Night owls 19% more likely to develop diabetes than early birds

Night owls are 20% more like to suffer from a major chronic disease, study suggests

  • Women who class themselves as an ‘evening person’ at higher risk of diabetes
  • US researchers said this group are more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles

Being a ‘night owl’ increases the risk of diabetes in women by nearly a fifth, according to a new study.

Researchers have discovered women who class themselves as an ‘evening person’ – going to bed late and getting up late – are at higher risk of the health disease compared to ‘early birds’.

Experts said this group are also more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles – drinking more alcohol and not doing enough exercise.

A team from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed data from nearly 64,000 middle-aged nurses between 2009 and 2017. 

This included self-reported sleeping habits, diet, weight and BMI, sleep timing, smoking behaviour, alcohol use and physical activity.

Researchers have discovered women who class themselves as an ‘evening person’ – going to bed late and getting up late – are at higher risk of the health disease compared to ‘early birds’ 

The researchers also looked at medical records to see if the women had diabetes.

Out of all the participants, 11 per cent reported having a definite evening ‘chronotype’, also known as circadian preference.

Meanwhile 35 per cent said they definitely had a morning chronotype.

The rest were labelled as intermediate, meaning they did not identify as either a morning or evening person.

Analysis revealed an evening chronotype was linked to a 19 percent increased risk of diabetes, the researchers said.

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Study author Tianyi Huang said: ‘Chronotype, or circadian preference, refers to a person’s preferred timing of sleep and waking and is partly genetically determined so it may be difficult to change.

‘People who think they are ‘night owls’ may need to pay more attention to their lifestyle because their evening chronotype may add increased risk for type 2 diabetes.’

Among those in the study with the healthiest lifestyles, only 6 percent were night owls. However, among those with the unhealthiest lifestyles, 25 percent preferred to go to bed late.

Evening people were also more likely to drink alcohol in higher quantities, have a low-quality food diet, get fewer hours of sleep per night, currently smoke, and have weight, BMI and physical activity rates in the unhealthy range, the team added.

Dr Sina Kianersi, first author of the study, said: ‘When we controlled for unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, the strong association between chronotype and diabetes risk was reduced but still remained, which means that lifestyle factors explain a notable proportion of this association.’

The link between evening chronotype and diabetes risk was stronger in nurses who worked day shifts as opposed to night shift workers, ‘suggesting that more personalised work scheduling could be beneficial’, the team added.

The scientists are now planning to investigate the genetic causes of chronotype and its link to heart disease.

Dr Kianersi said: ‘If we are able to determine a causal link between chronotype and diabetes or other diseases, physicians could better tailor prevention strategies for their patients.’

The findings are published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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