Sorry Night Owls, Morning People Are Just Healthier

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Science clearly shows that getting too little, too much, or poor-quality sleep is bad for your heart. A new study suggests the timing of your nightly slumber may also influence your cardiovascular health, and night owls might want to think hard about changing their habits. 

People who slept an adequate amount — seven to eight hours a night — are less likely to smoke, more likely to eat more fruits and veggies, and more physically active than those who slept six or fewer hours, according to this study that surveyed some 430,000 adults age 40 to 69. But also, independent of sleep duration, adults who considered themselves morning people also were less apt to smoke, ate better, and spent less time sitting around than night owls.

So what if you sleep the ideal seven to eight hours a night and you go to bed at a decent hour? The researchers are working on answering that question next, but this sleep schedule certainly seems to confer additional benefits. Of course, that would also mean that if you don’t sleep enough and you’re not staying up all hours of the night, you may be even more likely to engage in heart-harming behaviors, says lead researcher Freda Patterson, assistant professor of behavioral health and nutrition at the University of Delaware.

There are a few possible reasons why going to bed early might relate to heart-healthy behaviors. The leading one is the “use of time” theory. “Someone who goes to bed later may have extended evening time that tends to be spent watching TV and eating unhealthy foods,” Patterson says. On top of that, if you’ve had too little or too much sleep, you may feel sluggish and crave an energy boost. “Cigarettes, high-fat foods, or high-sugar foods may give you that jolt,” says Patterson. “Several laboratory studies have shown that when you keep people up later, they start consuming more unhealthy foods late at night.”

There may be a psychological component too. “Folks who go to bed earlier may live by the ‘early bird gets the worm’ adage,” Patterson says. “As such, they might be more goal-oriented and conscientious, therefore more likely to make healthful choices such as eating lots of fruits and vegetables and not smoking.”