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January 2024

Hard-Wired to Stay Up Late? What Night Owls Need to Know About Diabetes

Do you consider yourself a night owl? Do you naturally go to bed late and prefer sleeping in? If so, it may be time to pay extra attention to your health.

A recent study compared the health habits of women ages 45 to 62 with different circadian preferences—natural inclinations of the body for sleep and activity. The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from an ongoing study of the health of female nurses. Participants with a strong evening circadian preference, or “night owls,” developed diabetes more than early risers by 72%. Why?

Importance of health habits

The study found a link between being a night owl and making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Those hard-wired to stay up late are far more likely to smoke. They also report getting too much or too little sleep. And these habits can snowball into other unhealthy behaviors, as well. For example, getting too little sleep has been shown to make it harder to eat a healthy diet and exercise.

All these lifestyle factors dramatically raise the risk for diabetes. But there’s more to the story. Even when accounting for these habits, researchers found that those with an evening circadian preference still had a slightly higher risk for the disease.

Diabetes and sleep preference connection

Some experts believe that having a natural circadian rhythm that is out of sync with your lifestyle and activities can affect a number of processes in the body, from hormone secretion to metabolism regulation. This may play a role in increasing the risk for diabetes.

But, the study found that night owls whose schedules aligned with their natural circadian preference had roughly the same diabetes risk as early birds.

Working with your circadian rhythm

Circadian preferences are partly determined by our genes. You can embrace your natural circadian rhythm and simultaneously take steps to boost your health. Start by:

  • Practicing good habits. Everyone can benefit from living a healthy lifestyle. But knowing you may be at higher risk for diabetes is extra incentive. Find ways to work with your unique body clock to make it easier. For example, instead of hitting the gym before work, go for a walk after dinner. Try eating regularly throughout the day to avoid heavy meals at night. And prioritize getting seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night. To help, avoid bedtime procrastination by turning off screens earlier and creating a relaxing pre-bed ritual instead.

  • Realigning your day. Whenever possible, adjust your lifestyle to better fit your circadian preference. Have a flexible work schedule? Start later in the morning and work into the evening when you are most productive. Not only can syncing your sleep and activity to your circadian rhythm help you feel better, it may reduce your risk for disease.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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