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Late nights may increase risk of heart disease

“Night owls” – or those who typically stay up late into the night and wake up late – are more likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than people who get to bed and wake up early according to research conducted at Rutgers University in the US.

While the act of staying awake until the late hours in isolation may not be a major risk factor, researchers suggested that behavioural changes associated with this sleep pattern may be causing issues. 

It was found during the course of the study – which divided 51 obese, middle aged adults into two sleep groups – that the bodies of early risers were more likely to rely on fat as an energy source. The opposite was true in those who stayed awake late, who typically relied more on carbohydrates as an energy source. This suggests a metabolic shift linked to the sleep cycle.

Further research found that the change may be a result of insulin sensitivity. The night owl group were found to have lower insulin sensitivity than the early risers, leaving them more prone to diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. “This could help medical professionals consider another behavioural factor contributing to disease risk,” said Prof Steven Malin, a senior author on the study.

The reduced insulin sensitivity was noted during the course of the study to result in difficulty in burning extra body fat. “A potential explanation is they become misaligned with their circadian rhythm for various reasons. If a person is a night owl, they may prefer to go to bed late but still have to get up early to go to work or to look after children, and this may force them to be out of alignment with their body clocks when they would rather be sleeping,” Prof Malin was quoted as saying.

According to research in India conducted in 2019, over the last 25 years, India has seen a fifty percent rise in heart disease cases. Lifestyle changes over this time period have played a major role in this rise in heart disease. Rapid industrialisation in India has resulted in significant changes in the way many Indians live their lives. 

As previously mentioned by Health Issues India, “much of the country is now adopting a lifestyle much more closely related to that of Western nations than that of rural India, creating a disparity in the health issues faced depending on geographic region. In the cities, sedentary lifestyles and occupation — coupled with a diet in which high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are common — are creating a situation in which noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease and cancer are common thanks to a proliferation of risk factors such as obesity.”

This study highlights that sleeping patterns may also be a consistent predictor of NCDs. The behaviour was found to be a major indicator of other lifestyle factors. Those who woke up early were more likely to be active for a larger span of the day than those who stayed up late. 

Doctors in India have agreed with the conclusions of the study, and the potential of sleep habits as a predictor of other lifestyle issues. “There are a lot of studies on diet, weight loss, sleep pattern, but heart diseases are multifactorial. We cannot say doing any one thing will be beneficial for our patients.” said Dr VK Bahl, Principal Director of Cardiac Sciences at Max Healthcare and former head of the Department of Cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “Having said that, if we look at the conclusions logically, then a person who stays up late at night is likely to snack more and if a person wakes up early, is much more likely to go for a walk or do yoga in the morning. All the factors such as diet, exercise, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, family history and other reasons together impact heart health.” 

The deaths of two celebrities, Puneeth Rajkumar and Siddharth Shukla, due to cardiac arrest in 2021 brought heart disease to public attention. The two actors, both in their forties, died from heart disease at an age where it is commonly thought to be unheard of, and served to highlight that even young people are at risk from the condition.

Lifestyle factors that lead to heart disease are becoming ever more common among India’s younger population. In the coming years, this is only going to increase the incidence of heart disease in the country and add to a growing burden of conditions straining healthcare resources. While the study does not provide any direct solution to this, it does offer a simple to assess marker for those who may be more susceptible to NCDs, which could significantly assist in allocating resources.

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