New research says early risers are at lower risk of developing chronic diseases.
Everyone has a circadian rhythm—an internal body clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle and determines whether you are an evening chronotype, a night owl with a preference for staying up late and sleepingin the next morning, or a morning chronotype, an early bird who functions best when hitting the sack earlier in the evening and rising with (or before) the sun. Your chronotype also has an effect on other physical functions, such as when you eat. Your biological clock may also be responsible for what and how you eat and, ultimately, your risk of developing diet-related diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease, according to a European review of related studies, published in the November 30, 2018 issue of Advances in Nutrition, and led by researchers at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre of Northumbria University in England.
The researchers found that, overall, people who hit the sack at a reasonable hour and wake up early the next day tend to have:
- More even sleeping patterns. Those who rise early tend to have pretty much the same sleeping habits on weekends as they do during the week. Night owls tend to lose sleep during the work week and try to catch up on weekends.
- Better eating habits. People who go to bed early reportedly eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less sugar, fat, snacks, and fast foods.
- Less erratic eating patterns. Early risers eat regular, smaller meals, eat earlier and are less likely to snack at night than those who sleep in.
- Lower intakes of caffeine, alcohol and products marketed as energy drinks.
While most people are morning chronotypes in infancy and childhood, approximately half switch to evening chronotypes as they enter puberty and adulthood. Many of these, however, return to a morning chronotype state as they enter their fifties. Studies have found that your chronotype, which has a genetic basis, may be influenced by your ethnicity and where you live in the world, whether you live in the city or the country, social conditions imposed by your culture, your work schedule, and how much natural light you are exposed to throughout each day. If you’ve traveled to other countries, or even to other time zones within your own country, you may have experienced the effects on your natural circadian rhythms that lead to jet lag, insomnia and fuzzy-headedness.
On the one hand, recognizing and going along with your individual chronotype can be useful because it helps you know when you are most sleepy and when you are most alert so you can know and plan the best times to perform certain types of activities, like important work. On the other hand, if your natural rhythm is causing you to make unhealthy lifestyle choices, you may want to adjust your sleep/wake cycle to the degree that it’s possible, in order to protect your long-term health. It is well established that poor eating and sleeping habits are associated with obesity and chronic disease conditions. In fact, these researchers not only found that eating later in the day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, they noted that people with diabetes who have poorer control of their blood sugar levels also tend to be evening chronotypes.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, you can alter your circadian rhythm by dimming the lights in your home for at least an hour before going to bed in order to prepare your body for falling asleep earlier. Likewise, leave the shades or curtains in your bedroom open to allow in the morning sun or turn on bright lights first thing when you get up by an alarm. You can also change the time of day that you eat your meals, or switch your exercise time from evening to morning to shift to an earlier rhythm. Take it slow and make these changes in 15-minute increments.
Almoosawi S, Vingeliene S, Gachon F, Voortman T, et al. Chronotype: Implications for Epidemiologic Studies on Chrono-Nutrition and Cardiometabolic Health. Advances in Nutrition. November 30, 2018 https://academic.oup.com/advances/advance-article/doi/10.1093/advances/nmy070/5209973
National Sleep Foundation website. Can You Change Your Circadian Rhythm? (October 26, 2019) https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/can-you-change-your-circadian-rhythm