Do Early Birds Live Longer Than Night Owls?

Do Early Birds Live Longer Than Night Owls?

Getting ahead of the game each and every day may be good for your health.

Q: I hear people who are night owls aren’t as healthy as morning people. My mom rarely went to sleep before 1AM and died at the age of 65, and I have the same bio-rhythms. I need a better sleep schedule. I have a demanding job, two young kids and am tired all the time. Is there any hope for me? — Wendy, B., Atlanta, GA

A: You’re right to want to get on a better sleep cycle—and you can do it! What you probably heard about were the results of a recent study done by researchers from the US and UK. They looked at data on more than 433,000 adults in the UK ages 38 to 73 to see if there’s a link between sleep cycles and illnesses or death.

First, they identified four chronotypes: definite morning types, moderate morning types, moderate evening types and definite evening types. Then they examined their health issues. The researchers found definite evening types had a higher risk of psychological problems and cardiovascular disease plus a 10 percent jump in all-cause mortality (most significantly among 63- to 73-year-olds) at their six-and-a-half year follow-up. Clearly, there’s evidence morning people are healthier.

So what can you do if you’re a night owl? Make changes to your environment and even your genetic predisposition! Although a 2017 study found a specific gene mutation is common among folks who have delayed-sleep-phase-disorder, which throws circadian rhythms off, one of the things epigenetics has taught us is that you can modify your genetic tendencies and learn a new behavior that doesn’t come naturally.

If you’re a night owl and want to become a morning person, you need a plan. Here are some things that can help:

  • Start by making sure you get 60 minutes of exercise daily—not within three hours of bedtime (no eating then either).
  • Choose a reasonable bed time, like 11PM, and stick to it.
  • Avoid digital light—smart phones, tablets and TV—for an hour before bed (try soaking in the tub to relax). And try to keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool.
  • Practice progressive relaxation as you lie there.

Q: I heard that there’s a peanut allergy vaccine in a clinical trial. Are they really that close to developing a vaccine? — Armond G., Tallahassee, FL

A: We think you’re referring to a lab study that’s currently in the works and the vaccine—or immunotherapy—is administered using a nasal spray. The researchers are experimenting with mice that are genetically altered to have a peanut allergy. They expose those mice to very small amounts of peanut dust or protein in an attempt to teach the immune system to gradually tolerate the substance and not overreact to it.

The trial works on the same principal as the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut allergy) trial in 2015 that introduced 4- to11-months-old infants, (with a high probability of allergy to peanuts—they had to have severe eczema, egg allergy or both), to about six grams of peanuts a week. After 60 months they found that the prevalence of peanut allergy was reduced to 1.9 percent versus 13.7 percent from the control group that completely avoided peanuts.

Now these kids were screened, monitored, tested and kept under strict supervision! Don’t ever experiment with immunotherapy on your child at home. Peanut allergies have doubled in Western societies in the last 10 years and if a child has a bad/anaphylactic reaction to peanuts it can be fatal. Access to an Epi-Pen in the case of an anaphylactic reaction can be a life saver, but it is still a very traumatic incidence. Roughly 150 to 200 people die in the U.S. each year because of food allergies. It's estimated that around 50 to 62 percent of those were caused by peanut allergies.

Currently, there is no vaccine for peanut allergies (the mouse trials have only seen temporary results so far) and remember, even the best immunotherapy for kids still leaves 2 in every 100 vulnerable to serious problems.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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