Night Owls Be Warned, Late Nights Could Be Hurting Your Health

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Mental Health

Whether you’re binging a new show, getting stuck in on a gaming session with the boys or just don’t feel ready to hit the hay; you might be in the habit of getting to bed late. Typically, you’d just call yourself a night owl before gritting your teeth through the fatigue, bleary eyes and foggy thoughts. However, new research has discovered that those late nights could wreak havoc with your health.

A study published in Psychiatry Research looked into the possible side effects of going to sleep late. As part of the study, researchers analysed the sleep habits of around 74 000 people, dividing up this cohort into three distinct groups: early sleepers, late sleepers and those in the middle. To gather their deets, researchers asked participants to fill in questionnaires and their sleeping patterns were tracked with activity monitors.

READ MORE: Sleep Supersets: 5 Foolproof Strategies To Catch More ZZZs

The results? Those who went to bed late were 20% to 40% more likely to develop mental health disorders, i.e., symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. And yes, that was after ruling out factors like sleep duration and regularity.

Why Late Nights Hurt Your Mood

You enter something called REM (rapid eye movement) when you go into deep sleep. At this point, your muscles relax, your breathing becomes irregular, your heart rate is elevated and your brain activity increases. It’s part of the human sleep cycle, even mammals do it… and birds.

Now, why is this important? REM has been linked with mood regulation with changes in these patterns often resulting in a higher risk of disorders such as PTSD, depression and general anxiety disorder. As REM tends to occur most frequently during the second half of the night, hitting the hay after midnight may affect the cycle.

READ MORE: Get the Sleep You Really Need—an Expert Answers Your Most Pressing Questions

While there’s no clear consensus on the exact role of REM (unless you’re talking about the band), reports suggest missing out on these important cycles could lead to a buildup of “waste” in your brain.

How To Get To Sleep Earlier

Getting to bed early isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. You, like millions of others, might struggle to fall asleep, so it can be a pain to set the clock back to a more reasonable bedtime.

But with a few tips and tricks, you can snag enough shuteye to ward off the blues. Next time you’re trying to tuck in before midnight, try this:

1. Set a Schedule

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Putting a permanent pattern in place will help fine-tune your body’s internal clock, making it easier (in the long run) to fall asleep before midnight.

2. Prime Yourself

Comfy pillows can help, but a pre-sleep routine will do more than any 1000-thread-count sheets. In the hour before your bedtime, engage in relaxing and calming activities like:

  • Take a warm bath
  • Meditation
  • Read a book
  • Journal

READ MORE: Time Off? Here’s How to Get More (And Better) Sleep

3. Cut Out the Screens

While there’s some disagreement on whether the blue light emitted by phones, tablets and TVs can interfere with your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin, that’s not the only reason your screen time is cutting into your sleep schedule. Doomscrolling through Instagram when you’re supposed to be winding down will stimulate your mind. 

4. Avoid Caffeine

…and large meals, and alcohol. These can disrupt your sleep or make it difficult to snooze. If you’re feeling peckish, opt for a light (healthy) snack instead.

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