by Mary Jo Dilonardo: Study finds night owls have a greater risk of early death…
If you’re a night owl, you may want to brace yourself — and get ready to adjust your routine.
People who stay up late and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning have a higher risk of dying than morning people, according to a bluntly worded study from the United Kingdom.
The research, involving nearly half a million people, found that those who called themselves “evening people” were 10% more likely to die in the 6 1/2-year period of the study over self-described morning people.
“Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies,” co-author Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.
The study adds to other research that has found negative health impacts of being a night owl. Other studies have found that those who prefer to keep later hours are more likely to develop diabetes, muscle loss and metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. A comprehensive review of additional studies published in the journal Advances in Nutrition shows that night owls may be suffering from these health problems because they tend to eat later at night, drink more alcohol and caffeine, consume more sugar and eat fewer fruits and vegetables. And a more recent June 2019 study published in the journal the BMJ found that morning people may have a lower risk of breast cancer.
The researchers from the earlier U.K. study said many of these health issues can be linked to the mismatch between a person’s body clock or circadian rhythm and the schedule they’re forced to keep because of work or school.
“It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment,” Knutson said. “It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for their body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use. There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviors related to being up late in the dark by yourself.”
How the study worked
For the study, researchers examined data from about 433,000 men and women between the ages of 37 and 73 from across the U.K. At the beginning of the study period, they were asked if they were a “definite morning type,” a “moderate morning type,” a “moderate evening type” or a “definite evening type.” Deaths in the group were tracked for six and a half years.
The scientists adjusted for any expected health problems in night owls and still found a 10% higher risk of death.
The study was published in the journal Chronobiology International.
What’s a night owl to do?
To make yourself more of a morning person, expose yourself to light early in the day. (Photo: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock)
Researchers suggest that making night owls adapt to a daytime world isn’t good for their health.
“This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored,” said co-author Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey. “We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time.”
They say employers might consider more flexible schedules for night owls that will fit their circadian rhythms.
“If we can recognize these chronotypes are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls,” Knutson said. “They shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8 a.m. shift. Make work shifts match peoples’ chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts.”
Your chronotype is your unique biological rhythm that determines when you prefer to wake up, go to sleep, exercise and more.
To become more of a morning person, the researchers suggest being exposed to light early in the morning, but not at night. Try to keep a regular bedtime and do things earlier as often as you can.
“You’re not doomed,” Knutson said. “Part of it you don’t have any control over and part of it you might.”