Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
If you are an evening type, like me, prefer to say up late and have trouble dragging yourself from bed in the morning, beware. Us night owls have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, and a higher risk of dying prematurely as a result.
Night owls and high blood pressure
A study involving almost 11,000 people living in Finland showed that evening types, or night owls, were almost a third more likely (30%) to have arterial hypertension and a faster resting heart rate than morning types, as well as two-and-a-half times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
High blood pressure was particularly likely in those with compromised sleep and who achieved insufficient amounts of sleep.
Now it seems that evening types are more likely to die at an earlier age than morning larks, who have a natural preference for going to bed early and rising with the sun. The switch to summer daylight savings time is also harder for us and, overall, we are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases (heart attack and stroke) than morning types.
Evening types die younger than morning types
Researchers from the University of Surrey and Northwestern Medicine in Chicago asked 433,268 people in the UK (aged 38 to 73 years) if they were a ‘definite morning type’, a ‘moderate morning type’, a ‘moderate evening type’ or a ‘definite evening type’. These volunteers were then tracked for up to six-and-a-half years.
The results showed that definite night owls were 10 percent more likely to die from any cause during the study period than definite morning types – even after adjusting for the health problems expected in owls.
Compared with morning types, night owls were:
- 94% more likely to experience psychological disorders
- 30% more likely to have type 2 diabetes
- 23% more likely to have gastrointestinal problems
- 22% more likely to have respiratory disorders
- 25% more likely to have neurological disorders
- 14% more likely to experience muscle and joint problems
- 10% more likely to have kidney problems
- 7% more likely to have cardiovascular disease.
The most likely reason for this greater health burden is that night owls find it physically and emotionally stressful to try to adapt their natural biorhythms and body clocks to live in a morning lark world.
According to Malcolm von Schantz, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey, ‘This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored. We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time. It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment.’
For example, it is physically and psychological stressful to eat at the wrong time for your body clock, and you are more likely to make poor food choices, exercise less, get insufficient sleep, and more likely to rely on drugs or alcohol to see you through when you are up late in the dark hours by yourself.
What can you do if you’re a night owl?
The genes you inherit account for at least half of your tendency towards being an owl or a lark, and there’s not much you can do about those. The other half comes from environmental factors and learned responses which you may be able to improve.
According to Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, one way to shift your behaviour is to make sure you are exposed to light early in the morning but not at night.
Aim to keep a regular bed-time routine, and don’t drift towards later and later bed times. Do things earlier in the day, and be less of an evening person as much as you can.
You or your doctor can calculate your risk of cardiovascular disease (as described here), and if it is higher than normal for your age, do your utmost to improve it.
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