The Health Risks of Being A Night Owl & The Facts About Sleep Misperception

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Welcome to the Sunday Sleeper.

I’m writing this blog post from the Consumer Health Summit in Paradise Valley, Arizona. It is tough to stay inside and listen when it is so beautiful outside. I am staying in (at least for now) because I’m learning so much from all the great health innovators at this conference. It is inspiring to meet them and hear what they are doing to improve the health of mankind and to be able to give something back by sharing with them.

Why Late Nights Lead to Health Problems

A recent study of night owls showed some not so happy results. The study, published Thursday in the journal Chronobiology International, tracked almost half a million adults in the United Kingdom over an average of 6½ years. The researchers found that those people who identified as “definite evening types” at the beginning of the study had a 10 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality compared with “definite morning types.”

The study also concluded that night owls were more likely to have diabetes, neurological disorders, psychological disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory disorders.

Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a leading author of the study said: “What we think might be happening is, there’s a problem for the night owl who’s trying to live in the morning world,” Knutson said. “This mismatch between their internal clock and their external world could lead to problems for their health over the long run, especially if their schedule is irregular.

“Whether or not you’re a night owl is partly determined by your genes, which obviously you can’t change, but it’s not entirely a given,” Knutson said.

Now, you’ve heard me talk a million times here about things not to do at bedtime and this advice is doubly true for night owls who are trying to adjust their schedule. Here’s what Knutson (and I) recommend.

Some strategies known to help people trying to switch to an earlier schedule include gradually advancing your bedtime and avoiding the use of technology at night, according to Knutson.

“I want to emphasize the gradual aspect. You can’t suddenly tonight just go to bed three hours earlier. It’s not going to work,” Knutson said.

“You also need to really avoid light at night, including your smartphone and your tablets,” she added. “That not only makes it hard to fall asleep; it’s also a signal to your clock to start being later again.”

So if you are a night owl who has to get up early and function in the morning, adjust your schedule gradually and be sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise and watch your diet. One of the challenges of night owls is late night snacking. Trust me, I know a thing or two about this. Before I started eating Nightfood bars as my evening snack, I was all over the place with food that wasn’t great for my health. If you are a night owl and a snacker, give Nightfood a try, they are delicious and are designed to not give you more energy at night so you can snack and rest better. If you use the code SLEEPDOC when you check out, you’ll even get 15% off.

Ok, here are two other new studies I read that helped me learn things I think you will find interesting as well:

  • New Research shows why people with Alzheimer’s can get aggressive after the sun goes down (I will give you a hint, it has to do with sleep)!
  • People with insomnia may be in a different state of consciousness than normal people when trying to fall asleep, this could cause an interesting disorder called Sleep State Misperception.

Alzheimer’s and Aggression

A new study has uncovered a biological clock circuit that may explain why people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can become more agitated or aggressive in the early evening. This is called “Sundowners Syndrome” and is a huge problem for the elderly. Sundowning is a condition typically seen in people with Alzheimer’s where they become agitated, aggressive and even combative but also confused and not understanding why they behave this way, after the sun goes down. It is very disturbing to both the patient and caretaker. In many cases the agitation can lead to violence, and this will often cause the patient to become institutionalized. While historically most physicians have not known the cause of this situation, for years we have known that evening light exposure can be helpful. New research published in Nature Neuroscience has found that our biological clock, may link to brain cells that control aggression.

Sleep Misperception

People with insomnia will often tell you that they haven’t slept a wink, even after you’ve just heard them snore. And, if you are hearing snoring or are snoring you should take my snoring quiz today for some quick solutions.

Recent research validates their experience and explains why this phenomenon occurs. The findings were published in the journal Sleep. Apparently, the experience of sleeping without even knowing it is not uncommon among those with the condition. Scientists have identified the phenomenon and, although they did not fully understand it, labeled it “sleep misperception.”

New research, however, delves deeper into the mystery of sleep misperception and may have found an explanation for it. Reported in Medical News Today, according to study leader Daniel Kay — a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT — the reason behind why scientists have been missing out on the explanation for this phenomenon is that, traditionally, you’re either asleep or you’re not, we have always thought of it as binary and when you’re asleep, you cannot be conscious.

As the team explained in the article, it is normal during the process of falling asleep for the brain to send inhibitory neurons that make people less and less consciously aware until they’ve reached a state of deep sleep. Think of it like a dimmer switch on a light, that is slowly moving toward darkness.

However, what the findings of the new study suggest is that people with insomnia may not feel as though they’re asleep until their brain experiences a greater inhibitory activity in areas that are linked to conscious awareness.

So people with insomnia may need to turn the dial a bit more than others to “feel” like they are sleeping (even though technically they already are asleep). 

“In patients with insomnia,” says Prof. Kay, “processes involved in reducing conscious awareness during sleep may be impaired […] One of the strategies for targeting these processes may be mindfulness meditation.”

I have covered the topic of Mindful Meditation previously on my blog here… it is definitely worth a review.

My most popular FB: 6 Myths that May Be Interrupting Your Sleep!

My most popular Tweet: Both yoga and meditation are helpful tactics to coax your mind to wind down. 

MJB in the Media this week: Natural Sleep Supplements Review

That’s it for this week but I look forward to bringing you more information next Sunday to help you learn more about your sleep and how to improve it or keep it great.

Sweet Dreams,

Dr. Michael Breus

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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