Night owls more prone to anxiety due to altered fear learning, study suggests

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Do you find yourself most productive at night or in the early morning? A new study has found that people who are naturally inclined to be awake late might be more likely to feel anxious or stressed.

Researchers have long been interested in how our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as our “circadian rhythm,” might affect our mental health.

This new study dives deeper into the connection between being a “night owl” and experiencing higher levels of fear and anxiety.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Research

This study was carried out by a team of researchers from universities in Italy, Germany, and Chile. They wanted to explore how being a night owl could influence how we respond to fear.

They used a classic scientific approach involving conditioning (think of it as “training” our emotions) to look into this. The study had 40 participants, all students from the University of Messina in Italy.

Twenty of these students identified as night owls, and the other 20 were considered controls—they had a neutral sleep-wake preference, which means they could easily adapt to morning and evening schedules.

The team made the participants go through a virtual reality task over two days that involved fear learning and getting rid of that fear (known as “extinction” in scientific terms).

The results were eye-opening: the night owls showed a stronger fear response compared to the other group. This backs up earlier research linking night owls to a higher risk of conditions like anxiety and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Why Should You Care?

If you’re a night owl, you might be thinking, “So what? Why does this matter to me?” Well, this study provides a fresh perspective on how our body’s natural rhythm can shape our emotional and mental state.

It could help explain why some people seem to be more sensitive to anxiety and stress. Most importantly, it might lead to new ways of helping people manage or even lower these heightened emotional responses.

It’s like discovering one of the dials on your emotional dashboard that you didn’t know existed.

What’s Next?

The researchers note that more studies are needed to confirm these findings and explore them further. After all, this study was pretty small and focused mainly on university students from a particular part of the world.

However, the initial results are a big step in better understanding the relationship between our natural sleep-wake patterns and our mental health.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re a night owl, you don’t need to panic and try to change your ways overnight. However, it might be worth paying attention to how your natural sleep patterns might be affecting your emotional well-being.

On the flip side, for doctors and therapists, these findings could pave the way for better-tailored treatments for people dealing with anxiety and other emotional disorders.

As we learn more about how our body clock ticks, we get closer to unlocking new ways to improve our mental health.

So, the next time you find yourself awake at the crack of dawn, maybe take a moment to reflect on how it could be shaping your emotional world.

If you care about anxiety, please read studies about Older people with anxiety have higher risk of dementia and findings of How anxiety affects your decision-making.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about drug for mental health that may harm the brain, and results showing this therapy more effective than ketamine in treating severe depression.

The research findings can be found in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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