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September 14, 2023

Staying up late may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, study finds

Night owls also are more likely to eat unhealthy foods and exercise less frequently, researchers found

Adult Health Sleep
Night Owl Diabetes Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Night owls may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and also may engage in more unhealthy habits than morning people, according to new research.

People who are night owls may have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and also may be more prone to unhealthy habits than those who are early birds, new research suggests. 

study that followed 63,000 middle aged women for nine years found that those who preferred to be active in the evening and sleep late the next morning were 19% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than early risers. And that was after accounting for lifestyle factors that increase the risk of diabetes – many of which have been found to be more common among night owls.

"A 19% increased risk, after adjusting for other factors, is a strong risk factor," Tianyi Huang, an assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study, told NBC News

Night owls were also about 54% more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles than people who went to sleep early and woke up early, according to researchers. They were more likely to eat unhealthy foods, exercise less, have higher BMIs, sleep fewer hours and smoke cigarettes.

"The main takeaway is that people who have a clear evening preference should be aware of these risks, moderate their alcohol use, eliminate smoking, increase physical activity and get more sleep and manage some of these risks as best as they can," Bhanu Prakash Kolla, a sleep medicine specialist for Mayo Clinic, told CNN.

About 1-in-10 Americans have diabetes, a chronic condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, cells don't respond normally to insulin, a hormone that lets blood sugar into the cells to use as energy. This triggers the pancreas to make more insulin, which can lead to high blood sugar levels.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include having prediabetes, being overweight, being 45 years or older, having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes or being physically active less than three times a week. To prevent diabetes, the CDC recommends lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and losing weight if overweight.

Diabetes isn't the only health risk associated with later bedtimes. Researchers have found that night owls are more likely to have psychological disorders, stomach problems and breathing problems. Studies also have shown that early birds tend to live longer than night owls. Night owls have been found to be more likely to smoke and drink alcohol – two habits that may help explain why their risk of early death is higher than morning people.

The latest study followed female nurses, ages 45 to 62, from 2009 to 2017. None of them had a history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Over the years, their lifestyle behaviors – including diet quality, physical activity, alcohol intake, body mass index, smoking and sleep duration — were measured.

The participants self-reported their chronotypes – their bodies' natural preferences for wakefulness and sleep. Eleven percent reported that they were night owls and 35% said they were early birds. The others didn't strongly identify one way or another.

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