Spending many years on this earth can seem like a lottery. Some people reach their demise far too early and the decision is out of their hands. However, research continues to identify modifiable lifestyle factors that contribute to longevity.
The importance of diet and exercise is well understood but a surprising link has been drawn to the timing of your sleep.
According to a study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom (UK), “night owls” – people who like to stay up late and have trouble dragging themselves out of bed in the morning – “have a higher risk of dying sooner than “larks”.
The findings suggest that getting an early night and rising early can extend your lifespan.
The study, on nearly half a million participants in the UK Biobank Study, found night owls have a 10 percent higher risk of dying than larks.
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In the study sample, 50,000 people were more likely to die in the six and a half-year period sampled.
To gather their findings, researchers from the University of Surrey and Northwestern University examined the link between an individual’s natural inclination toward mornings or evenings and their risk of mortality.
They asked 433,268 participants, aged 38 to 73 years, if they are a “definite morning type” a “moderate morning type” a “moderate evening type” or a “definite evening type”.
Deaths in the sample were tracked up to six and half years later.
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“Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies,” said co-lead author Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The scientists adjusted for the expected health problems in owls and still found the 10 percent higher risk of death.
“This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored,” said Malcolm von Schantz, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey.
“We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time.”
“It could be that people who are up late have an internal biological clock that doesn’t match their external environment,” Knutson said.
“It could be psychological stress, eating at the wrong time for their body, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough, being awake at night by yourself, maybe drug or alcohol use. There are a whole variety of unhealthy behaviours related to being up late in the dark by yourself.”
How to improve your sleeping pattern
Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax.
According to the NHS, a warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that’s ideal for rest.
“Writing ‘to do’ lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions,” explains the health body.
Relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles, it adds.
“Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect.”
Other tips include:
- Relaxation CDs work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you
- Reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it
- there are a number of apps designed to help with sleep.
- Avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen on these devices may have a negative effect on sleep.