How being a “night owl” or “morning lark” can affect your life expectancy

A new study has found that people who stay up late have a 10% higher chance of dying sooner

Ruben Montenegro

If you’re a night person, you have a 10% higher chance of dying younger than if you wake up at the crack of dawn every morning. That, at least, was the conclusion of a recent study published by the Northwestern Medicine University and Surrey University in the United Kingdom.

We all have an internal clock that makes us feel better when we are either working in the morning (in the case of “early birds” or “morning larks”) or at night (in the case of “night owls”). For this study,  researchers looked at the medical data of almost half-a-million people between the ages of 38 and 73, and asked them if they felt more like night owls or early birds.

Professions with the most flexible schedules are dominated by night owls

After following the study for six-and-a-half years, the researchers came to a worrying conclusion for night owls: Night people are more vulnerable to metabolic or cardiovascular problems, which gives them a 10% higher risk of dying earlier. What’s more, they tend to have higher rates of diabetes as well as psychological and neurological disorders.

According to the researchers, this is mainly due to social pressure. We live in a world designed for “morning larks,” in which the poor night owl suffers from jet-lag almost every day. The stress of having to perform from the moment you wake up, even though your body doesn’t respond, can lead to serious health problem in the long-run, as the results of this study showed.

Schools and companies start work at 9am, and night owls struggle to make it on time. And, since an internal clock is genetic, night owls have been going to class half asleep since they were kids in primary school. It should come as no surprise, then, that professions with the most flexible schedules are dominated by night owls, such as writers, journalists, musicians, developers… Perhaps avoiding tough mornings is an incentive to look for other career paths. If this is the case, what can we do?

First of all, you need to know what you are. Like we said before, our internal clock is genetic. There are people who sit between being night owls and morning larks (“hummingbirds,” as they are sometimes called) and can adapt better. But if you are at one of the extremes, it is important to identify this as soon as possible so that you can organize your schedule and plan important meetings when you are feeling your best.

Night people are more vulnerable to metabolic or cardiovascular problems, as well as psychological and neurological disorders

Second, even though it is in your genes, all is not lost, as the authors of the study point out. Our body can also adapt, particularly with the use of light. It is a good idea for night owls, who tend to have a tougher time, to turn on a light early in the morning so that they can give their bodies enough time to adjust (and accept that one alarm will not be enough to get you up… you’re going to have to use many no matter how much the person next to you protests). It is also useful to go to bed at the same time each night, even though your body may not be tired.

And third, consider your social pressures. While society recognizes a wide range of differences, little attention is given to a person’s time preferences. It would be good if there were time brackets to enter work, so that each person could choose the hours that best suited them. It is also just as important to recognize these tendencies in other people. We are all different and need a different level of rest. The more you recognize this and talk about it, the better you will be able to make decisions (and avoid the discomfort of lying wide awake while your partner is sound asleep).

English version by Laura Rodríguez.

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