Whether young or old… Early morning risers are in a better mood!

It’s long been known that teenagers like to sleep in late and older people like to wake early — and researchers chalk that up to age differences in internal circadian and sleep rhythms. Research has also shown that young adults who buck tradition and prefer to wake up early tend to feel happier and more alert than their peers who sleep in. But there’s been little research to show whether the relationship between morningness and emotional state observed in young adults also holds for older adults.

New research led by Renee Biss, a graduate psychology student at the University of Toronto and senior scientist Dr. Lynn Hasher of Baycrest’s RRI has found the same relationship between emotional state and morningness in older adults! Older early risers are happier and tend to report feeling more positive about their health than older adults who sleep in.

The study is published in the June issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Emotion.

“We found that morning-type people, whether they were younger or older, reported feeling happier than their age-equivalent peers who liked to sleep in,” said Biss. “But we also found that older adults reported feeling greater positive emotion than younger adults.”

In the study, 435 healthy younger adults (ages 17-38) from the University of Toronto and 297 healthy older adults (ages 59-79) from the community filled out pencil-and-paper questionnaires in a supervised lab setting during a typical working day ( 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.). One questionnaire asked them about their sleeping habits, how they felt when they woke up in the morning, what time of day they felt most energized to handle physically or intellectually demanding activities, and what time in the evening they felt tired and in need of sleep. They were also asked to judge their overall health on a scale form 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and to rate their current experience of different positive and negative emotions. The researchers analyzed the response data using scientifically-validated measurement scales for mood and chronotype (patterns of sleep/wake activity).

Among the key findings with early risers:
• Older adults reported better moods with higher positive affect compared to younger adults, and lower negative or sad feelings than their younger counterparts.
• Being a morning “lark” was associated with better subjective health (feeling well) compared to being a “night owl”.

“The positive feelings associated with starting the day earlier may offer a protective benefit for older adults,” said Dr. Hasher. “Research has shown that subjective health ratings in older age are a strong predictor of objective health outcomes.”

The study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Stígur Karlsson

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