Some of us are early birds—we wake up bright and early and like to get a jump-start on our day, but retire to bed much earlier than midnight. Others are night owls—staying up long after the sun has set and sleeping in the next day. You probably know where you fall on the early bird vs. night owl spectrum, but did you know your sleep schedule can affect your health?
Sleep is a necessary function that allows our bodies to recharge, heal and maintain everyday functionality. Sleep deprivation has been linked to decreases in cognitive function, illness, obesity and more. However, even if you’re managing to clock eight hours of sleep each day, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for your health. It all depends on your sleep schedule.
Chronotypes and the role they play in sleep
Understanding your sleep schedule and how it relates to your health requires you to understand your chronotype. A chronotype is a preference for when you like to wake up and go to bed. People with morning chronotypes prefer to wake up early and go to sleep early. People with evening chronotypes prefer to stay up late and sleep in later in the mornings.
Your chronotype isn’t just what you like to do, though—it’s linked to your circadian rhythm, or the internal biological clock your body runs on. These rhythms give signals to your body to perform certain functionalities, like lowering your body temperature to signal it’s time to sleep, for example.
You can determine your chronotype by taking the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ), which includes a series of questions about your sleep schedule. However, your chronotype can, and likely will, change as you get older. Teens and young adults tend to have evening chronotypes that shift into morning chronotypes when they are elderly.
Whether your chronotype is more toward the morning or evening can play a role in the quality and amount of sleep you get each night. If you have a chronotype that doesn’t match up with the sleep schedule you’re actually following, you might be in trouble. A mismatched chronotype and sleep schedule can lead to poor sleep quality and/or sleep deprivation.
People with evening chronotypes typically struggle more with sleep deprivation or quality issues because the world tends to revolve around a morning chronotype. Due to work and school schedules, many people are forced to wake up earlier than they should be and struggle to get an adequate amount of sleep if they have an evening chronotype. It’s usually not easy for people to go to sleep earlier to make up for it—they just don’t get good sleep!
Lack of sleep can make you sick
A lack of sleep just makes you tired during the day, but it can’t hurt you, right? Wrong! Sleep deprivation is very serious and can actually lead to a lot of harm if not rectified quickly. In addition to lower cognitive function and some serious crankiness, people who don’t get enough sleep each night can face some of these issues:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Fatty liver disease
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Type 2 diabetes
Because there’s such an emphasis on morning chronotypes in today’s society, people with evening chronotypes are more likely to suffer from these issues. However, anyone who is sleeping on a schedule very different from what their chronotype and circadian rhythms follow is probably not getting enough (or very good) sleep and could face health problems.
Getting back on track
Sometimes, fixing your sleep schedule is as easy as going to bed and waking up when it feels most natural to your body. However, work and school aren’t as easy to accommodate to your sleep schedule. If you aren’t able to make these adjustments, there are a few things you can do to keep your sleep schedule on track and even alter your circadian rhythms.
- First, make sure you’re following a regular sleep schedule. It might be tempting to sleep in a lot on the weekends to make up for lost sleep, but it’s much better for your body to continue going to bed and waking up at a consistent time.
- Next, you can try taking supplements like melatonin to trick your body into going to sleep earlier. Always speak with a doctor before introducing supplements to your daily routine.
- Finally, don’t underestimate the power of sunlight. Light helps your body realize it’s time to be awake and alert—this is why we feel sleepy when sitting in the dark for a while. Spend more time outdoors first thing in the morning or purchase a sun lamp to use at your desk to improve functionality.
By identifying your chronotype and adjusting your personal schedule and sleep schedule to accommodate, you can avoid major illnesses and other health problems caused by sleep deprivation. Listen to your body and catch some more z’s to stay happy and healthy!