Shifting the Circadian Rhythm of 'Night Owls' May Improve Mental Health

June 20th 2019
Sara Karlovitch, Editorial Intern
Sara Karlovitch, Editorial Intern

Study shows it’s possible to shift a “night owl’s” circadian rhythm and may improve overall physical and mental health.

The sleep/wake patterns of “night owls” can be easily adjusted at home, leading to better eating habits and a decrease in stress and depression, according to a new study.

Over a 3-week period, investigators from the University of Birmingham and Monash University were able to shift “night owl's” circadian rhythm without pharmacological interventions. According to the study published inSleep Medicine, participants showed increased reaction time and strength in the morning, while feelings of stress and depression were decreased. Participants also saw their peak production time move from the evening to the afternoon and ate breakfast more often.

The study composed of 22 healthy individuals who had an average bed time of 2:30am and wake time of 10:15am. For 3 weeks, participants went to sleep and woke up approximately 2-3 hours earlier than usual, maximized outdoor light in the morning and limited light exposure in the evenings, and kept consistent meal times by eating dinner no later than 7pm. Participants kept the same wake/sleep time on work days and free days.

“Establishing simple routines could help ‘night owls’ adjust their body clocks and improve their overall physical and mental health. Insufficient levels of sleep and circadian misalignment can disrupt many bodily processes putting us at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes,” said Debra Skene, professor at the University of Surrey.

Due to “night owls” usual wake and sleep patterns, their place in society is compromised. They must go to school or work at time that is outside their preferred patterns. Addressing these differences can make our society more productive and can be applied to certain industries such as sports, according to the study.

“By acknowledging these differences and providing tools to improve outcomes, we can go a long way in a society that is under constant pressure to achieve optimal productivity and performance” said Elise Facer-Childs, MD, the lead researcher on the study.

Reference

Resetting the late timing of ‘night owls’ has a positive impact on mental health and performance. Elsevier website. Published June 10, 2019.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1389945719301388?via%3Dihub. Accessed June 10, 2019.

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