Why do people go to sleep at different times? Some people are known as ‘larks’ i.e. early risers, while others – nicknamed ‘owls’ – prefer to go to bed late and get up late. This is an example of an everyday behavior that can be explained using the different approaches to psychology.
Are you a lark or an owl?
A biological explanation
The biological approach to psychology explains behavior on the basis of processes within our bodies, such as hormones and brain areas. This approach explains that we fall asleep when our bodies release a hormone called melatonin. The release of melatonin occurs when it gets dark, as low light to the eyes sends a signal to a brain area called the hypothalamus, which in turn triggers melatonin to be released.
However, why do some people fall asleep earlier than others? According to biological psychologists, there are genetic differences between individuals. Therefore it’s likely that some people have genes for being an early riser – one gene called ‘Period 3′ seems to be involved (source: here).
Another explanation is that people learn to associate sleep with different stimuli in the environment due to classical conditioning. Researchers such as Watson said that anything could be learned or unlearned through the environment. Although most people fall asleep when it is dark, some may have had parents who stayed up late into the night, and have come to associate late evenings with lots of fun things going on. If they then stayed up late themselves, this would have been rewarded (operant conditioning). There could also be an element of social learning, as seeing others stay up late and enjoy themselves would cause us to learn this behavior vicariously, according to researchers such as Bandura.