Early risers could have a leg up on their health and well-being.
A recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts revealed that “night owls” are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to morning people.
The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Sept. 12, found that night owls are 54% more likely to develop “unhealthy lifestyle habits.”
As a result, people who prefer to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning are also 19% more likely to develop diabetes.
The study researched the chronotypes — or the time of day people tend to gravitate toward — among 63,676 nurses ranging in age from 45 to 62.
Among all participants, 11% identified themselves as having a “definite evening” chronotype — while 35% said they had a “definite morning” chronotype.
The participants filled out a “Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire” every two years from 2009 to 2017, according to the research.
The questionnaire measured lifestyle behaviors such as diet quality, physical activity, alcohol intake, body mass index (BMI), smoking and sleep duration.
None of the participants had a history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes at the start of the study.
“Incident diabetes cases” were self-reported and confirmed through an additional questionnaire.
Results showed that middle-aged nurses with an evening chronotype were more likely to report unhealthy behaviors leading to increased diabetes risk compared to morning chronotypes.
These unhealthy lifestyle habits included smoking, inadequate sleep, lack of physical activity and low-quality diet, according to a report from Medical News Today.
Before factoring in socioeconomic factors and lifestyle habits, people with an evening chronotype were at a whopping 72% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Board-certified emergency medicine physician Joe Whittington, M.D., was not involved in the new research but discussed the findings in an interview with Fox News Digital. He noted that the increased risk for evening chronotypes is “startling.”
“But even more [startling] is the persistent 19% elevated risk after accounting for lifestyle factors,” he said.
“This implicates inherent physiological or genetic traits tied to one’s chronotype.”
The California-based Whittington pointed out the “interesting nuance” discovered in this study: that diabetes risk is elevated among nurses who are working day shifts instead of those who are working night shifts.
“This raises the possibility that a mismatch between chronotype and work schedule amplifies type 2 diabetes risk,” he said.
The doctor, who has nearly two million followers on TikTok, suggested that there may be a “few theories” to explain the significance of chronotype syncing.
“Chronotypes are entangled with the body’s circadian rhythm, which governs critical physiological processes like hormone secretion,” he said. “Any misalignment in these hormones can disrupt glucose metabolism.”
He went on, “Adding another layer of complexity is the role of melatonin, commonly known as the sleep hormone, which has been shown to influence insulin secretion.”
“Night owls with delayed melatonin secretion patterns may experience difficulties in glucose tolerance — thereby raising their diabetes risk.”
Quality of sleep is a “major concern” for night owls, Whittington emphasized, especially when many people are expected to wake up early for work and other ongoing commitments.
“Poor sleep quality has been directly associated with insulin resistance, a well-established precursor to diabetes,” he said.
“Not to mention, chronotype is partly genetically determined, raising the possibility that some individuals may be genetically predisposed to both evening preferences and diabetes.”
“Emerging research also suggests that the gut microbiome, which plays a significant role in metabolism, has its own circadian rhythm that could be affected by disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle,” the doctor added.
Although these findings may seem concerning for night owls, Whittington listed some measures people can take to reduce type 2 diabetes risk, including syncing up your schedule, focusing on sleep hygiene, exercising, managing stress and paying attention to diet.
“Aligning your work schedule with your natural circadian rhythm can offer significant health benefits,” he said. “Focusing on sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and setting up a calming bedtime routine, can also prove beneficial.”
“Exercise, particularly when done in the morning, can serve as a reset button for your internal clock while simultaneously enhancing insulin sensitivity,” he noted. “A balanced diet rich in fiber, proteins and healthy fats can also go a long way toward stabilizing blood sugar levels.”
“Stress management techniques like mindfulness and meditation can be effective in regulating the hormonal imbalance often seen in altered circadian rhythms,” the doctor noted.
If lifestyle adjustments do not lead to improvements, Whittington said that “it may be advisable to consult a health care professional for a more targeted intervention.”
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