STUDY - The Health Dangers of Being a Night Owl

"The early bird gets the worm," the wise saying goes. And recent research published in the journal Experimental Physiology says that we might want to take these wise words a little more literally. 

According to the study, being an early riser is associated with better metabolism whereas being a 'night owl' is linked to burning less fat and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For further details, read on.

Early Birds vs Night Owls

Night Owl tired man at the office

Some people would rather sleep in until noon and stay active all night. You know them, the poor souls at the office who gulp down cups of coffee just to keep their eyes open until well into the afternoon. You may even be a night owl yourself. Unfortunately, we’ve got a handful of bad news for all of you who prefer to stay up late.

According to a study straight from Rutgers University and the University of Virginia, being a night owl makes it more difficult for your body to burn fat. Compared to those early birds that get tons of chores done even before heading out to work in the morning, evening people have a much slower metabolism. 

And this difference in metabolic rates affects a lot more than just your waistline. According to the study authors, the decreased ability of night owls to break down fatty acids also increases their risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The Details of the Study

Night Owl woman waking up

The rather small study examined the data of 51 participants, all of whom had metabolic syndrome and had a sedentary lifestyle. The participants were then divided by their preferred sleep and wake schedule (or chronotype).

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of a few different conditions, which, when occurring together, increases one’s risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Around a quarter of the population and 60% of adults past 50 have metabolic syndrome. Read more about this condition here - This Disease Affects 60% Of the Population Older Than 50.

The researchers observed the participants for a week, during which they controlled their exercise and diet, and tested their insulin sensitivity and ability to break down carbohydrates and fat while resting or during workouts. The scientists then compared the test results of these markers of metabolic health between the two chronotypes.

Night Owl cheerful morning person

The results were clear-cut. On one end were the early birds, who were able to metabolize more fat at rest and during workouts and had a higher sensitivity to insulin. The night owls were on the other end of the spectrum: instead of burning fatty acids, they broke down carbohydrates for energy, and they had much higher insulin resistance.

Combined, these two factors increase a person’s risk of chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and heart disease in those who stay up late. This way, your circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles) can have a direct influence on your long-term health, the authors claim.

Can you do anything to change your sleep-wake cycle?

Currently, scientists are not sure why early birds are generally healthier than night owls, but there’s an increasing body of research that confirms this correlation.

Night Owl sleepy woman in bed

In a previous article titled Late to Bed, Early to the Grave: Why Night Owls Are Sickly, we shared research confirming that night owls have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, digestive ailments, and premature death. The research we discuss here builds on these findings by suggesting that a sluggish metabolism is to blame for part of these previous findings. 

We hope that further research will help clarify the cause of these metabolic changes. But for now, you can use these findings as inspiration to rewire your circadian rhythms. Yes, it is possible to sync your biological clock to your daily schedule, essentially becoming a morning person (or at the very least a late morning - early noon person). We have a whole article on how to accomplish this linked here - Learn to Synchronize Your Body Clock to Your Schedule.

H/T: Insider

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