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

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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.

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

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It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2012.

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

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iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

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