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October 18, 2022 — 11:02 AM
By now, you’ve probably determined whether you’re naturally a morning person or not. And while we can’t necessarily control when we prefer to go to bed and wake up, according to new research published in Experimental Physiology, some sleep patterns are associated with a greater risk for certain diseases. Here’s what they found.
Studying how sleep habits influence health.
In order to look at how people’s sleep habits can influence their health, researchers divided participants into two “chronotype” groups: those who go to bed early, and those who go to bed late.
As the study authors note in their research, “‘Chronotype’ is a circadian classification identifying the preference of an individual to perform an activity or acknowledge alertness during different periods of the day.”
The researchers looked at things like the participants’ body mass, body composition, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic health, and the participants were also monitored for a week, to study their activity levels throughout the day. They had a controlled diet to eliminate any dietary influences on the results and were also studied while exercising and at rest, to test fitness levels and “fuel preference” (aka how their bodies source energy).
Based on the findings, it would appear sleep and wake cycles are linked with our metabolic health. Specifically, the night owls in this study had a reduced ability to use fat for energy, which can result in fat accumulation and subsequently, increased risk for disease. They were also more likely to be insulin resistant, with insulin resistance being strongly linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The early birds, on the other hand, were found to use more fat for energy while exercising and at rest, compared to the night owls. They were also typically more active and had better fitness levels than the night owls.
As the study’s senior author Steven Malin, Ph.D., explains in a news release, “The differences in fat metabolism between early birds and night owls shows that our body’s circadian rhythm could affect how our bodies use insulin. A sensitive or impaired ability to respond to the insulin hormone has major implications for our health.”
It would seem not all sleep schedules are created equal, especially in terms of how they affect our health. Not the greatest news for the night owls of the world—but if there’s anything to take from these findings, it’s that those with later sleep-wake schedules may want to take extra measures to mind their metabolic and heart health or at least make sure to maintain healthy sleep habits overall with the help of a consistent wake-up and sleep time, a solid nighttime routine, and a relaxing supplement.