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If You're a Night Owl, You May Be at Higher Risk of These 2 Health Conditions

October 25, 2022

The early bird gets the worm, but night owls may be at risk of getting something much more ominous - two chronic health conditions. New research out of Rutgers University suggests that night owls, those who wake slower and stay up later, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease than their early bird counterparts. > Connect with the Lifestyle Medicine Program

Metabolism differences

According to the study, sleep/wake cycles are connected to the body’s metabolism. Night owl sleep patterns result in less ability to transform fat into energy, increasing their risk of heart disease and diabetes. “The sleep/wake cycle is primarily what helps our body and mind function more effectively,” said Bradley Biskup, PA, with the Lifestyle Medicine Program at Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute.

Sleep plays into the equation

Lack of light exposure at night causes the mind to quiet and increases melatonin levels, encouraging sleep. Between 4 and 6 a.m., the body gets a surge of the stress hormone cortisol. Those going to bed after midnight experience decreased quality of sleep because of this hormone release, causing an increase in underlying stress on the body, Biskup said. “The body needs at least four hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep for physiologic recovery, and six hours for neurologic recovery,” he said. “When the body doesn’t have time to recover with sleep, stress levels will be higher. This results in an increase sugar metabolism and decrease in fat metabolism.” The following increases are the result of such disruption:
  • Stress on the body
  • Overall inflammation
  • Insulin resistance
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart disease risk and type 2 diabetes risk
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Changing chronotype

The good news, Biskup said, is your chronotype isn’t genetically wired, and you can adjust sleep patterns to change it. “Type 2 diabetes is more than 90% preventable by what we do, including quality nutrition, exercise and activity, stress management and quality sleep,” he said. To adjust your chronotype, he suggested taking things slowly. Try: “Gradually moving your bedtime will help,” Biskup said. “Our bodies do better when we are able to take advantage of what they were meant to do – sleep when the sun is down and move when the sun is up.” If night work is unavoidable, he suggested focusing on quality sleep no matter the time for the most positive impact on overall health.