Who's Healthier: Larks or Night Owls?

It all comes down to eating habits.

People who rise early in the morning have better eating habits than those who stay up until all hours, and this results in better health and lower weight, HealthDay News reports of research from Finland.

Translation: Night owls have a higher risk for obesity than larks.

Why? Night owls eat later in the evening, and the food they choose for these late night meals and snacks often contains a high amount of sugar, fat and saturated fat.

This matters because throughout the day and night our bodies naturally produce hormones at different levels that impact appetite and metabolism. How much we sleep and when we sleep appears to affect the production of these hormones, and that in turn can affect not only our appetite, but also our food choices--and eventually our body composition and weight, reports HealthDay News.

The study: Led by Mirkka Maukonen of the National Institute of Health and Welfare in Helsinki, the team followed nearly 1,900 Finnish adults ages 25 to 74, all of whom participated in either a national nutritional study or a national heart disease study in 2007.

As part of the nutrition study, the volunteers completed 48-hour food diaries that included daily caloric intake, as well as a tally of the carbohydrates, sugar, fiber, protein, fat, saturated fatty acids and alcohol they consumed. Meal times on the weekdays and weekends were also recorded.

Those who participated in the heart disease study recorded their total daily sleep time, as well as their routine wake-up time, the time they worked and the time they performed hard physical tasks.

Nearly half the participants were deemed to be morning people, while just 12 percent qualified as night owls. About 39 percent fell somewhere in between, the researchers said.

The results:

  • Larks and night owls consumed about the same amount of calories daily.

  • Night owls consumed, on average, 4 percent fewer calories before 10 a.m. and had less energy in the morning. This pattern continued through the earlier daylight hours.

  • Night owls tended to consume fewer carbohydrates, proteins and fats through the day, but they did consume significantly more sugar in the morning and after 8 p.m., compared with larks. They also gravitated toward more fat and saturated fatty acids at night.

  • Maukonen says that when night owls eat less during the day, it increases feelings of hunger in the late afternoon and evening hours, which can easily result in less healthy food choices with more fat and sugar.

  • Night owls also get less routine physical activity, have more difficulty sleeping and are more likely to smoke. In addition, night owls are less likely to say they are in good overall health or shape, relative to morning people.

Important caveat: The study did not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between late nights and obesity; rather, it found a link between night owl habits and a risk for poorer health.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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