Are you or someone you know an early bird? It could be good for mental heath, new research suggests.
A recent study has shown that early birds have a lower risk of depression, but night owls may have a greater risk.
In a study of nearly 70,000 people, there were genes, 324 of them, found that are associated with our body clocks. Having genes that make you an early riser means you are less likely to develop a mental illness and show more of a general sense of wellbeing. This large scale genetics study found being biologically programmed to wake up early is also linked to greater happiness.
Research says night owls may be at a greater risk of mental health problems as they have to fight their natural body clock. The scientists behind the work said evening types may be at greater risk from the mental toll of having to fight their natural body clock due to most schools and workplaces having early start times.
But, the study found, being a lark or a night is largely out of your control as our body clocks, also referred to as circadian rhythms, are in part programmed by our genes.
Participants were asked whether they were a “morning person” or an “evening person”, and their genomes were analysed, revealing certain genes people shared that appeared to influence sleep patterns.
The genomic regions identified include those central to our body clocks, as well as genes expressed in the brain and in retinal tissue in the eye. It affects a wide range of molecular processes, including hormone levels and core body temperature, as well as waking and sleeping patterns.
Lifestyle factors also influence the body clock, including exposure to artificial light and jobs and activities. Our body clock cycle is slightly longer than the 24-hour daily cycle and the eye tissue connection may help explain how the brain detects light to “reset” the body clock each day and to align with the 24-hour cycle.
The body clock is influenced by genes and lifestyle factors including diet, exposure to artificial light and jobs and activities. It affects a wide range of molecular processes, including hormone levels and core body temperature, as well as waking and sleeping patterns. Part of the reason why some people are up with the lark while others are night owls is because of differences in both the way our brains react to external light signals and the normal functioning of our internal clocks. These small differences may have potentially significant effects on the ability of our body clocks to keep time effectively, potentially altering the risk of both disease and mental health disorders.
While the findings suggest that a person’s sleeping pattern is an independent risk factor for depression, this does not necessarily mean night owls will inevitably develop the illness. Experts suggest trying to get enough sleep, exercise, spend time outdoors, dim the lights at night, and try to get as much light by day as possible.
There is hope that these findings could lead to more effective mental health treatments. These could be based on using things such as light, exercise and melatonin-based drugs, replacing serotonin-based drugs. It might also lead to tests that can identify which is the best course of treatment for an individual.