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Night Owl or Early Bird? How Your Sleep Patterns Can Harm Your Health


by Dr. Nancy Rahnama

Director of Health & Nurition

We all know the feeling of waking up after a night of bad sleep. Whether it’s work stress, general anxiety, physical ill-health, or seasonal insomnia, a poor night’s sleep can take a few days to recover from. Not sleeping early or long enough can have more than an effect on our energy levels; it can impact our appetite, mood, libido, and even our skin.

Sleep is just as important for our bodies as eating healthily and exercising, but switching time zones, missing out on sleep, and changing schedules can all disrupt our sleep patterns. In this article, we’ll be looking at the effect sleep can have on your physical and mental health.

Are you a night owl or early bird?

If you haven’t heard of people categorizing themselves into early birds and night owls, let’s take a look at some definitions so you can figure out which you generally lean toward:

Early Birds: Those who wake up early and can soon start concentrating on complex tasks, can be very productive in the morning and early afternoon, and often rapidly lose energy or “crash” earlier in the evening and find it difficult to do focused work in the late afternoon and evening.

Night Owls: Those who have a harder time waking up in the morning and find themselves operating the best in the evening or late at night. They find their most productive times are when the world is generally “quiet” outside their windows.

Is it better to be a night owl or an early bird?

There’s nothing wrong with being either, but you need to be conscious of what you’re doing in terms of your health (including your mental health) and make sure you’re working to optimize your health and life, not simply leaning into negative patterns.

For example, some people are early birds, choosing to rise early and can quickly jump into focused work. Many “night owls” have to do this too, to conform to normal working hours, but actually find their focused time comes much later in the day, often early or late evening.

Choosing when to do your focused work can be a smart way to optimize your productivity and not beat yourself up when you feel tired and unable to focus at whichever end of the day feels most tiring to you.

So what’s the problem?

 The danger of leaning into being a night owl comes when you lean into it to such a degree that you don’t get enough sleep (because you have to still get up relatively early to get to work) or you don’t see enough daylight hours.

Many people with sleep issues also struggle with seasonal affective disorder or SAD. This form of depression is connected with changes in the seasons and typically shows itself every year around the same time. With seasonal affective disorder, symptoms tend to appear in late fall and early winter.

If you aren’t getting up until 11 a.m., you may only have 4 good hours of daylight before the sun sets. Studies have suggested that seasonal affective disorder could be connected to changes in the body’s circadian rhythm brought on by seasonal light changes.

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to function properly during the day, but most of us don’t sleep for long enough. This doesn’t just affect us by causing us to be more tired during the day; insufficient sleep over the long term can increase our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

What happens when you disrupt your sleep rhythm?

1. You may stop feeling like a part of society

In general, society is more accommodating to daytime schedules as a majority of workplaces operate during the day. Happiness and positive emotions are easier to maintain with sleep patterns easily integrated with society. Not only do we feel more comfortable with our role in society but we’re also following a lifestyle that aligns with that of our peers.

2. Your mental health may suffer

In a recent study, those who sleep and wake late were at a higher risk of mental health conditions and metabolic concerns. Sleeping poorly also affects our ability to control our emotions and empathy for others, so it’s important to sleep for the sake of our relationships.

3. You’re more likely to make bad nutritional decisions

In another study, lack of sleep was found to be a risk factor for obesity. This same study proved that having healthy sleep patterns reduced participants’ energy intake during that day. This makes sense, given that when we’re tired, we’re more likely to grab more snacks or indulge in unhealthy foods throughout the day. Since we don’t have the energy to cook proper meals, we end up eating convenience foods.

These foods rarely provide us with the nutrients we need, leaving us feeling sluggish and less likely to exercise, which may give us more energy. This triggers a cycle of poor sleeping patterns, unhealthy eating habits, low energy, and a generally bad mood. It can take a lot of effort and willpower to break a habit like this, but it’s worth it in the long run.

4. It may make it easier to lose weight

Maintaining a healthy sleep rhythm could also play a significant role in weight loss. There has been evidence that changes to our sleep schedule can alter our natural circadian rhythm, which is our internal "master clock". This internal rhythm influences important functions such as hormone release, eating habits, and body temperature.

So what can we do?

As we’ve learned, when our bodies go through any change that disrupts our sleep pattern, it can be harmful to our health. Inadequate sleep has been linked to memory issues, mood changes, weakened immunity, and increased risk for diabetes and even heart disease. But it’s not all bad news; there are certain supplements we can take to ease ourselves into a more settled and regular sleeping pattern. That’s where melatonin comes in.

What is melatonin and how does it help?

Melatonin is an important hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Its main function is to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and maintain a natural and healthy sleep cycle. For this reason, many refer to it as the sleep hormone. Many people take melatonin as a dietary supplement to help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. One study of 50 participants with insomnia found that taking a melatonin supplement two hours before bed helped them fall asleep faster. It also enhanced their overall sleep quality, which made them less likely to wake up and stay up late the following day.

Others take melatonin supplements to prevent jet lag, taking it before a long flight overseas. By manipulating the internal clock, you can keep this all-important circadian rhythm intact and avoid losing too much sleep.

Sleep Restore

 Sleep plays a more important role in our lives than we think. It affects our central nervous system, our ability to maintain a healthy weight, and even our capacity to interact with others well. If you’re struggling to get to sleep or stay asleep, my supplement Sleep Restore contains melatonin and other key ingredients to help you restore your rest, whether you go to bed early and struggle to sleep well through the night or find yourself tossing until the early hours of the morning. To find out more about Sleep Restore, click here.

 


Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease. In addition to her private practice in Beverly Hills, she is also the co-founder and Director of Nutrition for Dr Nancy MD.

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