For some, mornings are a time for productivity and alertness. In fact, many elements of daily life are designed to accommodate those who enjoy an early start—including the typical 9-5 working schedule. Others find this routine challenging and exhausting, due to their natural desire to sleep in or higher energy levels during the afternoon and evenings. This preference, known as the circadian rhythm or body clock, is now shown to have a direct impact on mental health.
In a research project conducted by Molecular Psychiatry, 450,0000 UK adults were studied using a process called the Mendelian Randomisation. The process is based on gene mapping, genetic information, and questionnaires, and it found that people who are misaligned from their body clocks are more likely to report feelings of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Substantial evidence also shows that morning people are less likely to face major mental health issues, since that group is typically more in sync with the cultural trend of early mornings. Similar conclusions were also drawn from a recent study in JAMA Psychiatry.
The UK study also looked at a new measure called “social jetlag,” which refers to the sleep patterns between work and free days. Routine is one of the most beneficial things for a circadian rhythm, since we operate on a 24-hour cycle. The constant change between early and late rising, depending on the day of the week, can further feelings of anxiety and depression in those who try to “catch up” on their sleep during the weekends.
For night owls, this study shows the harm that can come from consistently defying the body’s natural desire to sleep later. Due to the rapidly increasing work-from-home trend, some employees may find it easier to establish a more conducive work schedule based on their body’s needs. The study also suggests that a morning schedule may be harmful for shift workers due to the irregularity of their sleep cycles.
Physical factors like exhaustion and fatigue are commonly overlooked in discussions about mental health. While the constant demands of daily life may make these feelings seem normal, it could be the body’s attempt at signaling that something isn’t right. Talking to your employer or family about an adjusted sleep schedule may be the difference between a happy and productive life, versus one with an increased risk for a battle with depression and anxiety.