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When a recent study analyzed differences in the health of people getting up early and those who got up late, the results seemed to be quite discouraging for the latter.
The research findings showed an increase in premature deaths, psychological disorders and respiratory illnesses that did not get up early, and supported other studies that said that those who go to bed late are more likely to have health problems.
But is not really getting up early and being a night owl is it so bad? Does this mean that those who have those habits should change them?
“Jet lag social”
For many workers it is a familiar scenario: after struggling to sleep, abruptly pulls your alarm alarm off your precious sleep.
By the end of the week you are exhausted and you stay longer in bed on Saturday and Sunday to “recover” your sleep.
This may sound perfectly normal, but it is a sign that not only are you not sleeping enough but you are also having the so-called “social jet lag” .
This is a term that defines the difference between what we sleep during the week, when we must go to work, and the weekend, when we are free to go to bed and get up at the time we want.
The greater the social jet lag, the greater the health problems, as an increase in the risk of heart disease and other metabolic problems.
This is what is driving those studies that show that night owls – particularly those who get up too late – are at greater risk of health problems than people who prefer to get up early, according to Till Roenneberg, professor of chronobiology at the Institute of Medical Psychology. of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.
Because many jobs and schools often start their activities early, night owls must operate with the early bird clock.
If you force an early riser to work late at night, they will also face health problems, says Russell Foster, head of the Nuffield Ophthalmology Laboratory and the Circadian Sleep and Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, England.
“It’s human biology”
So how should night owls handle this?
Should they sacrifice their extra hours in bed on weekends and set the alarm clock earlier to synchronize their sleep hours seven days a week?
“It’s the worst thing you can do,” says Professor Roenneberg, who believes that there is nothing inherently insane about being a night owl.
“If you have not slept enough for five days it is better to try to recover your sleep and to recover it you must use the best moment you have available, that is, the following days”.
This is because wanting to go to sleep and want to get up is not just a habit, nor is it a sign of discipline.
This is influenced by our biological clocks, of which 50% is determined by our genes.
The rest is formed by our environment and age. The 20 years is the age at which we later go to bed and wake up, and our biological clock progresses progressively as we get older.
“We have these deep-rooted attitudes that people who stay up late are going bad steps and people who fall asleep late are lazy, but it’s really about human biology,” says Malcolm von Shantz, a professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey (England).
This not only results in night owls and early risers but in a spectrum of biological clocks, ranging from very early to very late and others between these two.
It is simply unlikely that if you get up earlier you can cancel your genetic tendencies. Rather this could deprive you of the sleep you need and that you are not getting during the week, experts say.
Perhaps a better way for night owls to manipulate their biological clocks to become more early risers is to change the habits surrounding their exposure to light.
Our biological clock is influenced by sunrise and sunset, but many of us are exposed to low sunlight during the day and too much artificial light at night.
This delays the moment when it makes us sleepy, which is a particular problem for night owls whose biology already predisposes them to fall asleep later.
By exposing yourself to the morning sunlight and reducing artificial light at night, particularly with phones and laptops that produce the powerful blue light, we can train our biological clock to feel sleepy earlier.
But this is not a simple process for everyone, partly because many of us have difficulty getting sunlight during the day and it is difficult for us to limit our exposure to artificial light at night.
It is workplaces, schools and society in general that need to do more to accommodate night owls, experts in sleep say.
At the most basic level, more employers should allow night owls to start and finish their work hours later.
After, says Professor Foster, it would make sense for some workplaces to allow staff to work the hours that fit best with their individual biological clocks.
This would improve the performance of the employee and would be a more effective way to have staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for companies that require it.
But Professor Roenneberg goes further. He argues that society has a duty to fix the disturbing environment of sleep that he has created.
“It is the task of society to take care of this, to have more light in the buildings and to have less exposure of blue light so that people have the possibility of watching TV without having to put the alarms of their alarm clocks.”