Night owls have 10% higher mortality risk, study says

If the early bird catches the worm, what is the night owl more likely to catch? According to a new study, it's diabet...

Posted: Apr 12, 2018 12:13 PM
Updated: Apr 12, 2018 12:13 PM

If the early bird catches the worm, what is the night owl more likely to catch? According to a new study, it's diabetes, psychological problems and an increased risk of dying.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Chronobiology International, tracked almost half a million adults in the United Kingdom over an average of 6- years. The researchers found that those people who identified as "definite evening types" at the beginning of the study had a 10% increased risk of all-cause mortality compared with "definite morning types."

Night owls are more likely to have diabetes, psychological disorders, study says

Avoiding smartphone use and tablets at night is an important part of good sleep hygiene

Night owls were also more likely to have diabetes, neurological disorders, psychological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory disorders, according to Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine and a leading author of the study.

"What we think might be happening is, there's a problem for the night owl who's trying to live in the morning lark world," Knutson said. "This mismatch between their internal clock and their external world could lead to problems for their health over the long run, especially if their schedule is irregular.

"Previous work has shown that people who are evening types -- are night owls -- tend to have worse health profiles, including things like diabetes and heart disease," Knutson added. "But this is really the first study to look at mortality."

The researchers relied on data from the UK Biobank -- a large prospective cohort study conducted between 2006 and 2010 that investigated risk factors for major diseases in men and women 37 to 73 years of age. In order to evaluate natural circadian rhythm, otherwise known as their chronotype, participants were asked to identify as "definitely a morning person," "more a morning person than evening person," "more an evening than a morning person" or "definitely an evening person."

Of the 433,268 participants, approximately 10,000 died during the study's 6--year followup period. After controlling for factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, body mass index, smoking status and sleep duration, the researchers found that those who identified as "definite evening types" had a 10% increased risk of dying during the followup period compared with those who identified as "definite morning types."

The risk of death was not increased for those who identified as "more a morning person" or "more an evening person" compared with the morning larks, according to the report.

"This is just one piece of the puzzle," said Jamie Zeitzer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences (sleep medicine) at the Stanford School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.

"The findings for the mortality actually weren't as robust as I would have hoped. ... I think they would have had stronger results if, instead of just looking at chronotype, they had looked at chronotype alignment: So, are people going to bed at their correct time?" Zeitzer added.

In addition to overall mortality, being a night owl was associated with a number of health problems such as psychological, neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders.

The association was strongest for psychological disorders: Those who identified as "definite evening types" were nearly twice as likely to report having a psychological illness than those who were "definite morning types," the study found.

"It's interesting," Zeitzer said. "And it would definitely take some follow-up to see what that means. Is that depression? Is that anxiety? Are there specific psychological phenomena that are more or less related to chronotype, especially the disparity between your chronotype preferred timing and the actual timing of sleep?"

Although the study did not look at the specific causes of death, research has suggested that night owls are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer such as prostate and breast cancer.

A 2014 study also showed that those who stay up late had less white matter in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. White matter consists of nerve projections that relay and coordinate communication between different areas of the nervous system.

According to Knutson, a person's chronotype is probably a mixture of inherited and environmental factors.

"Whether or not you're a night owl is partly determined by your genes, which obviously you can't change, but it's not entirely a given," Knutson said.

Some strategies known to help people trying to switch to an earlier schedule include gradually advancing your bedtime and avoiding the use of technology at night, according to Knutson.

"I want to emphasize the gradual aspect. You can't suddenly tonight just go to bed three hours earlier. It's not going work," Knutson said."

"You also need to really avoid light at night, including your smartphone and your tablets," she added. "That not only makes it hard to fall asleep; it's also a signal to your clock to start being later again."

For those who still struggle with mornings, finding a job that has flexible hours or hours more consistent with your biological clock could be a solution.

"You can find a job that starts later, but that's not a particularly useful piece of advice for a lot of people," Zeitzer said.

Knutson added, "employers should recognize that some of their employees are going to be morning types and some are going to be evening types.

"And if their work hours were flexible to reflect their biological clock preference and allow the night owls to have a later work schedule, that would be preferable for them and potentially better for their health and their productivity if they're working at the time that's best for them."

Although the researchers controlled for ethnicity, nearly 94% of the participants identified as Caucasian, meaning the results may not be generalizable to other demographics, according to Zeitzer.

