Published: Thu, April 12, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

Night owls at greater risk of death than early birds, say scientists

Night owls at greater risk of death than early birds, say scientists

For the new study, which was published in the journal Chronobiology International on April 11, researchers tracked around 433,000 individuals over a period of 6.5 years, and found that people who identified themselves as "definitive evening type" had 10 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality compared with those who identified themselves as "definite morning types".

The researchers also called for more studies on whether night owls can adjust their circadian rhythms so that they become morning people, and whether such an adjustment would lower those individuals' risk of health problems.

In future studies, the researchers want to test an intervention with owls to get them to shift their body clocks to adapt to an earlier schedule.

Night owls were also more likely to have diabetes, neurological disorders, psychological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory disorders, according to Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and a leading author of the study. But one way to help shift your behavior is to get plenty of exposure to light early in the morning but not at night, according to Knutson. "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".

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He suggested a few ways society could help night owls.

Owls were also twice as likely to have psychological disorders and have a third greater chance of diabetes. They should try to be disciplined about bed-times and get jobs done early in the day rather than leaving them until late, she said.

"It is a public health problem that cannot be ignored", said Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at Surrey University.

Most researchers agree that a large part of what defines your chronotype is genetic - both whether you are more of a morning person or night person and how much you have the ability to shift that "preference". "We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical", von Schantz added.

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"This first report of increased mortality in evening types is consistent with previous reports of increased levels of cardiometabolic risk factors in this group", the study reads.

Scientists who studied a population of almost half a million Britons found that over a six-year period, night owls had a ten per cent greater risk of death than morning larks. They sorted people by whether they were definite morning types (aka "morning larks"), definite evening types, moderate morning types or moderate evening types.

Experts recommend trying to go to bed a little bit earlier each night.

But regardless of the reason for the link, people may have some control over whether they are morning or evening people, the researchers said. Make work shifts match peoples' chronotypes.

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