Night owls could be at greater risk of an early death

Alice Sholl
Genetic and environmental reasons could influence whether you’re a night owl or early bird [Photo: Pexels]

Doze off at 10pm on the dot and wake up early with ease?

Or do you prefer to stay up late, and despair at the sound of an early alarm?

If you’re the latter, we have some unfortunate news: you could be at greater risk of a premature death than your early bird counterparts.

Scientists studied a population of almost half a million Brits and found that over a six-year period, night owls had a 10% greater risk of death than early risers.

The same was still true after adjusting for expected health problems in night owls such as heart disease and metabolic dysfunction.

Rather than sending oneself to bed then forcing an early morning, researchers suggested that society needs to change, calling on employers to offer more flexible hours to their workers.

Night owls could benefit from exposing themselves to light in the morning [Photo: Pexels]

Drawing on data from the UK Biobank – where medical and genetic information from 500,000 Brits aged 40 to 69 is stored – the study published in the journal Chronobiology International found higher rates of mental disorders, diabetes and neurological conditions in late nighters.

It was also associated with lack of exercise and sleep, stress, eating at the wrong time and drug and alcohol use.

Dr Kristen Knutson, one of the scientists on the Northwestern University team in Chicago, US, told Huffington Post: “Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies.

“They shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8am shift. Make work shifts match people’s chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts.”

British co-author Professor Malcolm von Schantz from the University of Surrey agreed: “This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored.

“We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical.

“And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time.”

Should employers offer more flexible hours? [Photo: Pexels]

The researchers explained that while early birds are better able to adjust their body clocks to natural light rhythms – aka the rising and setting of the sun – night owls could have a body clock that doesn’t match their external environment.

They also concluded that genetics and the environment could equally contribute to which you are.

If you can’t wait for your employer to go ahead and change your hours, Dr Knutson recommended that night owls expose themselves to light early in the morning but not at night.

They should also try to be disciplined about bed times, and get jobs done earlier in their day than leaving them date.

Dr Knutson added: “You’re not doomed. Part of it you don’t have any control over, and part of it you might.”

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