Your Bedtime Could Be Making Your Heart Disease Risk Soar, Study Says

New research shows that going to sleep earlier could help keep your heart healthy.

Are you the sort of person who stays up late, but maybe struggles to wake up after hitting the snooze button a few times? Or are you someone who delights in going to bed early and waking up at the crack of dawn? Depending on how you answer, you may be at a greater risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease, according to new research. A June study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, found that early birds are more active, and as a result, are more likely to keep their hearts healthy.

The researchers interviewed 5,156 participants on their chronotypes, meaning whether they're a morning, daytime, or evening person. "Morning, day, or evening chronotypes differ by the circadian timing of alertness and the preferred timing of sleep," the study authors note. The participants where then asked to wear wrist accelerometers for 14 days to monitor their sleep habits and activity levels.

What the researchers found was that those with morning chronotypes were more active than the other two chronotypes. Male subjects in the study with morning chronotypes averaged about 30 minutes more of walking each day and women averaged about 20 minutes more. On a given day, that's not a huge difference. But over years or even decades, that extra activity adds up and can lead to greater overall health and a decreased risk of heart disease.

As for the night owls? "Evening types were more likely to develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions than people with other chronotypes," according to The New York Times' assessment of the study's results.

Woman on her computer at night

There is plenty of other research that shows how staying up late can lead to health issues. A 2015 study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders links evening chronotypes to mood disorders and depression. Another 2019 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine looked at the association between chronotype and type 2 diabetes in a sample of more than 300,000 people in the U.K. Those researchers found that self-described evening people were 25 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who said they were morning people.

Phyllis Zee, MD, director of the Sleep and Circadian Rhythms Research Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, also notes that regularly staying up late leads to poor eating habits. "Human circadian rhythms in sleep and metabolism are synchronized to the daily rotation of the earth so that when the sun goes down you are supposed to be sleeping, not eating," Zee said in 2011. "When sleep and eating are not aligned with the body's internal clock, it can lead to changes in appetite and metabolism, which could lead to weight gain."

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While your chronotype typically comes naturally, it can often evolve over the course of your lifetime. Like anything else, circadian rhythms can adapt and change with effort. Andrew Bagshaw, MD, the co-director for the Centre for Human Brain Health at the University of a Birmingham, conducted a study in 2019 where he asked 22 healthy individuals who consider themselves night owls to do four things over the course of three weeks to become morning people. Overall, the participants were able to go to sleep and wake up about two hours earlier as a result.

So if you want to become more of an early bird, follow the steps Bagshaw's study participants did:

  1. Wake up two or three hours before your normal time and get as much natural sunlight as possible.
  2. Go to bed two or three hours before your normal time and limit light exposure.
  3. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule on both work days and days off.
  4. Eat breakfast upon waking up, have lunch at the same time every day, and refrain from eating after 7 p.m.

And for more helpful tips about getting some shut eye, check out 20 Life-Changing Tips for People Who Are Desperate for a Full Night's Sleep.

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