Night Owls May Have a 10 Percent Higher Risk of Early Death, Study Concludes

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Sorry, night owls: On top of sadistically early work and school hours, it looks like you may have to live with a risk of dying sooner than so-called morning larks. That's according to a new study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the UK, which found people who stay up late and sleep in late have a 10 percent higher risk of dying sooner compared to early risers.

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly half a million UK residents ages 38 to 73 on their sleeping habits. Six-and-a-half years later, the participants who had identified themselves as "definite evening types" where 10 percent more likely to have died than the "definite morning types," even after adjusting for factors like age, existing health conditions, and time devoted to sleep each night.

Studies published in the past have linked staying up late to poor health. Night owls have been found to be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other complications, but this new study is the first of its kind to link a late-night lifestyle to an overall higher risk of earlier death.

Night owls and morning larks do have genetic differences that might explain their behaviors, but it's not necessarily a night owl's biology that makes them less healthy. "Night owls trying to live in a morning lark world may have health consequences for their bodies," Kristen Knutson, study co-author and an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press statement.

It is possible to trick yourself into becoming a morning person, but there are changes society could make that would be just as beneficial to people who prefer spending their mornings in bed. One would be giving employees the option to choose their schedule rather than forcing people with varying sleep habits into one box. "If we can recognize these chronotypes are, in part, genetically determined and not just a character flaw, jobs and work hours could have more flexibility for owls," Knutson said. "They shouldn't be forced to get up for an 8 a.m. shift. Make work shifts match people's chronotypes." The same goes for schools, especially since we tend to lean more toward a night owl schedule as adolescents and grow out of it as adults.

Another way society could help is by abolishing Daylight Saving Time. Studies have shown that heart attacks spike after we change our clocks. Despite evidence of the health risks, we've been slow to implement changes that allow people to listen to their bodies and follow their natural sleep schedules: So next time you have trouble pulling yourself out of bed, don't feel too guilty about hitting the snooze button.

This 'Time-Traveling Illusion' Is Designed to Trick Your Brain

A team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have designed an illusion that might trick your brain into seeing things that aren’t there, the New Atlas reports.

Dubbed the Illusory Rabbit, it provides instructions that are simple enough to follow. Start playing the YouTube video below and look at the cross in the middle of the screen while also watching for flashes that appear at the bottom of the screen. Most importantly, you’ll want to add up the number of flashes you see throughout the video. (And make sure your volume is up.)

We don’t want to spoil the fun, so before we explain the science of how it works, check out the video and try it for yourself.

Did you see three flashes paired with three beeps? You’re not alone. This is due to a phenomenon called postdiction, which is a little like the opposite of prediction. According to a paper outlining these findings in the journal PLOS ONE, postdiction occurs when the brain processes information retroactively [PDF]. This occurs in such a way that our perception of earlier events is altered by stimuli that come later. In this case, you might think you missed the flash paired with the second of the three beeps, so your mind goes back and tries to make sense of the missing information. That's why you may see an “illusory flash” in the middle of the screen, sandwiched between the two real flashes.

For this reason, the researchers call the mind trick a “time-traveling illusion across multiple senses” (in this case, vision and hearing). It’s successful because the beeps and flashes occur so rapidly—in less than one-fifth of a second. The senses essentially get confused, and the brain tries to fill in the gaps retroactively.

"Illusions are a really interesting window into the brain," the paper’s first author, Noelle Stiles, said in a statement. "By investigating illusions, we can study the brain's decision-making process.” Researchers wanted to find out how the brain “determines reality” when a couple of your senses (in this case, sight and hearing) are bombarded with noisy and conflicting information. When the brain isn’t sure of what’s going on, it essentially makes up information.

“The brain uses assumptions about the environment to solve this problem,” Stiles said. “When these assumptions happen to be wrong, illusions can occur as the brain tries to make the best sense of a confusing situation. We can use these illusions to unveil the underlying inferences that the brain makes."

[h/t New Atlas]

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

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It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2012.

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