"It's limited because of that," he said. "It's strong in that it's a big sample of nearly half a million people, but it is mainly Caucasians of Irish or English descent."

"It's not intrinsically chronotype that's bad; it's chronotype plus our society ... and not all societies are the same," Zeitzer added. "If you looked in Spain, where people are much later in terms of when they go to work, my guess is that the health consequences are probably less than in the UK."

Chronotype was also measured based on self-reports rather than objective measures, one of the study's main limitations, according to Knutson.

But the study should still be a wake-up call for night owls, who may want to take extra efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, she said.

"An important message here is for night owls to realize that they have these potential health problems and therefore need to be more vigilant about maintaining a healthy lifestyle," Knutson added.

"Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep -- all of these things are important, and maybe particularly so for night owls."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 133802

Reported Deaths: 2402
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin34033991
Ramsey14073360
Dakota9823138
Anoka8661150
Washington593272
Stearns582543
Scott338234
Olmsted325230
St. Louis296569
Wright248314
Clay229743
Nobles226816
Blue Earth20437
Carver17897
Sherburne168522
Kandiyohi16705
Rice163310
Mower151717
Winona125019
Crow Wing101022
Chisago10022
Lyon9656
Benton9409
Waseca9289
Beltrami8917
Otter Tail8627
Todd8055
Steele7593
Nicollet73017
Itasca72717
Morrison7269
Douglas6963
Freeborn6694
Polk6434
Le Sueur6235
Martin61317
McLeod5974
Goodhue58511
Watonwan5784
Becker5614
Pine5430
Isanti5415
Chippewa4353
Carlton4341
Mille Lacs40615
Dodge3940
Hubbard3902
Wabasha3780
Cass3705
Pipestone35017
Rock3284
Meeker3263
Brown3213
Unassigned29053
Yellow Medicine2836
Cottonwood2800
Murray2783
Redwood27511
Roseau2640
Fillmore2600
Renville25211
Sibley2523
Faribault2310
Wadena2313
Jackson2101
Kanabec20910
Houston2041
Swift2011
Pennington1911
Lincoln1820
Stevens1821
Aitkin1792
Koochiching1694
Pope1560
Big Stone1380
Wilkin1344
Lac qui Parle1333
Marshall1211
Lake1190
Norman1150
Mahnomen1132
Clearwater1110
Grant984
Red Lake782
Traverse560
Lake of the Woods441
Kittson400
Cook160

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115574

Reported Deaths: 1621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18874288
Woodbury718394
Johnson584430
Black Hawk557498
Linn5513129
Dubuque518657
Scott454138
Story398918
Dallas344344
Pottawattamie323544
Sioux242516
Buena Vista225512
Marshall201436
Webster183015
Plymouth165727
Wapello152562
Clinton148326
Muscatine144258
Des Moines138610
Cerro Gordo136225
Crawford135514
Warren12477
Carroll114512
Jasper109634
Henry10545
Marion100710
Lee95410
Tama94437
Delaware77812
Dickinson7347
Wright7191
Boone7179
Mahaska68724
Bremer6719
Harrison65311
Washington65311
Jackson6283
Benton5812
Lyon5497
Clay5284
Louisa52115
Winnebago48719
Hardin4757
Winneshiek4749
Hamilton4684
Kossuth4660
Cedar4605
Poweshiek45611
Buchanan4514
Jones4444
Floyd43311
Emmet42917
Clayton4193
Iowa4059
Cherokee4022
Page3990
Mills3971
Sac3974
Guthrie39115
Cass3883
Franklin38018
Butler3782
Fayette3744
Shelby3721
Allamakee3638
Madison3603
Chickasaw3561
Clarke3493
Humboldt3233
Hancock3164
Palo Alto3102
Calhoun3074
Grundy3075
Osceola2791
Mitchell2750
Howard2699
Monroe25911
Monona2441
Jefferson2381
Taylor2362
Union2324
Appanoose2253
Pocahontas2232
Fremont2021
Lucas2016
Ida1922
Greene1860
Davis1764
Van Buren1742
Montgomery1737
Adair1611
Keokuk1601
Decatur1500
Worth1440
Audubon1421
Wayne1203
Ringgold882
Adams810
Unassigned260
Rochester
Clear
20° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 20°
Mason City
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 15°
Albert Lea
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 28° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 19°
Austin
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 21°
Charles City
Overcast
23° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 23°
Temps gradually warming through the week!
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events