Being a Night Owl Can Shorten Your Life

insomnia, sleep
The lack of sleep can have all kinds of serious effects on your mind and body, but a study found a link between a lack of pillow time and possible early death. BSIP/Getty Images

Night owls — listen up. It's time to stop burning your candle at both ends and start giving a hoot about your health. Turns out if you stay up 'til all hours and have to drag yourself out of the sack in the morning, you may risk dying 10 percent sooner than morning larks who retire early and rise with the sun.

In a study published April 11, 2018 in the journal Chronobiology International, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, surveyed more than 433,000 participants ages 38 to 73 for 6.5 years and discovered that 50,000 night owls were 10 percent more apt to die than their morning people co-participants, even after adjusting for anticipated health issues like higher incidences of diabetes, respiratory conditions and psychological, neurological and gastrointestinal disorders.


The study didn't determine a specific cause for the link between being a night owl and the potential for early death, but behaviors like drinking, smoking, doing drugs and eating an unhealthy diet were found to be more prevalent in the night owls than the larks.

The study also determined that a person's chronotype, or inner clock, seems to be about 50 percent genetic and 50 percent determined by environmental factors. And if it's misaligned it can take a serious toll on your health.

W. C. Fields, renowned for his deadpan logic, said that the best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep. And (whoo hoo!) the researchers agree.


It's a Nine to Five World

Affirming the plight of night owls trying to survive in a nine to five morning lark world, Malcom von Schantz, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey, suggests that employers should allow flexible working hours for night people.

Calling it a public health issue, von Schantz suggests that, "We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time."


Regardless of the reason for the link to earlier death rates for night owls, researchers say that we may have some control over whether we are owls or larks. To adapt to being more of a morning person, researchers suggest making sure you're exposed to light early in the morning but not at night and that you keep regular bedtime hours and don't sleep late on the weekend.

If you try to be more like a lark and find that your leanings are just naturally lunar, maybe it's simply the way you're wired. This 2017 article suggests that whether we're morning or evening people is directly connected to the hour of our birth, indicating that our body clocks are set to the time of day that we were born.

So if you're a wistful, wakeful owl perched in the dark with a baseball bat poised to deconstruct your alarm clock, close your eyes and consider the words of fellow night owl Leonard Cohen: The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.