Being a Night Owl Increases Your Risk of Depression

When you sleep matters, a lot, according to new research from MIT and Harvard.

In This Article

When You Sleep Matters

According to Ayurveda, getting the right amount of sleep at the right time is perhaps the most important lifestyle modification we can make to stay healthy and live long.

And now science is showing us that when we get that sleep matters. In a May 2021 study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers at MIT, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the University of Colorado at Boulder discovered that bumping up when you go to sleep by just one hour resulted in a 23% decreased risk of depression, particularly in those considered night owls, who tend to stay up late.

In this study, 850,000 people were genetically tested to determine if certain gene variants like the “clock gene” are a marker for being a night owls versus an early riser.Study participants wore sleep trackers and 250,000 filled out sleep questionnaires to determine their individual chronotypes (or sleep schedule preferences). This information was matched against the genetic variants and researchers concluded that genetic variants very accurately predict whether people are evening or morning chronotypes.

In terms of study group preferences, 33% of participants were early birds, 9% were night owls, and the rest were somewhere in the middle.

The study concluded that if someone who normally goes to bed at 1 a.m. goes to bed at midnight instead and sleeps for the same amount of time, they cut their risk of depression by 23%. If they went to bed at 11 p.m.,they would cut their risk of depression by a whopping 40%.

See also Sleep Better, Feel Better: Melatonin + Vitamin D for Sleep Hygiene

The Dangers of Being a Night Owl

Evening chronotypes (night owls) have also been found to be at a greater risk for weight gain, heart disease, blood sugar issues, and high cholesterol, compared to morning chronotypes. Previous studies have also found that night owls are twice as likely to be depressed as those who naturally wake up earlier.

Many folks think they can get to bed late and make up for it by sleeping in. But studies have found that sleeping in does not help. Studies have found that being exposed to the morning sun is associated with greater production of nighttime melatonin and improved quality and quantity of sleep. The exposure to additional daylight before you fall asleep may make all the difference.

The good news is that night owl chronotypes can reset their biological clocks to sync up with nature’s light dark circadian cycles and become early risers.

See also Discover Your Ayurvedic Chronotype

Balance Your Biological Clocks

According to Ayurveda, there are three major cycles during the daytime hours and three major cycles at night. Each of these cycles suggest behaviors that help to sync the body’s biological clocks with nature’s circadian rhythms.

Each 12-hour cycle starts at either 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. (sunrise and sunset) and can expand or contract based on the time of year.

Each 12-hour cycle starts with the kapha qualities of earth and water. In the morning, these heavy kapha qualities boost the muscular strength needed for the day’s activities. In the evening, that same kapha energy sedates the nervous system by reducing cortisol in preparation for sleep.

The golden sleep rule in Ayurveda is to be up before kapha time (sunrise) and asleep before evening the evening kapha period ends (typically between 6-10 p.m.).

Aligning your daytime and nighttime schedules with the circadian light-dark cycles is the best way to reset your chronotype and move from being a confirmed night-person, as I was, to being an enthusiastic early riser. Trust me—your health and longevity are all better on the right side of the circadian clock.

See also Anxious Teens? Melatonin Balances the Circadian Clock