To test the validity of Benjamin Franklin’s maxim “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Cross sectional analysis of sleeping patterns in a nationally representative group of elderly people, and longitudinal investigation of mortality.
Eight areas in Britain (five in England, two in Scotland, and one in Wales).
1229 men and women aged 65 and over who in 1973-4 had taken part in a survey funded by the Department of Health and Social Security and for whom data on sleeping patterns, health, socioeconomic circumstances, and cognitive function had been recorded.
Main outcome measures
Self reported income, access to a car, standard of accommodation, performance on a test of cognitive function, state of health and mortality during 23 years of follow up.
356 people (29%) were defined as larks (to bed before 11 pm and up before 8 am) and 318 (26%) were defined as owls (to bed at or after 11 pm and up at or after 8 am). There was no indication that larks were richer than those with other sleeping patterns. On the contrary, owls had the largest mean income and were more likely to have access to a car. There was also no evidence that larks were superior to those with other sleeping patterns with regard to their cognitive performance or their state of health. Both larks and owls had a slightly reduced risk of death compared with the rest of the study sample, but this was accounted for by the fact that they spent less time in bed at night. In the study sample as a whole, longer periods of time in bed were associated with increased mortality. After adjustment for age, sex, the presence of illness, and other risk factors, people who spent 12 or more hours in bed had a relative risk of death of 1.7 (1.2 to 2.5) compared with those who were in bed for 9 hours. The lowest risk occurred in people who spent 8 hours in bed (adjusted relative risk 0.8; 0.7 to 1.0).
These findings do not support Franklin’s claim. A “late to bed and late to rise” lifestyle does not seem to lead to socioeconomic, cognitive, or health disadvantage, but a longer time spent in bed may be associated with increased mortality.
Key messagesProverbial advice about lifestyle has the authority of tradition and the merit of brevity, but it is rarely based on systematically collected evidenceIn a nationally representative cohort of elderly people there was no indication that those who lived by the maxim “early to bed and early to rise” were advantaged as regards state of health, material circumstances, or wisdomSleeping for more than 8 hours a night was associated with increased mortality, but it mattered little whether sleep was taken in the early or late part of the nightThere is no justification for early risers to affect moral superiority