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Night Owls May Have a Higher Risk of Diabetes

Many individuals fall asleep late, often referred to as 'night owls,' but they may be at risk for developing diabetes according to a new study.

The new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, indicated that people who went to bed later and woke up later had less healthy lifestyles and were more likely to acquire diabetes.

According to corresponding author Tianyi Huang, a person's preferred sleep and waking times, known as their chronotype or circadian preference, are partially inherited, making it challenging to alter.

Researchers have previously discovered that those with evening chronotypes are more likely to have irregular sleep habits and are at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

People who think they are 'night owls' may need to pay more attention to their lifestyle because their evening chronotype may increase risk for type 2 diabetes.

- Huang

Researchers have previously discovered that those with evening chronotypes are more likely to have irregular sleep habits and are at an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A look at 'night owl' routines

Researchers examined information from 63,676 female nurses who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II, conducted between 2009 and 2017.

This information included self-reported chronotype, food quality, weight and body mass index, sleep schedule, smoking and drinking habits, physical activity, and a family history of diabetes.

The study's advantages are regular follow-up with research participants and periodic evaluations of lifestyle and health-related variables. A little more than 11% of individuals claimed a "definite evening" chronotype, whereas 35% claimed to have a "definite morning" chronotype.

Nearly half of the remaining population was classified as "intermediate," meaning they identified as neither morning nor evening people nor as being somewhat more of one than the other.

Before considering lifestyle variables, the evening chronotype was linked to a 72% higher risk for diabetes. Evening chronotype was linked, when lifestyle variables were considered, to a 19% higher risk of diabetes.

Only 6% of research participants with the healthiest lifestyles had evening chronotypes, and 25% of individuals leading the most unhealthy lifestyles had evening chronotypes. Researchers discovered that night owls were more likely to consume more alcohol, consume poor-quality foods, sleep for fewer hours each night, smoke now, and have unhealthy weight, BMI, and physical activity levels.

Additionally, they discovered that nurses who worked day shifts rather than overnight shifts were the only ones who showed a relationship between the evening chronotype and diabetes risk.

When we controlled for unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, the strong association between chronotype and diabetes risk was reduced but still remained, which means that lifestyle factors explain a notable proportion of this association.

- First author Sina Kianersi from Brigham's Channing Division of Network Medicine

Future research will be required to ascertain if the trends identified here are consistent across groups because the Nurses' Health Study mainly comprises white female nurses. The study's findings indicate correlations but do not establish causation; consequently, additional variables likely influence a person's chronotype, the inclination for unhealthy behaviors, and the risk of developing diabetes.

The next step is for the researchers to examine the genetic factors that determine chronotype and how they relate to diabetes and cardiovascular disease in more significant, more varied populations.

Kianersi concludes: "If we are able to determine a causal link between chronotype and diabetes or other diseases, physicians could better tailor prevention strategies for their patients."


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