There are some upsides to being a naturally late sleeper. Night owls tend to have bigger social networks, and some research has found them to be more productive and creative than morning birds. One 2011 study even suggests that night owls have higher levels of cognitive ability, even though they tend to perform worse on academic testing.
Varga also points out that plenty of night owls lead healthy lives, and that more research is needed to determine the real-life consequences of staying up late.
“The true data on this is not very strong, and a lot of it is extrapolated from people in extreme situations, like shift workers,” he says. “It’s still not clear how serious the risks are for people whose patterns may be just a few hours off, so I think some caution is warranted when you’re interpreting these studies.”
Your chronotype may be ingrained in your DNA, says Knutson, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change it. “About 50% is genetic, but that leaves another 50% where there’s opportunity for shifting your clock,” she says. “But it does require vigilance and consistency with your schedule, which can be a challenge to maintain.”
Night owls can gradually acclimate themselves to an earlier bedtime by turning in a few minutes earlier every night, she says. (Don’t rush it too quickly, or you’ll lie awake for hours.) It’s also important to avoid bright light at night, and to wake up at the same time every day.
Exposing yourself to bright light first thing in the morning can also help reprogram the brain to wake up—and subsequently fall asleep—earlier, says Varga. You can also ask your doctor about taking melatonin, a synthetic version of the brain’s sleep-inducing hormone, key in regulating your internal clock.
But will shifting the body’s natural chronotype actually protect against some of the health risks of being a night owl? “We don’t know the answer to that yet, and that’s where the research needs to go next,” says Knutson.
“For now, I think it’s most important for night owls to recognize that there are health problems associated with their lifestyle,” she adds. “They seem to be more vulnerable to the consequences of a less healthy lifestyle, so they need to be even more vigilant about making smart choices.”
This article originally appeared on Health.com