The study, which was conducted by Professor Steven Marlin, an expert in metabolism from Rutgers University in New Jersey, divided obese adults into early birds and night owls and surveyed their activity and sleep habits. Monitoring their patterns for a week, scientists observed how their bodies used food as fuel, both at rest and during activity and exercise.
The scientists found that the early risers of the study were more sensitive to insulin and burned more fat than the late risers. The night owls didn’t experience the same sensitivity to insulin and their bodies preferred carbohydrates as an energy source, rather than fat.
While the reasons for this difference aren’t yet clear, it’s believed to be connected to the circadian rhythm – the inbuilt schedule that dictates our body clock.
Speaking on this Malin commented, “Night owls are reported to have a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease when compared with early birds,” he said. “A potential explanation is they become misaligned with their circadian rhythm for various reasons, but most notably among adults would be work.”
This discovery could impact the conversation around nightshift work and even how we adapt to the clocks changing with the seasons.
Spring forward, fall back?
This study isn’t alone in suggesting changing daylight-saving hours, with rumours circulating that government is considering rolling out British Summertime all year round.
Every year in the UK, we put our clocks forward by one hour at 2am on the last Sunday in March, and back one hour at 2am on the last Sunday in October.
The time between March and October, when the clocks are one hour ahead, is known as British Summer Time. Daylight Savings Time is the process of putting the clocks back one hour during the spring so that the evening daylight lasts longer during the day.
A major study in 2020 found that losing an hour's sleep due to daylight saving increases hospital admissions for a serious heart rhythm condition known as atrial fibrillation.
How to stay healthy as a night owl
Let the light in
Those who head to bed late and sleep in generally tend to get much less sunlight than those on earlier schedules. Over time, this routine can have a bad impact on your mood. This continuous lack of light can lead to feelings of depression, much like Seasonally Affective Disorder (SAD).
To help keep those blues at bay, try and get around 30 minutes of bright light as soon as you get up. Light boxes are a good option if the weather is gloomy, but it’s best to get outside where possible.
Find time for exercise
Studies have shown that night owls could be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Having a sleep schedule that doesn’t fall in with the normal light schedule of the day can put a lot of stress on the body.
Exercise is a great way to keep your heart healthy but it’s important to be mindful about where you do it. Someone who stays up late may find they exercise better in the evenings, but this isn’t necessarily the best idea. An intense workout can lead to even later bedtimes as the body takes time to recover from the workout. If possible, move that exercise session to an earlier time in the day, or opt for more relaxing forms of exercise, such as yoga or Pilates.
Make time to connect
Alongside the physical impacts of being a night owl, there can also be problems when it comes to social interactions. When you’re on a very different schedule to friends and family, it can make it difficult to find convenient times for connection, leading to periods of isolation. Over time, this can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Try to make time where your schedules overlap to catch up over a meal or look for evening social groups.
Watch the night-time snacking
Snacking can be a common problem for people who stay up late. While your meals may fall at odd times because of work schedules, it’s a good idea to try and avoid large meals late at night
Researchers behind one study, state that 8 pm should be the latest you eat. They found that female night owls were more than twice as likely to have excess belly fat, high blood sugar and overall unhealthy fat levels than morning people. This was believed to be due to a combination of eating past 8pm and too much artificial light at night, which may affect your metabolism.
Are those late nights catching up on you?
It’s natural to feel tired from time to time. Over working and poor sleep can contribute to lethargy and low mood. But generally, these periods are situational and pass as workloads ease or you settle back into a better sleep routine.
But, if you’re finding that you’re feeling persistently tired or run down, it could be worth checking in with your body to see if there might be a more serious underlying cause.
If you’re interested in taking a look at your health and wellbeing in more detail, a private blood test is a brilliant place to start.
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