Night Owls At Greater Risk Of Early Death

In In The Press, Individual by Stephen Ellis

People who stay up late at night are more likely to die compared to their peers who rise earlier, new research has found. So-called ‘night owls’ are at greater risk of developing several health problems, including diabetes, psychological disorders, respiratory illness and increased risk of early death, than morning larks who rise earlier.

The report, published in the journal Chronobiology International, analysed a study of 433,268 adults in the United Kingdom over a six-and-a-half year period.

For the study, the participants were asked to put themselves into one of four categories: “definitely a morning person”; “more a morning person than evening person”; “more an evening than a morning person”; or “definitely an evening person.”

Over the course of the study, some 10,000 people died, and it was discovered that people who self-identified as “definite evening types” had a 10% higher risk of dying over the study period than people who said they were “definite morning types”.

It’s not the first study to uncover a potential link between late nights and poorer health. Previous research has shown that being a night owl is linked to a greater risk of depression, drug use and negative lifestyle behaviours, like having an unhealthy, fatty diet.

Social Jet Lag

One of the reasons given to explain why night owls are seemingly less healthy is something called ‘social jet lag’. This is where someone struggles to fall asleep during the week and is abruptly awoken by their alarm clock each morning. Come the weekend, these individuals are exhausted and make up for it by laying in much longer on Saturdays and Sundays.

While this may seem perfectly normal to many people, it highlights that these people are not getting enough sleep and have social jet lag.

The researchers say the bigger the jetlag, the greater the risk of health issues.

Talking about the findings of the research, Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study, said: “What we think might be happening is, there’s a problem for the night owl who’s trying to live in the morning lark world. This mismatch between their internal clock and their external world could lead to problems for their health over the long run, especially if their schedule is irregular”.

The problem for night owls is that most jobs and schools require them to start early and operate in morning lark time. Morning larks would face similar health issues if they were forced to have to work late into the night.

What dictates whether someone is a night owl or a morning lark? The answer actually lies in a person’s genes, which determine about 50% of how our body clocks tick. The rest is shaped by our environment and age, with 20 being around the peak age of lateness, with our body clock getting progressively earlier as we age.

The best way for night owls to manipulate their body clocks is through changing their habits around when they are exposed to light.

By getting more sunlight in the morning and reducing artificial light in the evening – especially from gadgets – we can train our body clocks to feel sleepy earlier.

Our body clocks are influenced by the rise and fall of the sun, but many of us get little sunlight in the day and too much artificial light at night.

Stephen joined Premier Choice in 2006 as a Group Risk consultant and became Head of Group Risk in June 2013. In December 2017, Stephen also took over responsibility for the Protection division within Premier Choice and works to grow this in the same way he has the Group Risk division. Protection is a specialist area and fits well with his experience and expertise in the group risk market.