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Night owls at increased risk of dying younger, researchers say

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Photo: LiudmylaSupynska/iStockphoto

Evanston, IL — People who prefer to stay up late have a greater chance of dying at a younger age than those who are natural “early to bed and early to rise” types, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Surrey.

The researchers examined survey results of more than 433,000 people between the ages of 38 and 73 who participated in the UK Biobank cohort study. Participants were asked if they were a “definite morning type,” “moderate morning type,” “moderate evening type” or “definite evening type.” They also provided information on their health.

Researchers followed up with the participants six-and-a-half years later. They found that going to bed late was “significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality.” Night owls also had a greater chance of developing psychological disorders, diabetes, neurological issues, gastrointestinal or abdominal problems, and respiratory disorders.

Co-author Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern, said in an April 13 press release that people can help themselves by sticking to a regular bedtime and completing tasks earlier. Another suggestion is to get exposure to light early in the morning but not at night.

Knutson also said that allowing workers who consider themselves night owls to change their shifts, when possible, could help.

“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 peoples’ chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts.”

Researcher Malcolm von Schantz, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey, also suggests a reconsideration of daylight saving time, given the reports of increased incidence of heart attacks when clocks spring forward.

“We have to remember that even a small additional risk is multiplied by more than 1.3 billion people who experience this shift every year,” von Schantz said. “I think we need to seriously consider whether the suggested benefits outweigh these risks.”

Knutson said more research is needed to test an intervention with night owls to get them to shift their body clocks to adapt to an earlier schedule. “Then we’ll see if we get improvements in blood pressure and overall health,” she said.

The study was published online April 11 in Chronobiology International.

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