There may have been a time in your youth when you were a night owl. You stayed out all night, came home at the crack of dawn, slept in, then did it all over again.
Compare this with early birds who wake up easily, sometimes without an alarm. They have productive mornings, with a little lag in the afternoon, but bedtime is just a few hours away. They’re often in bed before 10 p.m. for a solid eight hours of sleep.
Why Are We Like This?
Our chronotype determines whether we’re early birds or night owls. Our chronotype is how our body reacts to the time of day. There are typically three chronotypes: morning, day, and night.
- Morning people are the early birds. They are awake, operate at peak efficiency in the morning, but usually can’t stay up for the late news.
- Day people sleep a little later and are most effective in the afternoon.
- Night owls sleep as late as possible and are up well past nightfall, into the wee hours of the morning.
Our chronotypes change throughout our lives as our body chemistry changes. Babies and young children are typically early risers. Adolescents are more likely day chronotypes. Teens and young adults are definitely night owls, sleeping as late as possible and staying up late. As we grow older, we switch back toward day or morning people.
Rhythm Is Gonna Get You
Our reaction to each of day parts is driven by our internal clock or circadian rhythms. A person’s internal clock is usually a 24-hour clock and it’s tied to Earth’s 24-hour cycle of day and night. Some people’s cycle is a little shorter, so they are usually early birds. Some with a longer cycle are the night owls.
Our bodies really want us to follow the natural rhythms of the Earth’s rotation. Wake up when it’s light. Go to bed when it’s dark. Sometimes, for one reason or another, we have to disrupt those rhythms. People with overnight shifts or those who work late hours can have problems adjusting. It can be done, but changes need to be gradual.
There are old sayings about early birds getting worms and “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But there are no such sentiments about night owls. That doesn’t mean being a night owl is bad for you, but it takes extra effort to stay healthy when your body wants to sleep in and stay up late.
That’s because night owls may move less than early birds. It has nothing to do with exercise either. According to a recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science, early birds move 60 to 90 minutes more a day than night owls. Researchers put activity trackers on 6,000 participants and found the people who got up early moved more. Night owls tended to sit more and move less, even when researchers factored for education and health conditions.
The tendency toward inactivity for night owls can become dangerous for people with conditions like heart disease or diabetes. A study of the chronotypes of patients with type 2 diabetes found night owls were inactive to the point of being unhealthy.
Globally, one in 11 people have diabetes, and that number is only going up along with the number of people who are obese. If your chronotype tends toward the evening, there are some things you should do.
In Your Control
Night owls tend to be more active later in the day, so they should consider going for a walk around dinnertime. Do SOMETHING to get moving during the time you feel most energetic.
Night owls and early birds alike need to make sure they’re eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Limit the amount of processed food and sugary snacks eaten.
If you want to change your sleeping pattern, do it gradually. Don’t try to go to bed at 10 p.m. if you normally go to sleep at 1 a.m. Move your bedtime up about 30 minutes until you get comfortable with that time. Then move it up another 30 minutes.
We’re Here for You
AltaMed is here with information on how to eat a healthful diet and get more exercise. You can also schedule an appointment with a physician if you have concerns about your sleeping habits. Find a doctor at the following link or make an appointment by calling (888) 499-9303.