‘Night owls’ could have greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease than those who are ‘early birds’

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Are you an early bird, or a night owl. Our risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes could be affected by how we sleep and what we do. In this issue, new research was published. Experimental PhysiologyResearchers have found that wake/sleep cycles can cause metabolic differences and alter the body’s preference to energy sources. Researchers discovered that people who stay awake later have a decreased ability to use fat as energy. This means that fats can build up in the body, increasing risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The metabolic differences are related to how insulin can be used to promote glucose uptake by cells for energy storage and use. People who are “early bird” (individuals who prefer being active in the morning) rely on fat more and are more active during daytime with higher levels of aerobic fitness. Night owls, on the other hand use less fat to fuel their exercise and rest.

Researchers from Rutgers University, New Jersey, U.S. classified participants (n=51) into two groups (early and late) based on their “chronotype”—the natural propensity to seek activity and sleep at different times. Advanced imaging was used to assess the body’s mass and composition. They also took breath samples to measure fat, carbohydrate, and insulin sensitivity.

Participants were observed for a week to evaluate their activity patterns throughout the day. To minimize the impact of diet on results, participants were required to fast overnight and eat a controlled calorie and nutritional diet. They were given a rest period to determine their fuel preference before they began two 15-minute sessions of moderate and high intensity exercise on a treadmill. The incline was increased by 2.5% every 2 minutes until exhaustion.

Researchers found that birds of the early age use more fat for energy than night owls, both at rest and in exercise. Early birds were also more insulin-sensitive. Night owls are insulin-resistant. This means their bodies need more insulin to lower blood glucose levels. Their bodies prefer carbohydrates over fats. This group’s inability to respond to insulin to fuel use can be dangerous as it could lead to type 2 diabetes and/or heart diseases. This shift in metabolic preference between night owls and early birds is still unknown. Further investigation is needed.

Rutgers University senior author Steven Malin said that “the differences in fat metabolism among ‘early birds” and ‘night-owls’ show that our body’s circadian cycle (wake/sleep) could impact how insulin is used. The health of our bodies can be affected by our ability to respond to insulin hormones in a sensitive or impaired way. This observation helps us understand how our circadian rhythms affect our health. We suggest that chronotype could be used to predict a person’s risk of developing a disease because it appears to have an impact on our metabolism and hormone action.

“We also found that night owls are more active and more fit than the early birds, who are more passive during the day.” To determine if exercising earlier in the morning has greater health benefits, further research is needed to determine the relationship between chronotype, exercise, and metabolic adaptation.

Night owls with gestational diabetic may be at greater risk for pregnancy complications

More information:
Early Chronotype and Metabolic Syndrome favors Resting & Exercise Fat Oxidation in Relation To Insulin-stimulated, Non-Oxidative Sugar Disposal Experimental Physiology (2022). DOI: 10.1113/EP090613

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The Physiological Society

“Night owls” could be at greater risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease that those who are “early birds” (2022, September 20).
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