Doze off at 10pm on the dot and wake up early with ease? Or do you prefer to stay up late, and despair at the sound of an early alarm?
If you’re the latter, we have some unfortunate news: you could be at greater risk of a premature death than your early bird counterparts.
Scientists studied a population of almost half a million people in the UK and found that over a six-year period, night owls had a 10 per cent greater risk of death than early risers.
The same was still true after adjusting for expected health problems in night owls such as heart disease and metabolic dysfunction.
Rather than sending oneself to bed then forcing an early morning, researchers suggested that society needs to change, calling on employers to offer more flexible hours to their workers.
Drawing on data from the UK Biobank – where medical and genetic information from 500,000 people aged 40 to 69 is stored – the study published in the journal Chronobiology International found higher rates of mental disorders, diabetes and neurological conditions in late nighters.
It was also associated with lack of exercise and sleep, stress, eating at the wrong time and drug and alcohol use.
Dr Kristen Knutson, one of the scientists on the Northwestern University team in Chicago, said night owls trying to live on an early bird schedule for work could have health consequences for their body.
“They shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8am shift. Make work shifts match people’s Chrono types. Some people may be better suited to night shifts,”she told Huffington Post.
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British co-author Professor Malcolm von Schantz from the University of Surrey agreed that it was a public health issue that shouldn’t be ignored.
“We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical,” he said.
“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.”
The researchers explained that while early birds are better able to adjust their body clocks to natural light rhythms – aka the rising and setting of the sun – night owls could have a body clock that doesn’t match their external environment.
They also concluded that genetics and the environment could equally contribute to which of the two you are.
If you can’t wait for your employer to go ahead and change your hours, Dr Knutson recommended that night owls expose themselves to light early in the morning but not at night.
They should also try to be disciplined about bed times, and get jobs done earlier in their day than leaving them date.
“You’re not doomed. Part of it you don’t have any control over, and part of it you might,” Dr Knutson added.
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