Previous studies support this theory, said Dr. Andrew Varga, an assistant professor of sleep medicine with Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
“We’ve known for a very long time that people who are shift workers — who are mostly awake during dark hours and sleep during light hours — are at risk for all sorts of bad things to happen to them, including increased mortality and increased cardiovascular risk,” said Varga, who wasn’t involved with the study.
Body rhythms affect health in other ways, too. For example, the timing of eating and sleeping can impact the amount of insulin that’s secreted in response to food intake, potentially influencing a person’s risk of diabetes, Varga said.
The best thing night owls can do is adapt to the more normal morning lark rhythm of the world, Knutson said.
“Gradually try to advance your bedtime, which means going to bed a little earlier each night to move out of that night owl zone,” Knutson said. “It’s important to do this gradually. If you try to go to bed two to three hours earlier tonight, it’s not going to work. You’re not going to be able to go to sleep, and you might give up.”
Once you’ve managed to gradually advance your bedtime, you must keep to a regular sleeping schedule and avoid drifting back into your night owl habits, Knutson said. Otherwise, you’ll just have to start all over again.
For those who are night owls by choice or by circumstance — shift workers, for example — Knutson recommends focusing on other lifestyle choices that can influence their health. These include eating right, exercising and getting the right amount of sleep when they do manage to hit the sack.