'Night owls' risk earlier deaths and should sleep in, study finds

Heart disease

Everything from work time to meal time occurs at a time that doesn't feel right for night owls, a state that researchers call "social jetlag".

The duo gathered information on almost half-a-million people aged 38-73 from a public database. Deaths in the sample were tracked up to six and half years later.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Chronobiology International, was also adjusted for expected health problems within the night owls. A six-and-a-half-year study on the sleep habits of nearly half a million people in the United Kingdom suggests that night owls are at a higher risk of early death than morning people.

"Understanding the link between chronotype and mortality could lead to the development of additional behavioural strategies to mitigate risk associated with being an evening type". A new study suggests night owls burning the midnight oil could be more at risk for developing certain health complications, including fatal ones. Their risk for respiratory disease was 23 percent higher and for gastrointestinal disease 22 percent higher.

"For nocturnal people, trying to live in a morning world, can have health consequences", said Kristen Knutson from the Northwestern University, in Chicago, and one of the study's co-authors.

The study also found that night owls have a higher risk for a variety of physical and mental ailments.

"If you can recognise these (types) are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls", she said.

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

Knutson said that one problem night owls face is living in the morning lark work.

Most researchers agree that a large part of what defines your chronotype is genetic - both whether you are more of a morning person or night person and how much you have the ability to shift that "preference".

"It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn't match their external environment", Knutson said. Do things earlier and be less of an evening person as much as you can.

"They shouldn't be forced to get up for an 8am shift". Teenagers tend to naturally have later chronotypes (body clocks shift throughout life and most teens are night owls), and a growing body of research has shown that shifting school start times later improves school performance. "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".

Professor von Schantz said pushing the clocks forward in countries that adopt daylight saving time - such as British Summer Time - has negative health effects.

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.

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