NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (KXAN) — A new study published in Experimental Psychology found early birds have an advantage over night owls when it comes to managing the risk of diabetes.
The study by researchers at Rutgers University looked into how sleeping habits impact how the body handles insulin.
While previous researchers have identified night owls as having a higher risk for diseases like obesity, heart disease and type two diabetes, the team from Rutgers wanted to focus on why the diabetes risk was greater.
KXAN’s Tom Miller talked with Rutgers Associate Professor Steve Malin, the lead researcher in the study, about what they found.
Tom Miller: Your study looked at some of the effects of being a night owl versus being an early riser. How did you make those determinations?
Steve Malin: There’s a standard questionnaire that’s used, referred to as the morning-eveningness questionnaire. That questionnaire has about 19 different questions that help self-identify with the participant, what their chronotype would be, whether that’s more early, intermediate or late. We use that to self-identify people, and then we categorize groups to test the questions we had.
Miller: What did your study find in terms of the different health effects?
Malin: People with a later chronotype tend to have a higher risk for type two diabetes. What we found is that when we directly infused the hormone insulin into people, their body was not as responsive to that insulin. That’s confirmed the type two diabetes risk. Secondarily, we found that not only were they not responding as well, but the body did not seem to store the glucose in their muscles as well as we would have anticipated. That’s also consistent with type two diabetes.
Miller: What should (people learning about this study) take away from this?
Malin: The number one thing is this does not mean you’re going to get type two diabetes. I think that’s very, very important. What this does suggest is an awareness of how our body is interacting with society. So there are a few things that could be considered. Depending on when you go to bed, maybe start thinking about trying to get to bed 15 minutes earlier and replace that by getting up 15 minutes sooner. That could help shift your body’s natural rhythms to align better for handling blood glucose. The other thing I’d have people consider is their physical activity. In this study, we found that people of the later chronotype were less fit, and they were performing less activity throughout the day. So one suggestion could be that by getting up 15 minutes earlier, maybe consider doing light walking around the house or outside. That could be a way to also increase physical activity and curb the type two diabetes risk.
Miller: Is there an ideal time that you want to be waking up at to have optimum health?
Malin: We, unfortunately, did not test that specific question. I can tell you the people in our study who were considered late owls were going to bed closer to 1 a.m. and waking up closer to 8 a.m. Compared to our early birds, they were going to bed more around 11 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. Some of that does align with work schedules, but it sort of gets us into that idea of really aligning people based on what their body needs.