Ignoring Your Natural Body Clock Is Actually Pretty Bad For You

Does your sleep pattern work against your natural body clock? Read this.

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

Researchers at the University of Exeter also found the most robust evidence to date that being genetically programmed to be an early riser protects against major depression and increases your overall wellbeing. Lucky morning larks!

This may be because society is set up to be more aligned to early risers, through the standard 9am to 5pm working pattern, suggests the study, which could help make the case for keeping the more flexible working patterns that have been common during the pandemic to suit individual needs.

So how did the study work?

The University of Exeter academic built on previous research that mapped 351 genes linked to being either an early riser or a night owl.

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

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

The team developed a new measure of “social jetlag” – the variation in sleep pattern between work and free days – and measured this in more than 85,000 UK Biobank participants for whom sleep data was available, via wrist-worn activity monitors.

Young Caucasian man waking up in bed in late morning.
Young Caucasian man waking up in bed in late morning.

What did the researchers find?

“We found that people who were misaligned from their natural body clock were more likely to report depression, anxiety and have lower wellbeing,” said lead author Jessica O’Loughlin. “We also found the most robust evidence yet that being a morning person is protective of depression and improves wellbeing.”

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.”