We all have different habits when it comes to our sleep. Some people love waking up early, others do so only reluctantly after hitting snooze for the tenth time. Some people never stay up past nine, while others never go to bed before one. We all fall into different sleep cycles, from early birds to night owls, and everyone in between.
And for the most part that’s just the way it is. When we like to be asleep and when we are most productive tends to be determined by our genetics anyway, so we are all happy to do our own thing.
Yet, the most recent research says that staying up late can have all kinds of negative effects on your health.
Late Night Sleep Cycles, Diabetes, and Weight Gain
By examining the sleep habits of over 1,600 adults a new study out of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has concluded that being a night owl can double your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, contribute to weight gain, and cause various other health problems.
For men, in particular, the risk of developing diabetes is even greater, while women were shown to be more prone to gaining weight and having metabolic syndrome. Both men and women were also over three times more likely to have a condition called sarcopenia, which leads to the gradual loss of muscle mass, than those that went to bed earlier.
These findings are especially significant because the night owls tended to be younger on average and were present even when both groups got the same amount of sleep.
Why Sleep Cycles Matter
The differences could be the result of a number of contributing factors.
For one thing, people that go to bed late tend to get poorer quality sleep than morning people. For another, they are more likely to have other bad habits, like late night eating and smoking. A third factor might be that our world is not run on a night owl’s schedule, which tends to leave them feeling groggy in the morning, under more stress, and leading a less active lifestyle.
What You Can Do
Our sleep cycles have been shown to be linked to our genetics. Some people are programmed to go to bed early, while others are hardwired to stay up late. But that’s not the whole story.
A team of researchers took people camping in the Colorado wilderness to see if their sleep cycles could be changed. Some people in the group were already morning people, while others loved to stay up late. The only condition was that no one was allowed an artificial light after the sun went down, which meant no electronic devices.
After just eight days, every single person was happily awaking at dawn.
Now, obviously we all can’t spend the rest of our lives camping to make sure we get to bed on time, but this does tell us that we have the power to change our sleeping habits and thereby, reduce our risk of developing diabetes, sarcopenia, and other health problems.
Here’s How to Change Your Sleep Cycle
While a few things are matters of common sense, like avoiding caffeine, others are less obvious. Take a look at this list of the worst foods to eat before bed; apparently chili peppers are to be avoided.
Similarly, there are a number of foods that you can eat to help you get to sleep. Again, green tea may seem like a no-brainer, but have you tried walnuts or miso soup?
But if drinking tea and avoiding coffee isn’t enough, here are a variety of habits you can try to get to bed earlier:
- Turn off the electronics – you’ve probably heard it before, but the artificial light really can prevent your brain from producing melatonin, which helps you sleep. By holding your interest, making you more alert, and preventing you from getting sleepy, electronic devices alone can turn you into a night owl. Try to set them down an hour before you intend to go to sleep.
- Set a bedtime – it may make you feel like a small child again, but setting a firm bedtime goes hand-in-hand with everything else. It helps you schedule when to stop watching television, when to stop snacking, and, of course, when to brush your teeth.
- Work out early – people who exercise generally sleep better than those who don’t, and those who exercise at least 4 hours before bed sleep the best, so try to stick to working out in the morning or afternoon.
- Go to bed when you feel tired – this may sound silly, but many of us get into the habit of simply pushing through the tiredness, catching a second wind, and staying up for hours after we initially felt tired.
- Stop worrying – many of us are kept up by our worries. We worry about our kids and our parents and all the little things we have to get done the next day. If you can, try to take the time to write these worries down, it will help to clear your mind before bed. Try shutting off your phone at a set time each night and forgetting about work. After all, getting to bed early will give you one less thing to worry about.