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Hey, Night Owls: This Sleep Tweak Could Make You Happier & More Productive

Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy
June 10, 2019

The next time you're tempted to stay up until the wee hours of the morning bingeing Big Little Lies (again), you'll want to remember this new research on night owls.

The study, a collaboration between universities in the U.K. and Australia that was published in the journal Sleep Medicine, finds that going to bed earlier is indeed better for your health—even if the number of hours you spend asleep doesn't change.

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Over a three-week period, the researchers followed a small cohort of 22 participants who qualified as night owls, with an average bedtime of 2:30 a.m and wake-up time of 10:15 a.m. Each one was instructed to gradually push up their bedtime and wake-up time by two to three hours while maximizing sun exposure in the mornings and minimizing artificial light at night. They were also instructed to keep their sleep and wake-up times consistent on weekends and weekdays and minimize late-night snacking.

This holistic sleep revamp led to some serious mind-body benefits: Though they technically weren't getting any more sleep than before, participants reported improved mental and physical functioning in the mornings, cleaner eating habits, and decreased feelings of depression and stress. The changes didn't appear to have any negative effects on sleep quality.

"Our research findings highlight the ability of a simple nonpharmacological intervention to phase advance 'night owls,' reduce negative elements of mental health and sleepiness, as well as manipulate peak performance times in the real world," lead researcher Elise Facer-Childs, Ph.D., wrote in the study.

Study co-author Andrew Bagshaw, Ph.D., thinks that these results speak to the fact that our world just isn't equipped for night owls: "Having a late sleep pattern puts you at odds with the standard societal days, which can lead to a range of adverse outcomes—from daytime sleepiness to poorer mental well-being," he wrote. They also likely have a lot to do with circadian rhythm. Previous research has shown that when we live in alignment with our internal clocks, which ebb and flow with the cycles of the sun and moon (not the blue light of our laptops and smartphones), we tend to be less predisposed to obesitydiabetes, and depression1.

While wonky work schedules and family responsibilities mean that some people really do need to burn that midnight oil, any night owls who are able to adjust their sleep schedules might want to give this experiment a try. To get started snoozing, check out these pointers from some of the wellness world's best sleepers.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.