Waking Up Early Could Be Bad for Your Health, Study Says

Yet another reason to despise Mondays.

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We've all had a case of the Sunday night blues, but the end of the weekend might be more than just depressing. New research shows the transition from sleeping in on off days to an early-morning alarm could increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Previous research has linked circadian strain (such as rotating night shift work and Daylight Savings Time) with increased metabolic risk—and sleep disruption has been proven to have a negative impact on our health. But the new study from University of Pittsburgh researchers showed that routine (and seemingly harmless) sleep changes, such as waking up early for work, may increase our risk of developing metabolic problems. The results are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Researchers examined the sleep patterns and cardiometabolic risk (risk of having diabetes, heart disease, or stroke) of 447 healthy male and female participants between the ages of 30 and 54, all of whom worked at least 25 hours a week outside of their homes. To measure their movement and sleep, participants wore wristbands 24 hours a day for a week. Additionally, they filled out questionnaires that asked about their diet and exercise habits.

On free days (when participants weren’t working), 85 percent had a later halfway point in their sleep cycles than on days when they went to work. Even when physical activity and calorie intake were accounted for, participants with the most social jetlag—the disparity between biological circadian rhythm and the sleep schedule imposed by one's social schedule—tended to have higher body-mass index, larger waist circumference, higher fasting insulin levels, and poorer cholesterol profiles.

Although the study did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the misalignment of sleep schedules and the development of metabolic diseases, it may be worth considering how work and social obligations affect our sleep and health—especially if future studies yield similar results.

"There could be benefits to clinical interventions focused on circadian disturbances, workplace education to help employees and their families make informed decisions about structuring their schedules, and policies to encourage employers to consider these issues," lead researcher Patricia M. Wong said in a statement.