Defying body clock ‘linked to depression and reduced wellbeing’

·2-min read

People whose sleep pattern goes against their natural body clock are more likely to have depression and lower levels of wellbeing, according to a study.

Researchers also found the most robust evidence to date that being genetically programmed to be an early riser is protective against major depression and improves wellbeing.

They suggest this may be because society is set up to be more aligned to early risers, through the standard 9am to 5pm working pattern.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to more flexible working patterns and this research may help make the case for more adaptable working habits to suit individuals’ needs.

Academics at the University of Exeter built on previous research which mapped 351 genes linked to being either an early riser or a night owl.

They examined whether these genes were causally associated with seven mental health and wellbeing outcomes, including major depression, using data on more than 450,000 European adults from the UK Biobank.

As well as the genetic information, participants also completed a questionnaire on whether they were a morning person or an evening person.

The team also developed a new measure of “social jetlag” that measures the variation in sleep pattern between work and free days.

They measured this in more than 85,000 UK Biobank participants for whom sleep data was available, via wrist-worn activity monitors.

They found that people who were more misaligned from their natural body clock were more likely to report depression and anxiety and have lower wellbeing.

Lead author Jessica O’Loughlin said: “We found that people who were misaligned from their natural body clock were more likely to report depression, anxiety and have lower wellbeing.

“We also found the most robust evidence yet that being a morning person is protective of depression and improves wellbeing.

“We think this could be explained by the fact that the demands of society mean night owls are more likely to defy their natural body clocks, by having to wake up early for work.”

Overall, the research team found that morning people are more likely to be aligned to their natural body clock.

Senior author Dr Jessica Tyrrell said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a new flexibility in working patterns for many people.

“Our research indicates that aligning working schedules to an individual’s natural body clock may improve mental health and wellbeing in night owls.”

– The study, Using Mendelian Randomisation Methods To Understand Whether Diurnal Preference Is Causally Related To Mental Health, is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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