Your Genes Determine Whether You’re a Morning Person or a Night Person

Many of the body's processes follow a natural daily rhythm or so-called circadian clock. There are certain times of the day when a person is most alert, when blood pressure is highest, and when the heart is most efficient. Several rare gene mutations have been found that can adjust this clock in humans, responsible for entire families in which people wake up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and can't stay up much after 8 p.m. Now, new research has identified for the first time a common gene variant that affects virtually the entire population, and which is responsible for your tendency to be an early riser or night owl. Work in twins and families now suggest that the lateness or earliness of one's clock may be inherited and experiments suggest that the lateness or earliness of the biological clock are influenced by specific genes. So, can night owls become early birds? The first step is to figure out if you can adjust your environment. Is there any flexibility in your job? If there isn’t, you'll have to give your body sleep signals at an earlier time, which means taking melatonin supplements early in the evening and restricting your exposure to light, especially from devices like computers and smartphones. You're basically tricking your brain, saying, "This is when you should be starting to get sleepy." In the morning, you'll try the opposite trick: exposing yourself to bright light and telling yourself this is the time to begin to function. It’s a gradual process, one similar to shifting from standard time to daylight saving time. You can try to make the change all in one night, but it’s usually better to slowly shift back one hour a day. It can be difficult to adhere to a rigid schedule of going to bed at an earlier time, of avoiding devices, and of avoiding light, but it can be done. One more piece of advice: Skip the 3 p.m. latte.