This Study Found a Startling Side Effect of Being a Night Owl

Going to bed and waking up at first light sounds horrible to some. If you’re a night owl, the idea of dragging yourself out of bed early in the morning, or even the thought of setting an alarm clock, can be horrifying. But is it as scary as a premature death? Because according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey, there’s a legitimate link between the two.

The study, which observed more than 400,000 people over six and a half years, found that those who reported themselves as night owls were 10% more likely to die sooner than people who woke up early. The study also revealed those same night owls were more likely to have diabetes as well as psychological and neurological disorders, including depression and anxiety.

“This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored,” says study co-author Malcolm von Schantz, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey. “We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical.”

Researchers blame our modern structure of the workday for these findings, considering that the body’s natural circadian rhythm is made to have peak energy when the sun is up and of course, produce melatonin and prepare for sleep when the sun goes down. Study author Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says a person’s circadian rhythm personality, or sleep chronotype, is nearly 50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmentally-determined. Of course, those environmental factors can be simple things like the structure of a modern work day and all the distractions that can easily keep us up at night, like televisions and smartphones. For some, these structures and distractions are tough to break from, so researchers offered suggestions that could help those self-admitted night owls break their nocturnal habits.

First, they suggest exposing yourself to light as soon as you wake will help kickstart your day. The opposite can be said for the evenings, which is, of course, the start of the problem for many night owls. Limiting yourself to the amount of light you’re exposed to from television screens, laptops, and smartphones can help you get to sleep at a more reasonable hour. The emission of blue light, which is most common on computer and smartphone screens, has been proven to suppress the body’s production of melatonin and interfere with sleep.=

Other steps and techniques for getting to bed earlier could include…

…sticking to a regular bedtime, which will help your body create a habitual cycle and signal when it’s time to start winding down.

…giving yourself a coffee and caffeine cutoff. Since the caffeine from a single cup of coffee can remain in your system for several hours, setting a hard cut off time for your last cup of the day can be very helpful.

…having a hard out time for working from home. Laptops and email to our mobile phones make it harder and harder to end the workday at 5 o’clock. Often, work can be the greatest culprit in keeping us awake and staring at our computers all night. So be disciplined and let those evening emails wait until the morning.

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