Linda Lewis Griffith

Are you a night owl? It might be time to check on your health.

Staying up late can lead to health risks such as depression, Linda Lewis Griffith writes.
Staying up late can lead to health risks such as depression, Linda Lewis Griffith writes. KRT

Night owls are those folks who do their best work after midnight and prefer breakfast around noon. They’re in high gear when the rest of the world is sleeping and have trouble conforming to the 8-to-5 routine.

This lifestyle is preprogrammed at birth and is more prevalent in men than women. According to Katherine Sharkey, associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, “More women tend to be larks while men lean toward being night owls.” She also said patterns can change over time. “School-age children are generally early birds, while teenagers tend to be night owls. As they age, adults gradually transition back into morning people.”

The historic roster of night owls is long and illustrious, including such notables as Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill and Keith Richards. In a 2009 interview with Newsweek, President Barack Obama said, “I’m a night owl … I usually have about a half-hour to read before I go to bed … about midnight, 12:30 a.m. — sometimes a little later.”

But night owls are also prone to emotional vulnerabilities. For instance, they’re more likely to suffer from insomnia than the early birds in their lives. Other sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early and fatigue during the day.

Night owls have high rates of depression. A study appearing in Human Psychopharmacology reports that insomnia is accompanied by depression in 40 percent of cases. It’s also associated with increased risk of suicide.

Night owls engage in greater amounts of risky behavior and are apt to be single or have short-term romantic relationships, said Dario Maestripieri, professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago. “In addition, male night owls report twice as many sexual partners than male early birds.”

Physical health suffers, too. Men who are night owls have increased rates of type 2 diabetes and loss of muscle mass, according to research appearing in the April 2015 issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Women who stay up late are twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome (excess belly fat, high blood sugar and overall unhealthy fat levels) than their early-to-bed counterparts.

Because night owls spend long stretches of time alone, they may become socially isolated, a condition John Cacioppo, Ph.D. psychology professor at the University of Chicago considers a chief contributor to declining health.

We can’t necessarily reprogram our innate patterns. But there’s plenty we can do to create a healthy and stable lifestyle.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.

Tips for night owls

  • Get enough sleep. Aim for seven to eight hours each night, regardless of when you finally get to bed.
  • Get adequate sunlight. Lack of light is the chief cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you can’t get out during the day, use artificial light.
  • Avoid late-night snacking. Limit caloric intake after 8 p.m. to prevent putting on extra pounds.
  • Schedule outings with friends. Play pick-up basketball with your buddies or join a book club.
  • Exercise early in the day. Don’t work out late at night. That may interfere with sleep. Break a sweat early so you can wind down at bedtime.
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