Why being a night owl is bad for your health

Night owls – who prefer to stay up late and struggle to get up in the morning – may be at higher risk of early death, a new study has found.

It turns out our body clocks, the unique inner wiring that sets our preferred time for sleeping, can have a big effect on our health.

A six-year study of nearly 500,000 people in the UK has found that those who went to bed late were 10 per cent more likely to die during that time period.

It also found night owls had higher rates of diabetes, mental health disorders and neurological conditions.

Co-lead author Dr Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University in Chicago, says there are many unhealthy behaviours related to being up late by yourself.

“It could be that it is psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for your body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, or maybe drug or alcohol use,” Dr Knutson says.

Having a body clock that’s out of sync with the rest of society is like living with a feeling that is akin to jetlag.

How being a night owl affects the body clock

The biological clock that controls our body’s rhythm is known as a chronotype, and this might be the reason we are grumpier in the morning or focus better later in the day.

“The ongoing stress for night owls with a late chronotype having to live in a morning lark’s world is huge and is impacting millions of people,” Dr Knutson says.

“Having a body clock that’s out of sync with the rest of society is like living with a feeling that is akin to jetlag.”

But there is hope for night owls

Experts say if we can recognise that these chronotypes are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls.

“You’re not doomed,” Dr Knutson says. “Part of it you don’t have any control over and part of it you might.

“Late chronotypes shouldn’t be forced to get up for an 8am shift, for example. We need to make work shifts match peoples’ chronotypes – some people are just better suited to night shifts.”

Night owls can also help themselves by trying to become exposed to light early in the morning and not at night.

Other tactics include keeping regular bedtimes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and doing tasks earlier in the day to help reset circadian rhythms.

Watch Caroline Pemberton as she discovers how night owls can protect their health on House of Wellness TV.

Written by Liz McGrath