Night Owls Might Be More Likely to Make Unhealthy Food Choices

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Night owls miss out on a lot during the day, including a healthy diet according to a new study.

Researchers from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland studied the eating habits and chronotypes, or someone’s sleep habits, of more than 1,500 random individuals. The Obesity Society spokesperson Courtney Peterson of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said early birds get a jump on more than just the day itself.

Credit: B Rosen/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

“Early birds may have an extra advantage over night owls when it comes to fighting obesity as they are instinctively choosing to eat healthier foods earlier in the day,”  Peterson said to Science Daily. “Previous studies have shown that eating earlier in the day may help with weight loss and lower the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. What this new study shows is that our biological clocks not only affect our metabolism but also what we choose to eat.”

The study was the first population-based study that looked at the links between sleeping and diet habits. The researchers found that both early birds and night owls had four energy peaks throughout the day, with energy peaks of night owls following an hour behind early birds. The total energy intake of night owls was also lower than morning birds from the beginning of the day until 10 p.m.

Overall, night owls exhibited poor diet choices, such as less protein consumed versus the morning people. The night owls consumed more sugar than any other nutrient in the morning hours than the early birds.

Related: When You Eat May Be as Important as What You Eat

The authors said the habits worsened for night owls in the evening, as those with later sleeping habits had higher intakes of sugar, fat and saturated fatty acids. The diet choices were even more pronounced on the weekends, as night owls were observed to have more irregular meal times and twice as many meals on the weekend than the early birds.

“Linking what and when people eat to their biological clock type provides a fresh perspective on why certain people are more likely to make unhealthy food decisions,” said Mirkka Maukonen, who led the study using data from the national FINRISK 2007 study. “This study shows that evening type people have less favorable eating habits, which may put them at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

Credit: Meraj Chhaya/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Eating breakfast is associated with higher carbohydrate intake and a higher intake of fiber-rich foods, while people are more likely to eat fatty foods in the evening. The ease of making healthier choices in the morning could be because our self-control has a tendency to diminish as the day goes on, the authors suggested.

The unhealthy diet patterns of the night owls suggest that they are at risk for higher obesity and metabolic disturbances in the future, the authors said. With the study’s results, Peterson said physicians can better direct their patients.

“Clinicians can help steer people to healthier options – and suggest the optimal time to eat these foods – based on what we now know about our biological clocks,” Peterson said.

Related: Your Creativity Could Affect How Much You Sleep

Tori Linville
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.