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22nd Feb 2024

‘Loathing early mornings has a lot more to do with your DNA than your love of a lie on’

Sophie Collins


Are you desperately trying to become a morning person?

We’ve all been bombarded at one point or another with the benefits of waking up early in the morning for the body and mind on social media.

For some people, it comes naturally and has always been part of their daily routine while others find it impossible to leave their bed at dawn.

If you have a job that requires you to wake up early in the morning, you’ve no choice, however, if it takes time for you to feel ready for the day it’s not because you’re lazy.

According to Irish Professor, Luke O’Neill, it has a lot more to do with your DNA than your love of a lie on.

Speaking with Newstalk’s Show Me the Science, Professor O’Neill said understanding the intricate makeup of our genetics, age, and gender is imperative to shed light on why some embrace the early hours while others revel in the night.

He delved into the fascinating realm of chronobiology, revealing how our inherent chronotypes – whether we lean towards being night owls or morning larks – are deeply rooted in our genetic makeup.

He explained: “It’s called the science of circadian rhythm… you’ve got a thing called a chronotype and either you’re a night owl or a morning lark.”

Drawing on extensive research involving 50,000 participants, Professor O’Neill emphasised that while environmental factors play a role in shaping sleep behaviours, genetics exert significant influence. 

“It turns out, it’s 50% genetic,” he revealed. “So even though when you’re a child, your parents are saying get up out of bed when you were lounging around as a teenager in bed, and your parents are influencing even more because they give you the gene variants that make you a morning lark or a night owl.”

As well as this, studies linking genetics, sleep patterns, and health outcomes have identified specific genes such as CLOCK, period-two, and HSV1, which contribute to a person’s predisposition towards being a night owl. 

Age also emerges as a crucial factor, with teens undergoing a natural transition towards favouring nighttime during puberty. 

“Studies show when you enter puberty, you become a night owl,” Professor O’Neill said, highlighting that the peak for males is at around age 21, while females tend to lean towards favouring the morning as they reach their peak at 19.

Nevertheless, the influence of age extends beyond puberty, as chronotypes gradually shift towards earlier hours as you age.

“Statistically, as you get older, your chronotype shifts to be earlier and then by the time you’re in your late 50s, early 60s, you’re getting up at about the same time as you did just before puberty,” Professor O’Neill explained.

In light of this, Professor O’Neill’s research shows the intricate interplay between genetics, age, and gender in shaping our sleep preferences and patterns. 

Whether you embrace the morning light or thrive under the cover of night, understanding the biological underpinnings offers valuable insights into improving sleep habits for overall well-being. 

So, while the debate over the virtues of early rising continues, maybe the key lies in embracing our natural rhythms encoded in our DNA.