alarm clock early morning

Image credit: Pixabay

Night owls are at greater risk of developing breast cancer than early birds

This is good news for South Africans who are some of the earliest risers in the world.

alarm clock early morning

Image credit: Pixabay

A study conducted among 400 000 women in the UK Biobank looked at approximately 450 biomarkers and found that earlier risers are less likely to develop breast cancer than those who up stay up late at night.

As reported by Sarah Knapton from the Telegraph, the research was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council and presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow on 5 November.

Out of the 400 000 women, 2,740 were breast cancer survivors and 149 064 were disease free. Researchers then mapped the genetic variations between the earlier risers and the night owls and compared it with that to the risk of developing cancer.

The morning people had a reduced risk of more than 40%, compared to the night owls. Dr Rebecca Richmond, a research fellow with the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol explained that it’s more complicated than just setting your alarm to wake up earlier. She added:

“We also found some evidence for a causal effect of increased sleep duration and sleep fragmentation on breast cancer, assessed using objective measurements of sleep obtained from movement monitors worn by around 85,000 UK Biobank participants.”

night owl insomniac working late
Image credit: Unsplash/Jay Wennington

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It’s not so much a change of habits than it is is the ‘preference’ of whether a person wants to wake up earlier or later. It all stems back to our unique circadian rhythm, also known as our internal body clock. Rosie McCall from IFLScience explains:

Each of us has a circadian rhythm that is unique to us. It follows a roughly 24-hour cycle and can change within a lifetime – elementary school children tend to be morning larks and teenagers are usually night owls, for instance. By the time we reach adulthood, it settles, and for most of us, it falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

Some people have longer cycles than others, and according to WebMD, night owls are prone to depression and higher dependence on stimulants whereas morning larks sleep better and have ‘flexible personalities.’

It affects everything from our dietary habits to how often we procrastinate to our ability to play sports or be creative or do maths. Dr Richmond said further research is required to “investigate the mechanism underlying the effects of different sleep characteristics on the risk of developing breast cancer.”

This is good news for South Africans who are some of the earliest risers in the world, according to a Sleep Cycle study conducted with nearly 1 million men and women between the ages of 18 and 55.

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