Published: Thu, April 12, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

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

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

Being a night owl comes with a 10% higher risk of death than being a morning person, according to a new study.

The research, which involved almost half a million people, found that self-described "evening people" were 10 percent more likely to die over a 6.5-year period, compared with self-described morning people. In order to evaluate natural circadian rhythm, otherwise known as their chronotype, participants were asked to identify as "definitely a morning person", "more a morning person than evening person", "more an evening than a morning person" or "definitely an evening person".

The habits of a night owl are one thing that may increase the risk for early death.

Dr Kristen Knutson, a member of the team from Northwestern University in Chicago, US, said: "Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies".

"It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for the body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use".

But the study should still be a wake-up call for night owls, who may want to take extra efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, she said.

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

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"We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical", he said in the statement.

The volunteers involved in the study were self-characterized either as "definite morning type" (27%), "moderate morning type" (35%), "moderate evening type" (28%) or "definite evening type" (9%).

However, it's not all doom and gloom for those of you that prefer the cover of the Moon.

"The mismatch between their internal biological clock and their behavior and environment is problematic, especially in the long run", Knutson said. 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. He also argued that the study is heavily based on findings from white Britons.

"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", said Knutson.

But regardless of the reason for the link, people may have some control over whether they are morning or evening people, the researchers said. Getting your boss to let you clock in to work later in the day could help, too.

"You also need to really avoid light at night, including your smartphone and your tablets", she added.

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