Health Beat

Health Beat: Early risers, better dieters?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Are you a morning person or a night owl? A new study suggests your answer to that question may predict your food choices. Researchers looked at nearly 2,000 people to see if different internal time clocks affect diet in early risers and night owls.

"Interestingly, if you look over the course of the entire day, both early risers and night owls eat the same total amount of calories throughout the day, but there's some differences in the macronutrients they eat," said Courtney Peterson, an assistant professor for the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Nutrition Sciences.

Peterson said the night owls tended to eat less protein and more sugary foods, and their eating habits were worse on weekends. 

"So, this gives us some suggestion that night owls are eating more junk food or refined food throughout the day," Peterson continued.

Being a night owl is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease and cancer. Some studies show going to bed later results in poorer sleep quality and less physical activity.

But Peterson said you can change your internal clock to become an early riser. First, get bright light exposure as early as possible. Ideally, 30 to 60 minutes within an hour or two of waking. Next, reduce blue light exposure from computers, tablets and TVs after about 6 p.m. You can buy blue-blocker glasses or get an app like "flux," which filters out blue light on your computer screen. Also, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night.

And most importantly...

"The best thing you can do to help sync yourself to any schedule is actually to wake up at the same time every day, not necessarily to go to sleep at the same time every day," Peterson stated.

It could turn you into an early riser, and maybe even a healthier eater.

Peterson said the number of meals you eat per day doesn't really seem to matter when it comes to weight loss. What does matter is the time period that you eat your food. She said the smaller the time period you spend eating, the better.

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