Early to bed, early to rise...
Back in grade school, Benjamin Franklin's old saying seemed like a sly attempt to get us to stop complaining about bedtime.
But it turns out Ben was right -- at least about it making us healthy.
If you're a "night person," this is going to be hard to hear.
But a new study has found that night people are at higher risk for several unhealthy conditions. And this is true regardless of the number of hours they sleep.
The study, conducted in Korea, looked at 1,620 participants between the ages of 47 and 59. They were identified as "morning chronotypes" (go to bed and get up early), "evening chronotypes" (go to bed later and get up later), or neither (people who fall somewhere in the middle and don't identify with either extreme).
Then researchers compared the health of the morning and evening groups. They found that:
• Female evening chronotypes tended to have more abdominal fat and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome (a condition associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and diabetes).
• Male evening chronotypes overall had higher rates of diabetes and sarcopenia (a condition in which the body's muscle mass slowly declines).
• Evening chronotypes, though typically younger than morning chronotypes, generally had a higher percentage of body fat and higher blood triglyceride levels.
Even adjusting for age and lifestyle differences such as exercise, drug and alcohol consumption, and so on, the late risers were less healthy overall.
So what's the takeaway?
If you're a morning person, give yourself a pat on the back.
If you aren't, try becoming one. Here are some strategies:
• Decide a standard time you want to get up every day and start making yourself get up then. Set your alarm for that time, and don't hit the snooze button. Even on weekends don't sleep in too much.
• Have a target bedtime as well. After a few days of getting up early, going to bed earlier will begin to feel more natural because your body will be tired. Tune into your body. (Incidentally, research suggests that going to bed by 10 p.m. is optimal because some of the best sleep happens between 10 and midnight.)
• Turn off all electronic screens at least an hour before bedtime
• Design a relaxing evening routine that gets you in the sleep mode. This might include dimming the lights and reading a print book in bed for half an hour. You might also drink a calming tea or take a warm bath.
• Make your bedroom a tranquil place. Keep it clutter free, and get shades or curtains that effectively block the light at night.
• Get out of bed quickly in the morning and start moving. A workout such as stretching, walking, or yoga will help wake and energize you.
• Create a morning routine you enjoy and that sets you up for a good day. This could be a few minutes of meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, or even just drinking a cup of coffee while staring at a pleasant view.
In general, all the things that support you to feel better during the day -- exercise, a healthy diet, a positive attitude -- help you to sleep better as well.
If you're a night person, don't spend one minute feeling bad about it. Instead, just start playing with this pattern. At first, it might take discipline. But before long, having time to unwind in the evening and to get centered and energized in the morning might feel like a real treat.