Consistent with their lower average of reported hours sleep per night, younger adults are among those most likely to believe they need more sleep than they are getting. Less than half of Americans under age 50 think they get as much sleep as they need, compared with 63% of those between the ages of 50 and 64, and 70% of those aged 65 and older.
Parents of young children are another group that tends to feel sleep-deprived — 46% think they get as much sleep as needed.The old saying coined by Benjamin Franklin “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” just might be true. Recent research published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has found that night owls may be more vulnerable to developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome and sarcopenia than their early-bird counterparts.
The strange thing is that these adverse effects still exist even when night owls get the same amount of sleep as early risers. Researchers theorize that this may be because postponing your bedtime can cause sleep loss, poor sleep quality and eating at inappropriate times — all factors that can lead to metabolic change.
“Regardless of lifestyle, people who stayed up late faced a higher risk of developing health problems like diabetes or reduced muscle mass than those who were early risers,” said Nan Hee Kim, MD, PhD, of Korea University College of Medicine in Ansan, Korea and a co-author of the study. “This could be caused by night owls’ tendency to have poorer sleep quality and to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, late-night eating and a sedentary lifestyle.”
Dr. Kim and his team analyzed the sleep habits and metabolism of 1,620 participants between the ages of 47 and 59. These volunteers answered questions about their sleep-wake cycle, sleep quality and lifestyle habits like exercising and eating. The researchers took blood samples to assess metabolic health and measured total body fat, lean mass and abdominal fat.
From the questionnaire, 480 participants were classified as early morning risers, and 95 as night owls. The rest had a sleep-wake cycle straddling the two extremes.
Even though the night owls were younger, they had higher levels of body fat and triglycerides, or fats in the blood, than those who wake up early. Night owls were also more likely to have sarcopenia, a condition where the body slowly loses its muscle mass.
The results differed slightly between men and women. Late-to-bed men were more likely to have type 2 diabetes or sarcopenia than early risers. In women, those who were night owls had more belly fat and a greater risk of metabolic syndrome, which in turn raise the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Dr. Kim thinks we should nip this heightened risk for metabolic issues in the bud, especially for the younger generation.
“Considering many younger people are evening chronotypes [naturally go to bed later], the metabolic risk associated with their circadian preference is an important health issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.
U.S. adults likely get less sleep than would be ideal, with the average reported 6.8 hours below the minimum recommendation of seven hours per night. Forty percent get six hours sleep or less per night. That is a major shift from 1942, at which time the vast majority of American adults were sleeping seven hours or more per night.
Noted is the problem with staying up late is not listening to our bodies’ when they are speaking loudly to us. We can train ourselves to stay up late, thinking we only need the allotted amount of sleep we are giving ourselves. But, that can lead to sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is commonplace in modern society, but its far-reaching effects on cognitive performance are only beginning to be understood from a scientific perspective. While there is broad consensus that insufficient sleep leads to a general slowing of response speed and increased variability in performance, particularly for simple measures of alertness, attention and vigilance, there is much less agreement about the effects of sleep deprivation on many higher level cognitive capacities, including perception, memory and executive functions. Central to this debate has been the question of whether sleep deprivation affects nearly all cognitive capacities in a global manner through degraded alertness and attention, or whether sleep loss specifically impairs some aspects of cognition more than others.
Young adults and parents of children under 18 are among the more sleep-deprived groups, while senior citizens tend to be well-rested. Clearly, this is on account of lifestyle, in terms of the demands of working and parenting. Thus, younger Americans who are not getting enough sleep now can look forward to getting more rest as they age and their life situation changes.
Those changes in sleep patterns throughout the life span could lead to changes in Americans’ average sleep in the coming years as the baby boomer generation increasingly reaches retirement age. With baby boomers making up such a large share of the U.S. population, more sleep among this group could push the sleeping averages among all Americans higher in the coming years.