Night Owls May Have a 10 Percent Higher Risk of Early Death, Study Concludes

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iStock

Sorry, night owls: On top of sadistically early work and school hours, it looks like you may have to live with a risk of dying sooner than so-called morning larks. That's according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the UK, which found people who stay up late and sleep in late have a 10 percent higher risk of dying sooner compared to early risers.

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly half a million UK residents ages 38 to 73 on their sleeping habits. Six-and-a-half years later, the participants who had identified themselves as "definite evening types" where 10 percent more likely to have died than the "definite morning types," even after adjusting for factors like age, existing health conditions, and time devoted to sleep each night.

Studies published in the past have linked staying up late to poor health. Night owls have been found to be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other complications, but this new study is the first of its kind to link a late-night lifestyle to an overall higher risk of earlier death.

Night owls and morning larks do have genetic differences that might explain their behaviors, but it's not necessarily a night owl's biology that makes them less healthy. "Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies," Kristen Knutson, study co-author and an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press statement.

It is possible to trick yourself into becoming a morning person, but there are changes society could make that would be just as beneficial to people who prefer spending their mornings in bed. One would be giving employees the option to choose their schedule rather than forcing people with varying sleep habits into one box. "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. "They shouldn't be forced to get up for an 8 a.m. shift. Make work shifts match people's chronotypes." The same goes for schools, especially since we tend to lean more toward a night owl schedule as adolescents and grow out of it as adults.

Another way society could help is by abolishing Daylight Saving Time. Studies have shown that heart attacks spike after we change our clocks. Despite evidence of the health risks, we've been slow to implement changes that allow people to listen to their bodies and follow their natural sleep schedules: So next time you have trouble pulling yourself out of bed, don't feel too guilty about hitting the snooze button.

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

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iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
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It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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