There are two types of sleepers… “Morning larks” get up with the sun and are alert and ready to face the day.
“Night owls,” on the other hand, stay up late and get up late. If they have to wake up early, you don’t want to be around them.
But a new study shows that grumpiness may be the least of their problems. Night owls have a higher risk of dying sooner than early risers and they have a greater chance of suffering a wide range of serious health problems.1
The study tracked almost half a million adults in the United Kingdom over 6 ½ years. Participants labeled themselves as “definite evening types” or “definite morning types.” Using this information, researchers determined the participants’ “chronotype,” or their natural circadian rhythm.
Night owls were more likely to have neurological, psychological, gastrointestinal, and respiratory disorders.2 They were also at greater risk for diabetes.
In additions, the research suggests that night owls are more likely to develop heart disease and certain cancers, such as prostate and breast cancer.
The study showed the biggest danger from staying up late was from psychological disorders. Those who identified as “definite evening types” were almost twice as likely to report having a psychological illness than “definite morning types.”
Kristen Knutson led the study. She’s an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Professor Knutson’s research did not determine how staying up late damages health. But she has a theory.
Most night owls can’t avoid getting up early on some mornings because of work or other commitments. This means they get less sleep.
“There’s a problem for the night owl who’s trying to live in the morning lark world,” she said. “This mismatch between their internal clock and their external world could lead to problems for their health over the long run, especially if their schedule is irregular.”
What determines if you are night owl or a morning lark? Professor Knutson says it’s a mixture of inherited and environmental factors.
“An important message here is for night owls to realize that they have these potential health problems and therefore need to be more vigilant about maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep–all of these things are important.”
The study was published in the journal Chronobiology International.
8 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Night owls often say they can’t sleep if they try to go to bed early. But they may be able to adjust their sleep schedule by practicing better “sleep hygiene.” Here are eight ways fall asleep earlier:3
- Schedule your light. Expose yourself to light early in the day. Don’t wear sunglasses on your way into work in the morning. After dark, stay away from artificial lighting as much as you can.
- Turn off the devices. Studies show that people who have trouble falling asleep early may be more sensitive to blue light. Blue light comes from electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs. Stay away from screened devices after dark and at least two hours before bedtime.
- Use blue light filters. You can adjust the lighting on many devices to change from blue to amber tint at night. It also helps to reduce the brightness. Go to settings or control panel on your computer or phone to make the adjustment.
- Use blue light-blocking glasses. Studies confirmed the benefits of blocking blue light at night. Researchers at the University of Houston College of Optometry had 22 participants wear blue light-blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime for two weeks. Participants had a 58% increase in nighttime melatonin levels. And they reported sleeping better and falling asleep faster.
- Try bedtime yoga.4 Many people have trouble sleeping because of an overactive mind, or even anxiety. Yoga relaxes your body and mind to help you sleep better.
- Wear earplugs. Use them to muffle distracting noises or a partner’s snores. Buy ones that have a noise reduction rating of 32 or below. This blocks out disruptive sounds but still allows you to hear your alarm clock or smoke alarm.
- Don’t eat late. Restlessness and even bad dreams can be caused from eating too close to bedtime. It can also trigger common sleep-robbing heartburn or indigestion.
- Adjust gradually. You can’t change your sleeping habits overnight. If you struggle getting to sleep, try to go to sleep half an hour earlier every night for a week. Once you’re getting to bed at the right time, maintain that sleep schedule every night to ensure consistency.
Getting more sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health. By using sensible measures to adjust your sleep schedule, it’s possible to transform yourself from a night owl into a morning lark.
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