Can Being A Night Owl Affect Your Mental Health? An Expert Weighs In

While some of us may thrive as early birds awake at the crack of dawn, others find themselves to be most alert during the hours of the night. Although being a night owl may have its perks, Lisa Kruger, PhD, LPC, owner/psychotherapist of Stepping Stone Psychotherapy, LLC in Alexandria, VA, told Health Digest in an exclusive interview that it can also have a negative impact on our mental health.

She starts off explaining how night owls are often more susceptible to mood disorders. "Studies have shown that people who are night owls are more at risk for developing depression or anxiety because of disruption to the body's natural circadian rhythm," Dr. Kruger states. She adds that these individuals also tend to be less rested. "Poor sleep quality can lead to less mental clarity throughout the day. This can impact low motivation, and overall productivity and performance," says Dr. Kruger.

The third way in which being a night owl can wear on one's mental health is that it can foster a sense of social isolation. "This can develop as a result of mismatched sleeping and waking schedules with [those] of family and friends," Dr. Kruger explains. "Social interactions are therefore limited, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection."

When to consider seeking professional help

Dr. Kruger goes on to outline three key signs that a person may benefit from the support of a mental health professional. "Significant distress [and] decreased level of functioning," Dr. Kruger says is the first sign. "If being a night owl is contributing to negative impacts on significant things in your daily life, it would be beneficial to seek help either from a sleep specialist and/or therapist," she tells us exclusively. "Negative impacts could include: chronic fatigue, difficulty staying awake during the day, conflict in relationships, not meeting social obligations, or poor job performance."

Individuals should also note any negative effects they're experiencing in regards to their physical health. "Those who are night owls are more at risk for developing obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular issues," Dr. Kruger explains. "Seeking professional help from a therapist can help identify underlying reasons as to why a person stays up at night."

The third sign to watch out for, she says, is difficulty taking action. "When a person is motivated to make this change and knows all the things that can help them but just isn't able to execute them, a professional can offer guidance and support to identify barriers to making change and to help you establish healthier sleep habits," Dr. Kruger states.

Three ways that professional help can boost mental health

As our interview comes to an end, Dr. Kruger highlights three changes that patients can expect to see as they begin to pursue professional support. The first change is improvements in sleep quality. "With the guidance of a professional, a night owl can develop new habits over time," she says. "This could include gradually incorporating tenets of good sleep hygiene." Providing some specific examples, she states, "Sleep hygiene behaviors include turning screens off at least 30 minutes before sleep, engaging in relaxing things that promote sleep, and attempting to go to bed at the same time [every night]."

The second change that patients will likely notice is increases in alertness. "As the body adjusts to a more consistent sleep pattern, you are likely to feel more energized and awake during the daytime hours," Dr. Kruger explains. "This can lead to improved focus, productivity, and overall well-being." Finally, patients are bound to see positive changes in their mood. "When people are more in sync with their circadian rhythm, they will experience a better mood, and more of a sense of overall well-being personally and professionally," says Dr. Kruger.