If you go to sleep late and wake up for the day late, this could put you at risk for an earlier death, when compared to going to bed earlier and getting up earlier.
This new study comes from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom (UK) and involved half a million participants.
Bad News for Night Owls
• Going to bed late and getting up late meant a 10 percent higher risk of death than with “larks” – those who went to sleep early and rose with the sun.
• “Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies,” points out co-lead author Kristen Knutson in the report. She is associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
This begs the question:
Could the higher risk of dying sooner be related to medical problems that usually come with staying up very late and sleeping in late?
The researchers, however, adjusted for the health ailments that tend to go along with being a night owl.
Proposed Reasons for the Earlier Death Association
• The internal biological clock in night owls doesn’t synch with their external environment.
• Mental stress
• Late night eating
• Lack of exercise
• Inadequate sleep
• Being awake at night in solitude while everyone else is asleep
• Drugs or alcohol
• “There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviors related to being up late in the dark by yourself,” says Knutson in the paper.
Learning to Go to Sleep and Wake up Sooner
The link to earlier mortality isn’t all that surprising even if you exclude the unhealthy behaviors associated with staying up past midnight.
After all, our ancient ancestors, who led a perfectly natural life, had no choice but to go to bed soon after the sun set (no artificial source of light) and get up upon dawn (who wouldn’t, after going to bed as early as sunset?).
The human body evolved to take to sleep as the sun went down and get up for the day at the crack of dawn.
Many industrialized peoples get up at the crack of noon after hitting the sack in the wee hours of the morning.
Of course, having to report to a job early in the morning will eliminate the problem of sleeping in and encourage going to bed earlier.
But it’s a new ballgame for those who work second shifts, don’t work outside the home or are retired.
The study authors say that a mix of genetics and environment play nearly equal roles in determining if we are a night owl or lark.
However, there are many people who can’t help but be night owls when they don’t have to get up early, yet adjust super fine to a lark’s schedule when they DO have to get up early every morning.
“Part of it you don’t have any control over and part of it you might,” says Knutson.
Make sure you’re exposed to light early in the morning, advises Knutson, but not at night.
For many people this is a lot easier said than done, especially if they use blackout curtains to keep the room pitch black during sleep.
Try to adhere to a regular bedtime schedule and do not get tempted to stay up late.
Get as much of your homebound work done early in the day and evening rather than letting it wait till late.
Stop eating three or four hours prior to bedtime.
The full report is in the April 12, 2018 Chronobiology International.