Among people with obesity, staying up late is linked to a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, according to a new study presented at the virtual meeting of the European Congress on Obesity and described in a HealthDay article on the presentation. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and as such should be considered a preliminary finding.
Researchers in Italy compared the sleep patterns of 172 middle-aged participants with obesity as part of an ongoing study on obesity prevention. Nearly six in 10 participants were early risers, or “morning larks,” while about 13% were “night owls” who stayed up late and got up late. The rest of the participants fell somewhere in between, and were called “intermediate type” for the study. Members of all three groups had a similar range of body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account). But certain healthy or unhealthy behaviors were seen at different levels in the three groups. Night owls were more likely than morning larks or intermediate types to eat large evening meals and to use tobacco, and were less likely to get enough exercise.
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Night owl pattern tied to increased heart and diabetes risk
These differences in behaviors may account for the higher risks for heart disease and diabetes seen among night owls. While 30% of morning larks had heart disease, nearly 55% of night owls did. The difference in diabetes risk was even greater, with type 2 diabetes seen in 9% of morning larks and nearly 37% of night owls. No difference in these risks was seen between morning larks and intermediate types, indicating that night owls with obesity are uniquely at higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
As one of the study authors noted in the presentation, previous research has shown that night owls are also at higher risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and are less likely to follow a Mediterranean eating pattern, which has been linked to numerous health benefits and a lower risk for a wide range of health problems. Taken together, these results suggest that helping people with obesity change their sleep patterns — by going to bed and getting up earlier — may help them develop healthier habits that could lead to a lower risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But these results don’t demonstrate cause and effect — so it’s possible that in night owls, changing sleep patterns wouldn’t lead to an increase in healthier behaviors. This may be particularly true if some other factor, like inherent personality or mental health problems, is behind both a person’s sleep pattern and their exercise and nutrition habits.
Whatever your sleep pattern, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that not getting enough sleep — usually defined as at least six hours each night — is linked to certain health problems, including a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and developing dementia later in life.
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