'Night owls' at greater risk of dying sooner

Night owls’ health risks could be related to drinking but they also could be due to loneliness.     Jacob Lund

Night owls’ health risks could be related to drinking but they also could be due to loneliness. Jacob Lund

Night owls who stay up late and laze in bed in the morning are more apt to die sooner than early birds who turn in at a reasonable hour and rise with the sun, according to a new study.

The study looked at medical data from about 433,000 people ages 38 to 73 living in the United Kingdom over a 6.5-year study period.

She said: "Owls trying to live in a lark world may have health consequences".

Previous analyzes have suggested higher rates of cardiovascular disease and metabolic pathologies such as diabetes but this new study is the first to explore mortality risk.

The scientists adjusted for the expected health problems in owls and still found the 10 percent higher risk of death.

Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey, described it as a public health issue that could no longer be ignored. Teenagers tend to naturally have later chronotypes (body clocks shift throughout life and most teens are night owls), and a growing body of research has shown that shifting school start times later improves school performance.

"It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn't match their external environment", Knutson told the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviors related to being up late in the dark by yourself". Definitive night owls had nearly double the risk of suffering from psychological disorders, about a 30% increased risk for diabetes, a 25% increased risk for neurological conditions, 23% increased risk for gastrointestinal disorders, and a 22% increased risk for respiratory disorders. "Part of it you don't have any control over and part of it you might", she added.

Going to bed early is part of getting a good night’s sleep.     fizkes
Going to bed early is part of getting a good night’s sleep. fizkes

Genetics and the environment played roughly equal roles in determining whether you are a night or morning person, said the scientists.

The risk of death was not increased for those who identified as "more a morning person" or "more an evening person" compared with the morning larks, according to the report.

"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. Generally, if people prefer to go to bed later and wake up later on days they don't have to work, they're probably suffering from at least some degree of social jetlag.

There are many other problems that come with being a night owl.

The researchers say that employers should adapt work schedules to fit the body clocks of people who struggle to get up in the morning.

More than a third of Brits identify as night people. The focus of the investigation was to find the link between mortality and a person's innate inclination toward mornings or evenings.

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