Is It True That Night Owls Are More Likely To Suffer From Depression Or Die Sooner?

Is It True That Night Owls Are More Likely To Suffer From Depression Or Die Sooner?

According to new research, night owls are more likely to suffer from depression and schizophrenia.

A night owl is someone who stays up late at night or until the early hours of the morning. They live edgier, cooler lives than the rest of us, going out and doing exciting things late at night and never bothering to get up early.

Being a night owl may appear to be a cool thing to be, but several studies have shown that this is not the case at all. Night owls are more likely to suffer from mood disorders, depression, and mental illness.

They jeopardize their mental and physical health. Night owls are at risk of high blood pressure, stroke, depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. And once you've gotten into a sleep pattern, it can be difficult to break out of it.

According to the University of Exeter researchers, people who go to bed and wake up early have higher mental well-being levels.

A sweeping new genetic study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that waking up one hour earlier could reduce a person's risk of major depression by 23%.

Previous observational studies have found that night owls are twice as likely as early risers to suffer from depression. Based on their most recent (2021) findings, Daghlas et al. speculate that going to bed one hour earlier and getting up an hour earlier (e.g., sleeping from midnight to 8 a.m. instead of 1 a.m. to 9 a.m.) could reduce a person's risk of major depression by 23%.

The study of 840,000 people, conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, provides some of the strongest evidence yet that chronotype—a person's proclivity to sleep at a specific time—influences depression risk.

The findings could have significant implications as people return to work and school remotely following the pandemic, a trend that has caused many to shift to a later sleep schedule.

"We have known for some time that there is a relationship between sleep timing and mood, but a question we often hear from clinicians is: How much earlier do we need to shift people to see a benefit?" said senior author Celine Vetter, assistant professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder. "We found that even one-hour earlier sleep timing is associated with significantly lower risk of depression."

In 2018, Kristen Knutson of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, co-led a study investigating the effects of night owls on health and mortality.

The study, which included nearly half a million participants from ages 30 to 73 and followed what happened to them over 6.5 years in the UK Biobank Study that looked at the relationship between bedtime habits and health in 433,268 people, discovered that night owl is more likely to develop diabetes, neurological and psychological disorders and are 10% more likely to die prematurely than morning people.

Previous research in this field has focused on higher rates of metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, but this is the first to look at mortality risk.

Kristen's study was published in the journal Chronobiology International.

So, what are the causes of this increased risk of disease and death?

According to Knutson, being a night owl may disrupt our biological clock. This is the mechanism in charge of regulating physical, mental, and behavioral processes over a 24-hour period.

Our biological clock is primarily affected by light in our environment; light signals to our bodies that it is time to wake up, while darkness signals to our bodies that it is time to sleep.

However, when the clock is thrown off-kilter — for example, by being exposed to light when we should be sleeping, as is typical of night owls — this can harm our health.

The authors previously reported that genetics and environment play roughly equal roles in determining whether we are a morning or night person or somewhere in between.

"You're not doomed," Knutson said. "Part of it you don't have any control over and part of it you might."

Knutson suggests that one way to change your behavior is to expose yourself to light early in the morning but not late at night. Try to gradually advance your bedtime, which means going to bed a little earlier each night to get out of that night owl zone. It is critical to proceed gradually. Otherwise, it's not going to work if you try to go to bed two to three hours earlier tonight. You won't be able to sleep, and you might give up.

Once you've gradually advanced your bedtime, try to stick to a regular bedtime schedule and avoid sleeping in later. Otherwise, you’ll have to start all over again. Adopt healthy lifestyle habits regularly, and understand that the timing of your sleep is important. 

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