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'Night owls' at greater risk of dying sooner

12 April 2018

If you are one of those people who like to stay up late or who struggle to get up in the morning, more commonly-known as night owls, you might be in for some trouble.

A survey of more than 430,000 people in Britain found that night owls had a 10-percent higher risk of dying in the 6.5-year study period than "larks".

The participants had defined themselves as either "definitely a morning person" (27 percent), "more a morning person than evening person" (35 percent), "more an evening than a morning person" (28 percent), or "definitely an evening person" (nine percent). They followed their health for an average of six-and-a-half years, tracking cause of death with death certificates.

"The next thing is what sort of intervention can we develop and test to see can we improve the health and well-being of people who are night owls", Knutson said. These include cardiovascular disease, higher rates of obesity and smoking, psychiatric disorders, and an overall 10% increased risk for death, according to a study newly published in the journal Chronobiology International.

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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.

She said they should try to be disciplined about bed-times and get jobs done early in the day rather than leaving them until late, she said.

"It is a public health problem that cannot be ignored", said Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at Surrey University. "We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical", von Schantz added.

Even more, passing towards the daylight saving time coincides with a higher incidence of heart attacks and for the late risers is more hard to adapt to the change, say the researchers.

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The researchers said that genetics and environment contribute to a person being a morning or a night person, which means night owls can work their way to becoming morning larks. Zeitzer, who was not involved in this study, said that "the findings for the mortality actually weren't as robust as I would have hoped".

A 2014 study also showed that those who stay up late had less white matter in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. "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 United Kingdom".

Researchers said that one way of shifting behavior is through exposure to light early in the morning, not at night.

But regardless of the reason for the link, people may have some control over whether they are morning or evening people, the researchers said.

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'Night owls' at greater risk of dying sooner