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Morning larks wake in the early hours with smiles on their faces and a can-do attitude that befuddles most night owls. But morning people possess more than just a sunny disposition. A new study has found that they also have genes that lower their risk of having schizophrenia and depression while increasing their overall sense of well-being.
“Individuals who tend to be happier tend to be morning-type individuals,” Jacqueline Lane, an instructor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the study published in Nature Communication, told TODAY.
Lane and her colleagues looked at data from 250,000 people in the U.S. who used 23andMe and 450,000 people enrolled in the United Kingdom’s Biobank study. Everyone reported whether they were early birds or night owls and then researchers examined their genomes. They were looking at whether there was a relationship between genes, morning or evening preference and overall health. The study uncovered a relationship between night owls and mental illness
“There is a link between evening preference and a higher risk of schizophrenia (and depression),” Lane said.
Night owls were also found to have less subjective well being, meaning they’re less happy overall. While these findings might trouble late nighters, Lane said that simply being a night owl doesn’t mean a person will experience depression, schizophrenia or unhappiness.
“It is incredibly complicated. The genetics about being a night owl is only part of it,” she said.
While previous studies have shown that night owls have increased risk of obesity and diabetes, the researchers were shocked to discover that there are no genes responsible for this.
“We don’t see that on a genetic level,” she said. “It is more about environment, with living out of sync with your internal clock.”
This study is the latest to show that early birds have a health advantage. A study published in the journal Chronobiology International last year indicated that after considering other health issues, night owls were about 10 percent more likely to die in a six and a half year period than morning people. Those researchers suspect it’s because night owls have to force themselves to live in an earlier world and that stress could make the body work improperly. This could be why night owls’ risk for diabetes and obesity is higher.
“Trying to change a night owl to a morning lark has some health consequences,” Lane said.
Lane believes more research is needed to understand exactly how genes impact morning or evening preference and mental health. But for now, she urges people to think about whether they are early or late risers and see if they can tweak their schedules.
“Understanding if you are a morning or evening person can really impact the schedule you choose … It might determine when you choose activities, the timing of your meals, ” Lane said.