If you need another reason to start waking up with the birds, so to speak, I've got a great one for you. Seriously, the health benefits of being a morning person go way beyond having time to make a fancy breakfast smoothie before work, or getting on the road well before rush hour sets in. Apparently, being a morning person doesn't just promise these immediate perks; according to the results of a new study, being an early riser might just benefit your wellbeing in a long-term sense, too, in pretty big and important ways.
According to a press release from the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) in the UK, the new study looked at the sleeping habits and preferences of several hundred thousand women — some of whom have breast cancer, and some of whom do not — and found that women who report functioning better earlier in the day (aka morning people), rather than at the end of the day (aka night owls, like yours truly), may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
The initial goal of the research, as per the NCRI's press release, was to investigate links between people's sleeping patterns and their chances of developing breast cancer. And while you might assume the association between these two things would have to have something to do with clocking in more or less hours of sleep each night, that's actually not quite what the researchers concluded based on their study.
Lead study author Dr. Rebecca Richmond said in a statement for the NCRI press release,
Using genetic variants associated with people's preference for morning or evening, sleep duration and insomnia, which had previously been identified by three recent UK Biobank genome-wide association studies, we investigated whether these sleep traits have a causal contribution to the risk of developing breast cancer.
I know, that's kind of a mouthful, so let's break it down a little. For one thing, "genetic variants" just refers to differences in people's genes and DNA, and what those differences might reveal about the individual (in this case, what they might reveal about the person's preferences for morning or night).
So basically, according to the NCRI press release, the researchers' analysis included data from nearly 123,000 women with breast cancer, and almost 106,000 women without breast cancer, and the study authors were able to suss out connections between various risk factors for breast cancer, and certain differences in genes (aka genetic variants).
After taking the time to analyze these different connections, the study — which currently appears in bioRxiv, a free online archive of unpublished life sciences research — found that having a preference for mornings is associated with roughly a 40 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer. Which is pretty wild, right? Especially since, according to the study's press release, the researchers' evidence wasn't as strong for "an association with either insomnia or sleep duration on risk of breast cancer in this study," meaning it really does seem to come down to whether a person feels like they can function better in the morning or at night, rather than how much sleep they're actually getting.
Now, it's important to note that, as per the NCRI press release, the researchers involved in this study have said that they're not quite sure about the reason for this association, and that the connection itself might be "more complex," meaning that lowering your risk of breast cancer is likely not as simple as switching up your daily routine.
In other words, this is not to say that you are going to develop breast cancer if you don't wake up at dawn, nor does it necessarily mean that being a night owl is "bad" for your health. At the very least, consider this study a reminder that your sleep habits, sleep hygiene, and even the way you start your day, are all important factors to keep in mind in terms of your overall wellbeing.
As Samantha Morrison, a health and wellness expert for holistic health company Glacier Wellness, tells me over email, being a morning person can do a lot to minimize stress, which has all kinds of effects on the body and mind. "The morning is a crucial part of the day, and starting it off on the right foot can set the tone for the rest of your day," Morrison tells Elite Daily. "Imagine starting off your day at your own pace, basking in the silence of the early hours, instead of having to drink your coffee, check your email, brush your teeth, and put on makeup all at the same time."
Plus, Morrison adds, the early morning is so much more than an opportunity for introspection, planning out your day, and eating a proper breakfast; "it's also a great way to get on a proper sleep schedule," she explains.
Personally, as much as I love sleeping in, I think I might just be willing to give this whole "morning person" thing a real shot.