A new study out of the UK reveals that people who go to bed late and wake up in the afternoon (aka night owls) are far more likely to develop life-threatening illnesses than people who go to bed early and wake up early. Researchers hope this study will help the public better understand the importance of a well-balanced circadian rhythm.
Professors at the University of Surrey examined the sleeping patterns, health records, and death rates of 433,268 patients over a six-and-a-half year study period. They also asked each of these study participants to fill out questionnaires that gave researchers more information on how each person thought of his/her sleeping patterns. Patients involved in this study ranged in age from 38 to 73.
At the end of the six-and-a-half years, investigators found that people who described themselves as night owls had a 10 percent increased risk of dying than early-risers. Amazingly, scientists adjusted these study results to exclude health problems they already knew were more common in night owls.
In addition to increased deaths, night owls also had more health issues than early-risers. A few of the conditions night owls were more prone to be diagnosed with included diabetes, heart problems, and depression. Researchers also noticed a sharp increase in night owls getting heart attacks during daylight savings time.
While doctors believe genetics play a huge role in whether a person becomes a night owl or an early-riser, they also note that night owls can take simple steps to improving their sleep patterns. A few ways night owls can slowly transition to becoming an early-riser include exposing themselves to light early in the day, shutting off electronic devices a few hours before bed, and keeping a sleeping journal.
Besides taking individual initiative for changes in sleep behavior, study authors suggest using genetic testing to determine whether a person is more likely to be a night owl or an early riser. With this data in hand, employers can create a more suitable workweek for night owls to increase job productivity and overall health.
Malcolm von Schantz, who teaches chronobiology at the University of Surrey, was the lead author on this study. Kristen L. Knutson, a noted neurologist at Chicago’s Northwestern University, also participated in this research.
Chronobiology International: The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research published this study under the title, “Associations between chronotype, morbidity and mortality in the UK Biobank cohort.”