13 Ways Staying up All Night Could Hurt Your Health

Plus, tips from sleep experts for a healthier bedtime routine.

Woman lying in bed can't sleep
Photo: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

If you find that you enjoy staying up late at night as opposed to getting up early in the morning, you're likely a night owl. Even if you like the idea of staying up all night, there are a number of issues that come with the night-owl life.

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It's Linked to Higher Blood Pressure

Is your blood pressure higher than normal as a night owl? The two are linked—in fact, night owls are more at risk for hypertension than their morning lark counterparts.

Andrew Varga, MD, assistant professor of medicine, pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at Icahn School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Health System, said that lifestyle patterns like unhealthy eating or lack of exercise may contribute to night owls' higher likelihood of hypertension. Stress—both physiological and psychological—may play a big role as well.

02 of 15

You're Less Likely To Get Your Workout In

Researchers for an April 2022 study published in the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Journal investigated the link between children's and adolescents' sleep timing and health indicators. They found that, across the studies they explored, the later the sleep time, the higher the amount of sedentary behavior.

Most fitness experts agree that the best time of day to exercise is different for everyone, and that optimal timing will depend on a person's schedule and preferences. But getting up early and working out first thing does have its advantages: A morning workout can give you energy to power you through the rest of the day, and your routine won't get derailed if something unexpected comes up later on.

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Late-Night Eating May Lead to Weight Gain

"When people go to bed late, they're up living their lives—and one of the things they're often doing is eating," said Dr. Varga. "If your bedtime is 3 in the morning, you're probably eating around 11 p.m. or midnight, and that's been known to create problems with the way your body handles and metabolizes food."

Some experts believe that eating after dark disrupts the body's natural overnight fasting period, which can interfere with its ability to burn fat. Night owls can also consume more calories–perhaps because willpower is lower when you're tired and we tend to crave unhealthier foods late at night.

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Night Owls Have a Higher Risk of Developing Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition, particularly when it comes to night owls. In fact, in a January 2022 meta-analysis published in Advances in Nutrition, the researchers discovered that across 39 studies, those considered to be night owls had "a significantly higher risk of diabetes" along with other conditions.

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A Harder Time Controlling Their Diabetes, Too

For those who do go on to develop diabetes, being a night owl can make the condition more difficult to manage. Thus, it is important that "[t]he benefits of consuming meals early in the day should be encouraged in diabetics," according to a February 2020 Nutrition & Diabetes study.

"We know that the amount of sleep you get is important, but this research is also suggesting that when you're sleeping matters, too," said Kristen Knutson, PhD, associate professor of neurology and preventative medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Other research published in Sleep Medicine Clinics in December 2015 found that people with diabetes showed a link between evening chronotypes and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

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Night Owls Get Less Sleep

Speaking of the amount of sleep you get: Night owls also tend to get less overall than those who are early-to-bed, early-to-rise. "If you can't fall asleep until 2 or 3 in the morning and you have to be at work at 9, you're not going to be able to get as much good-quality sleep as you really should," said Dr. Varga.

Night owls with weekday jobs tend to make up for some of that lost sleep on the weekends, when they can sleep in. This type of "sleep debt" isn't that easy to catch up on, but shifting your sleep schedule on the weekends could still come with health risks of its own.

07 of 15

Night Owls Are Bigger Risk Takers

Staying up late and sleeping in every morning is also associated with a greater tendency for risk-taking, according to a 2019 study in PLoS One. In general, the male participants in the study reported that they took more risks than the female participants. However, the female participants with evening chronotypes reported taking more risks than their morning counterparts.

Of note, while taking risks isn't always a bad thing, it can sometimes lead to dangerous or unhealthy situations, like gambling, substance abuse, or unprotected sex.

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They're Also More Likely To Be Single

According to a July 2021 in Genes, a person's chronotype can have an effect on a person's experience with loneliness and the number of sexual partners the person may have.

There's nothing wrong with being single, of course—but research does suggest that, when it comes to health benefits, happily married people often have a leg up. Partners in long-term relationships may motivate each other to stay healthy and visit a healthcare provider, experts have said, and the companionship they provide each other is also valuable for mental and physical health.

09 of 15

Early-Morning Driving May Be Dangerous

It makes sense that night owls tend to be more tired and less alert in the morning, compared to how they feel during their prime evening hours.

