Hey, ‘night owls’: You may have a higher risk for health problems, study suggests

Stephanie Adeline

“Night owls” have a higher risk of mortality and health problems compared to early risers, according to a study published last week.

The study, published in science journal Chronobiology International, said people who define themselves as evening types are more likely to have health problems such as psychological disorders, diabetes and respiratory disorders compared to those who define themselves as morning people. 

Night owls experience a mismatch between their internal clock and the external world, which operates during daylight, said study author Kristen Knutson, a neurology professor at Northwestern University. Knutson said night owls are more common in young adults.

“We see a shift toward ‘eveningness’ that begins in adolescence,” Knutson said in an email. “I think you’ll find more night owls in college students than in older groups of people.”

Mandy Colbert, UT health promotion coordinator, said college students tend to be night owls due to several reasons, including biological processes. Students have irregular internal clocks because they are in between the adolescent and adulthood stage, Colbert said.

“Students who are (18 to 21 years old) feel more tired about an hour to two hours later than adults who are older or adolescents who are younger,” Colbert said. “Their bodies are telling them to go to bed at 12 or 1 in the morning, but … classes can start at 8 a.m.”

Because of this mismatch, students who are night owls might need to take classes later in the day to perform better, Knutson said. However, planning your class schedule around your sleep schedule can be difficult, psychology senior Ayo Isola said.

“I kind of have to pick the classes that I need and I just kind of hope it fits my sleep schedule,” Isola said. “Sometimes I get lucky, but sometimes I’ll have to take a class at 8 a.m.”

Knutson said while it is possible for a night owl to change their sleep schedule, it requires effort and consistency.

“You would need to go to bed a little earlier each night until you reach a desired, earlier bedtime,” Knutson said in an email. “Then you need to keep this schedule even on weekends.”

Colbert said students often associate going to sleep late with being more productive, but in reality, students need to sleep seven to nine hours per day to perform well in classes. To get into a regular sleeping schedule, Colbert said students should prioritize sleep when planning their schedules, instead of letting it be an afterthought.

Political communication sophomore Ari Hayaud-Din said she budgets her time to do work throughout the day so she can avoid going to sleep late at night. Hayaud-Din said she has never pulled an all-nighter because she knows how detrimental it could be to her performance on a test.

“By pulling an all-nighter, anything you would study earlier in the day when you were more aware of it, you’re gonna forget that stuff,” Hayaud-Din said. “And it’s gonna be even harder to remember what you learned at 3 a.m. … I just try to budget my time so I never have to do it, because I can’t imagine how broken I would be if I pulled an all-nighter.”