Many of us would classify ourselves as either night owls or early birds. While early birds may thrive best and be more alert in the morning or early afternoon, night owls feel more active and productive in the late evening or wee hours.

But have you ever wondered which tendency is the best for your health?

According to the first ever international study on this topic, being a dedicated night owl can have some pretty catastrophic effects on your wellbeing.

No matter how buzzing or creative night owls might feel in the midnight hour, the evidence suggests that such people have more erratic eating patterns and consume more unhealthy food.

Those who prefer to stay up late are also more prone to conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study – whose findings were reported towards the end of last year in the journal Advances in Nutrition – focused on the workings of people’s internal body clocks.

These clocks – known as chronotypes – regulate many physical functions. They tell people when to eat, sleep and wake up. Differences in our chronotypes determine whether we’re night owls or early birds.

The researchers found that people who go to bed later tend to consume more alcohol, sugar, snacks, caffeine and fast food. They consume less grains and vegetables and eat fewer – but larger – meals. Those fond of early mornings, on the other hand, eat more fruit and veg.

The less healthy diet of night owls may well be a factor placing them at risk of chronic disease.

Eating late in the day is thought to increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes because it influences how the body metabolises glucose.

Ideally, glucose levels should be at their lowest during the night. But night owls tend to eat just before they go to bed, spiking their glucose levels as they’re about to nod off – a departure from the body’s natural processes.

The study showed that those with a preference for evenings were 2.5 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who preferred mornings.

The researchers also found that people who do shift work are more likely to get diabetes as they have to constantly adjust their body clocks, affecting their sensitivity to insulin and glucose tolerance.

As well as uncovering the impact of our body clocks on our health, the study unearthed some other interesting facts. Age can affect whether we have a morning or evening preference, with young children and those over fifty having a strong preference for mornings.

Nationality can also have an effect. Indians and Slovakians, for instance, are more suited to mornings whereas Germans prefer evenings.

Night owls were found to build up a ‘sleep debt’ during the working week, which they ‘pay off’ by sleeping longer at weekends. Early birds have less variation in their sleeping patterns between weekends and weekdays.

The study was led by Dr Suzana Almoosawi from Northumbria University and Dr Leonidas Karagounis from Nestle Health Sciences in Switzerland.

Dr Almoosawi said, “In adulthood, being an evening chronotype is associated with greater risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and this may be potentially due to the poorer eating behaviour and diet of people with evening chronotype.”

“Our review also found that people who have a poorer control of their diabetes are more likely to be evening types.”

The research team have called for more studies on body clocks in the general population and how these clocks relate to diet and health.

(Featured image courtesy of 40+25-THUNK, from Flickr Creative Commons)

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