A simple tweak to the sleeping patterns of ‘night owls’ – people with extreme late sleeping and waking habits — may improve performance in the mornings, and reduce depression and stress, a study has found. The research, showed that, over a three-week period, it was possible to shift the circadian rhythm of ‘night owls’ using non-pharmacological and practical interventions.
The researchers from University of Birmingham and University of Surrey in the UK, and Monash University in Australia, showed that participants were able to bring forward their sleep/wake timings by two hours, while having no negative effect on sleep duration.
In addition, participants reported a decrease in feelings of depression and stress, as well as in daytime sleepiness. “Our research findings highlight the ability of a simple non-pharmacological intervention to phase advance ‘night owls’, reduce negative elements of mental health and sleepiness, as well as manipulate peak performance times in the real world,” said Elise Facer-Childs from Monash University.
‘Night owls’ are individuals whose internal body clock dictates later-than-usual sleep and wake times — in this study participants had an average bedtime of 2.30 am and wake-up time of 10.15 am. Disturbances to the sleep/wake system have been linked to a variety of health issues, including mood swings, increased morbidity and mortality rates, and declines in cognitive and physical performance.
“Having a late sleep pattern puts you at odds with the standard societal days and we wanted to see if there were simple things people could do at home to solve this issue,” said Andrew Bagshaw from the University of Birmingham.
Twenty-two healthy individuals participated in the study. For a period of three weeks participants in the experimental group were asked to wake up 2-3 hours before regular wake up time and maximise outdoor light during the mornings. The results highlighted an increase in cognitive (reaction time) and physical (grip strength) performance during the morning when tiredness is often very high in ‘night owls’, as well as a shift in peak performance times from evening to afternoon.