Sleep chronotype has not always been a well-understood aspect of sleep. The term refers to sleep-wake behavior, or preferred sleep and wake times—and researchers continue to learn more about just how big of a difference having a morning versus an evening chronotype can make. The latest research indicates that sleep chronotype can have a significant impact on young people’s mental health. And while it isn’t necessarily a static trait, the differences in the two chronotypes have other effects along all age ranges.
Sleep Chronotype & Young People
A recent study found that young people with evening type sleep chronotypes were at the highest risk for depression and anxiety, as well as poorer sleep quality and social support than those with intermediate and morning sleep chronotypes. Morning sleep chronotypes reported the lowest levels of depression and anxiety and highest levels of social support. The study examined sleep quality, social support and mental health in Canadian young adults using a self-reported questionnaire distributed among 3,160 university students between the ages of 18 and 35. While the caveat for this study is that the data is largely self-reported, a key takeaway is that knowledge of individual sleep chronotype can help individuals with evening types seek the support they need to increase feelings of wellbeing.
This study in particular may seem like all doom and gloom for evening sleep chronotypes and there is additional evidence to suggest that evening chronotypes can struggle with both mental and physical health issues and sometimes fail to get enough exercise. But there is also plenty of hope.
Awareness Of Sleep Chronotype Is Key
First of all, having a basic awareness of your sleep chronotype can help establish an understanding of both the pros and cons of it. And, structuring your day around the times at which you function the best can definitely help offset some of the downsides of having an evening sleep chronotype in particular.
Sleep Chronotype Can Change Over Time
Additionally, it’s important to note that sleep chronotype is not completely static. In fact, numerous factors like genetics, age and gender dictate it—and it can even change as we age. Studies have shown that teenage years are peak times for young people to have an evening chronotype. So for some teens, the evening chronotype may be a part of puberty that they eventually grow out of. But that’s certainly not the case for everyone.
“Hacking” The Benefits Of Being A Morning Person
While an evening chronotype isn’t all bad, there are also ways to “hack” a morning chronotype for its myriad benefits. In fact, waking up just an hour earlier can potentially improve your mood and reduce your risk for depression by 23%.
Other factors that can help keep your sleep-wake cycle in the morning zone:
- Be mindful of the light you get during the day: get out in the sun—soaking up rays of light can help keep your body on track.
- Exercise earlier in the day: by exercising earlier in the day, you add to your body's rhythm, helping to signal wake-up time and time to sleep.
- No late night snacking: if you want to go to bed on time, give yourself a snacking cut-off time and limit afternoon caffeine.
All of this said, there isn’t one ideal time to go to sleep. And, there are more than two sleep chronotypes. It is most important to observe and understand your own circadian rhythm and sleep patterns so you can design your schedule to suit your needs—timing meetings for peak productivity hours and front or back loading your workday can help you tackle your to-do list when you are the most fresh.