A June 2014 study from Accident Analysis & Prevention, which tested 29 graduate students on driving simulators, found that evening types were less attentive and more prone to errors at 8 in the morning than they were at 8 in the evening. Morning types, on the other hand, were more consistent and drove relatively well during both times of the day.

The authors said their findings suggested that employers should tailor individual work schedules around employees' chronotypes to cut back on people having to drive or perform work-related tasks during "non-optimal" times.

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Teenagers Have Issues as Night Owls

It's not uncommon for teenagers to have trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. School responsibilities and social distractions are two big reasons, but hormonal changes around puberty can also have a lot to do with teens' shifted sleep schedule.

A February 2021 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence investigated the sleep-wake timings for 349 adolescents. The researchers found that teenage night owls—males in particular—engaged in more risky behaviors and substance use, and more substance use was found overall with older adolescents.

11 of 15

It's Been Linked to Depression and Poor Mood

If you're a night owl, you may be prone to experiencing mood related issues. Researchers of a March 2021 Biomolecules study noted that those who prefer awake time during the evenings are "predisposed" to conditions from mood disorders to personality disturbances.

That's not the first time being a night owl had been linked to negative mood and personality traits. In 2008, a study in Personality and Individual Differences found that "morningness" correlated with agreeableness and conscientiousness, while "eveningness" was related to neuroticism in women and adolescents.

Researchers have also suggested that night owls may have a harder time regulating their emotions. In a 2017 study in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, scientists found that night owls are more likely to suppress their feelings and less likely to practice cognitive reappraisal (the ability to change the way one thinks about something—to "look on the bright side," for example) than morning people.

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It's Associated With Alcohol and Tobacco Use

A night-owl lifestyle often goes hand-in-hand with other unhealthy behaviors. People who consistently stay up late at night tend to use more alcohol and tobacco products than those who go to bed early, for example. Additionally, the July 2021 Genes study mentioned earlier also saw a relationship with evening chronotypes and increased beer intake.

Of course, that's not true for all night owls, and there's also no evidence that staying up late actually leads to these behaviors. "It's not clear whether staying up late is a cause or a result of these other lifestyle issues," said Knutson. "In fact, if you're staying up late because you can't fall asleep, these unhealthy behaviors might be a big part of the problem."

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Night Owls Die Sooner Than Morning People

Even with all of this research, it hasn't been clear whether the health risks associated with being a night owl are substantial enough to make a measurable difference in people's lives.

"People who were definite night owls were also more likely to have pretty much every health problem we looked at," said Knutson. (Those problems included diabetes, neurological problems, and respiratory disorders, to name a few.) "And…we have evidence to show that staying up late also seems to be connected to early death or mortality, as well."

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It's Not All Bad News, Though

There are some upsides to being a naturally late sleeper. Night owls tend to have bigger social networks, and some research has found them to be more productive and creative than morning birds.

Dr. Varga also pointed out that plenty of night owls lead healthy lives and that more research is needed to determine the real-life consequences of staying up late.

"The true data on this is not very strong, and a lot of it is extrapolated from people in extreme situations, like shift workers," said Dr. Varga. "It's still not clear how serious the risks are for people whose patterns may be just a few hours off, so I think some caution is warranted when you're interpreting these studies."

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What Night Owls Can Do

Your chronotype may be ingrained in your DNA, said Knutson, but that doesn't mean you can't change it. "About 50% is genetic, but that leaves another 50% where there's opportunity for shifting your clock," said Knutson. "But it does require vigilance and consistency with your schedule, which can be a challenge to maintain."

Night owls can gradually acclimate themselves to an earlier bedtime by turning in a few minutes earlier every night, she said. (Don't rush it too quickly, or you'll lie awake for hours.) It's also important to avoid bright light at night, and to wake up at the same time every day.

Exposing yourself to bright light first thing in the morning can also help reprogram the brain to wake up—and subsequently fall asleep—earlier, said Dr. Varga. You can also ask your healthcare provider about taking melatonin, a synthetic version of the brain's sleep-inducing hormone, key in regulating your internal clock.

But will shifting the body's natural chronotype actually protect against some of the health risks of being a night owl? "We don't know the answer to that yet, and that's where the research needs to go next," said Knutson.

"For now, I think it's most important for night owls to recognize that there are health problems associated with their lifestyle," said Knutson. "They seem to be more vulnerable to the consequences of a less healthy lifestyle, so they need to be even more vigilant about making smart choices."

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