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