If you’re constantly burning the midnight oil, you may be setting yourself up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
When compared with people who go to bed early and wake with the sun, night owls are more likely to be insulin-resistant, a new study finds. When the body doesn’t respond well to the hormone insulin, blood sugar can build up in your bloodstream, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes.
What’s more, “night owls” get less exercise and burn less fat than “early birds,” allowing fat to build up in the bloodstream, which can set the stage for heart disease.
The study demonstrates the importance of the timing of sleep in addition to duration and quality of sleep, says Dr. Seema Khosla. She is medical director for the North Dakota Center for Sleep in Fargo, and chair of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee.
For the study, 51 people without heart disease or diabetes were categorized as night owls or early birds based on their natural sleep cycle, or chronotype. Study participants ate a controlled diet and fasted overnight while their activity levels were monitored for a week. The researchers also measured insulin sensitivity and took breath samples to analyze how well folks used fat and carbohydrates for fuel.
Early birds were less likely to become insulin-resistant, and they used more fat for energy at rest and during exercise than night owls, the study findings showed.
What you can do
Night owls can take steps to improve their health and sleep habits, says study co-author Steven Malin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
Changing your routine can be challenging, especially if you are a parent and/or working adult, but the good news is that you don’t have to suddenly change overnight. It can be done in small increments.
“People who are late chronotypes who wish to try and align their body with work schedules and so forth can take small steps toward shifting to be an early bird,” Malin adds. “Go to bed 15 minutes earlier and wake up 15 minutes earlier, [and] in time depending on how things are going, this can expand another 15-minute window,” he suggests.
Get some sunlight
Another tip? Get outside when the sun is shining as this can prompt your body’s circadian system to reset. Circadian rhythm is your 24-hour internal clock that controls the release of the hormone melatonin to encourage sleep.
“Respecting our circadian rhythms is important, but so is recognizing when we are creating more issues with