that night owls' school achievement was rated lower than that of larks, by about 8 per cent. The researchers suggested that evening types might be adversely affected by morning school schedules.
Among famous larks are George W Bush (reportedly always in bed by 10), Thomas Edison, Napoleon, Condoleezza Rice, who always wakes at 4.30 in the morning, and Ernest Hemingway.
"It is an interesting study," said Professor Jim Horne, of Loughborough University. "Evening types tend to be the more extrovert creative types, the poets, artists and inventors, while the morning types are the deducers, as often seen with civil servants and accountants.
"We have looked at morning and evening types and we found that personalities tended to be different. Evening types were more social, more people-oriented. They will probably be good at cryptic crosswords, while morning types go for the more logical ones."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies