Early birds, night owls, and mental health

I talk a lot about the importance of sleep. Because, like being obese, your body suffers from more than fatigue when you don’t get enough rest—that feeling of tiredness is really just the tip of the iceberg. 

The truth is, there’s a long list of health consequences attached to poor sleep. But the effects are far more than just physical. 

In fact, a large new study found that people who keep unnatural sleep patterns are also more likely to struggle with depression…   

Early birds fare best 

This latest research drew from data on more than 450,000 adults in the U.K. Biobank—including questionnaires and gene mapping related to sleep patterns, differentiating between night owls and early risers.  

To analyze variations in sleep patterns between workdays and days off, researchers used sleep data from 85,000 subjects. (These participants wore activity monitors on their wrists.) This created a measure of what they called “social jetlag.”  

Ultimately, researchers found that when people’s schedules weren’t aligned with their circadian rhythms—their body’s natural “clock”—they were more likely to report depression and anxiety. They were also found to have lower levels of wellbeing in general.  

Not surprisingly, the research found that early risers were more likely to be in tune with their body’s natural clock. (Meaning they also experienced lower levels of depression and higher levels of wellbeing.)  

Unfortunately, being a natural early riser didn’t appear to be protective for people who worked shifts. Here’s why… 

Hope for night owls 

Our society is rather geared towards morning people. Just think about it: A standard workday, for many, is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And this pattern works out great for early birds. (After all, to make it to work by 9 a.m., you have to wake up pretty early… especially if you have a long commute.) 

But as this research shows, that same working pattern is bad news for natural night owls, at least where mental health is concerned. And the same holds true for natural early risers that work shifts, because their natural wake/sleep cycle becomes altered. 

One silver lining of the pandemic, however, is that a lot of employers aren’t requiring a return to conventional office hours. So, these more flexible working patterns could mean better mental health for people whose natural body clocks deviate from the norm.  

Of course, working conditions are just one factor that could be sabotaging your natural sleep cycles. In fact, one of the best ways to re-align your circadian rhythm is something most doctors never address… and it’s something I discuss, in detail, in the March 2018 issue of my monthly Logical Health Alternatives newsletter (“The deadly cost of a broken ‘body clock’”). So if you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one!  

In the meantime, as always, I encourage you to get seven to nine hours of quality shuteye each and every night. After all, your physical and mental health will benefit.  


“Defying body clock linked to depression and lower wellbeing.” Science Daily, 06/07/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210607202226.htm)