Late bedtimes might harm your mental health, even if you're a nightowl

Neuroscience News°:

Staying up late harms mental health regardless of one’s natural sleep preference. Surveying nearly 75,000 adults, researchers discovered that both morning and night types who stayed up late had higher rates of mental disorders. Surprisingly, aligning with one’s chronotype didn’t matter—early bedtimes benefited everyone. The study suggests lights out by 1 a.m. for better mental health.

[…] “The worst-case scenario is definitely the late-night people staying up late,” Zeitzer said. Night owls being true to their chronotype were 20% to 40% more likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, compared with night owls following an early or intermediate sleep schedule.

[…] They also tested the possibility that it was poor mental health causing people to stay up late, not the other way around. They tracked a subset of participants who had no previous diagnosis of a mental disorder for the next eight years.

During that time, night owls who slept late were the most likely to develop a mental health disorder.

I’ve noticed this – anecdotally. I’m a natural night owl, but I feel at my worst when I go to bed late.

I feel happier and healthier when in an earlier pattern. But I find it tough to remain in that pattern. My body and brain is constantly asking me to stay up later. And once or twice a week I’ll really struggle to get to sleep.

One thing that study didn’t look into is wether the increase of mental health issues is caused by what people do late at night, rather than just being awake late:

There may be many explanations for sleep timing’s link to mental well-being, but [the studies author] thinks it likely comes down to the poor decisions that people make in the wee hours of the morning.

Many harmful behaviors are more common at night, including suicidal thinking, violent crimes, alcohol and drug use, and overeating.

[…] His team plans to examine whether particular late-night behaviors, rather than timing per se, are linked to poor mental health.

In my case the bad outcomes seem to be caused by the staying up late, not what I do in those late hours.

Read this next: 1920’s depression treatment: lots of milk and lots of nothing

Discover more each week by subscribing to the newsletter.