Health and Wellness

Here's why morning people are happier — and how to 'hack' your body clock to be one

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@duangbj | Twenty20

Reset your alarm: Waking up just an hour earlier than usual could reduce your risk of depression by 23%, according to a study out of University of Colorado Boulder and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

And each hour earlier that you wake up, the better the benefit, according to the study.

Past research has shown that there's a link between chronotype, or a person's physiologic preference for mornings or nights, and mood. Night owls, for example, are two times as likely to develop depression compared to morning people 

There are a few plausible explanations for this link between chronotype and mood, says Celine Vetter, study author and assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Morning people tend to have "better alignment with typical work-rest schedules," whereas night owls might have a harder time adapting, Vetter says.

Indeed, the authors of a recent U.K. study, which also found that a genetic preference for waking up earlier "is protective of depression and improves wellbeing," said that "circadian misalignment," referring to how out of sync our daily routine is with our internal clock, "is a potential explanation...with evening people tending to be more misaligned."

Physiologically, people who wake up earlier also get higher and earlier light exposure, which may affect their wellbeing, Vetter says.

Your chronotype is genetic, but there are some things that you can do to "hack" your body clock to wake up earlier, Vetter says.

"Light is one of the main factors to pay attention to, so try to keep your days bright (seek time outside, for example, especially in the mornings), and make your nights dark," Vetter says. That also means minimizing electronics use before bed, she says.

Exercising earlier in the day can help "reinforce" the signals that tell your body it's time to wake up and go to bed, Vetter says.

Lastly, late-night snacking should be avoided, because it impacts your digestion and in turn your sleep, she says.

But keep in mind, there's no "ideal" time to go to bed or wake up. "It is unlikely that there is one specific sleep window that would be best for everyone, it is more likely a range," Vetter says. But the optimal sleep duration for adults is between seven and nine hours each night.

For Vetter's study, researchers looked at data from 840,000 people from the DNA testing company 23 and Me and the biomedical database UK Biobank.

The U.K. study also used data from 451,025 people involved in the U.K. Biobank. That data was collected based on both questionaires and wearable monitors.

That study also highlighted the issue of "social jetlag," whereby societal pressures mean early birds might be forced to stay up later in the evenings on weekends to socialize, just as night owls are forced to wake up earlier for work in the week. Social jetlag can be quantified by looking at the difference in sleeping hours between work days and free time. 

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