Sorry night owls, we have bad news for you. Those of you who stay up late and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning have a 10 percent higher risk of dying than those who go to bed early and get up with the Sun.
Turns out, the early bird really does get the worm – that is, if worm is a metaphor for longevity.
The study, published in Chronobiology International, is the first to show a link between sleeping preference and mortality. Surveying nearly 500,000 people aged 38 to 73 for 6.5 years, researchers found 50,000 “night owls” were more likely to die than their “lark” counterparts even after adjusting for expected health problems, which included higher rates of diabetes, as well as psychological and neurological disorders.
A combination of genetics and environment can play a role in whether someone is a morning or night person, according to the researchers, and a person’s preference for staying up late could be due to a variety of reasons.
"It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn't match their external environment," said co-lead author Kristen Knutson in a statement. "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."
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for those of you that prefer the cover of the Moon. Knutson says there are some tricks to shifting your preference, including exposing yourself to light early in the morning and not at night, keeping a regular bedtime, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and doing things earlier in the day.
But should you really give up night owl superpowers to make the shift to dayside? Some research suggests night owls are more intelligent, more creative, and can even stay mentally alert for more hours after waking up.
Regardless, the researchers say this is a “public health issue that can no longer be ignored".
"If we can recognize these chronotypes are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls," said Knutson. "They shouldn't be forced to get up for an 8am shift. Make work shifts match peoples' chronotypes. Some people may be better suited to night shifts."
All in favor of a later start time at the office raise your hand.
In the future, the researchers say they hope to test an “intervention with owls” to see if this group can successfully shift their body clocks to an earlier schedule.
"Then we'll see if we get improvements in blood pressure and overall health," she said.