Who Lives Longer -- Night Owls or Early Birds?

Heart disease

New research by the University of Surrey and Northwestern University in the USA found that people who naturally stay up late were 10pc more likely to die within the six-and-a-half-year study period compared to those who preferred the morning.

"The next thing is what sort of intervention can we develop and test to see can we improve the health and well-being of people who are night owls", Knutson said.

To reach their findings, researchers examined data from 433,268 people who took part in an earlier British study that examined the risk factors for different diseases in people aged 37 to 73. They then tracked deaths among these participants up to six and half years later.

The study found that night owls have higher rates of diabetes, mental problems and neurobiological conditions.

"We think the problem is really when the night owl tries to live in a morning-lark world", Knutson said. "There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviours related to being up late in the dark".

"This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored", Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surrey explains in a press release.

'We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical.

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The researchers also called for more studies on whether night owls can adjust their circadian rhythms so that they become morning people, and whether such an adjustment would lower those individuals' risk of health problems.

It should be noted that this study was done on a 94-percent-Caucasian population, so there is still much more research to be done to fully understand the differences between preferred sleep times.

As for why night owls seem to naturally stay up later, it's hard to pin down any one reason. Or perhaps there is some way to help night owls develop morning-lark habits that could produce some health benefits. "Part of it you don't have any control over and part of it you might".

"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", Knutson said.

"You're not doomed", added Dr Knutson. "They shouldnt be forced to get up for an 8 a.m. shift".

Most people can change their chronotype to at least some extent, especially if they are careful about light exposure, otherwise we'd never be able to adjust to a new time zone. For example, some studies have shown that evening people are less likely to eat a healthy diet and more likely to use substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs, compared with morning people. However, they are quick to point out that night owls who make an effort to go to sleep earlier could curb their heightened risk of mortality.

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