For various reasons, many people label themselves “night owls,” meaning they tend to say up later than most people. While there can be significant differences in individuals’ sleep schedules, the human circadian rhythm tends to be somewhat consistent person-to-person. The human body evolved to sleep at night and be awake during the day, and disruptions to that cycle can have profound and even deadly consequences. Still, many people regularly stay up far later than they should and blame it on their bodies when in reality their schedule is due to lifestyle choices. Now, a groundbreaking new study has found that night owls have a much higher risk of dying than self-identified “morning people.” Still think it’s a good idea to binge Netflix in bed?
To reach this conclusion, Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Surrey cross-referenced the sleep habits and mortality rates of over 433,000 people for six and a half years. Their study reports that “night owls” have a 10% greater risk of dying than morning people, and that risks of psychological issues or common diseases like diabetes are much higher among those individuals who stay up later.
Kristen Knutson, a neurologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the study’s lead authors, says that “night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies.” According to Knutson, the late-night sleeplessness might not be the issue, but rather a host of lifestyle choices commonly associated with night owls:
It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment. It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for their body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use. There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviors related to being up late in the dark by yourself.
To help get on a healthier sleep schedule, the authors recommend keeping a regular bedtime and avoid exposure to light after sundown. One more reason to kill your TV. The books are always better, I promise.