Study finds morning people are less likely to develop breast cancer

Raelene Boyle and Judy Wild

Good news, morning larks - research shows that women who feel at their most awake in the hours before lunch are 40 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than late risers. One in 100 women who considered themselves morning people developed breast cancer, compared with two in every 100 women who called themselves evening people. The research also suggested that for women who slept longer than the recommended seven to eight hours per night, the risk of being diagnosed increased by 20 per cent per additional hour slept.

In other words, it is at present unknown whether it is your genetic body clock itself, or living out of sync with it - for instance, forcing yourself to get up early for work if you are a lark - which affects your breast cancer risk.

NCRI Partners are: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); Bloodwise; Brain Tumour Research; Breast Cancer Now; Cancer Research UK; Children with Cancer UK; Department of Health and Social Care; Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); Macmillan Cancer Support; Marie Curie; Medical Research Council (MRC); Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Public Health Agency (Research & Development Department); Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund; Prostate Cancer UK; Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Government Health Directorates (Chief Scientist Office); Tenovus Cancer Care; The Wellcome Trust and Welsh Assembly Government (Health and Care Research Wales).

The team concluded that the study shows consistent evidence for a protective effect of morning preference, and suggestive evidence for an adverse effect of sleep duration on breast cancer risk.

The research involving more than 400,000 women found "larks" have a breast cancer risk up to 48 per cent lower than "night owls".

She tells the BBC: "We still need to get at what makes an evening person more at risk than a morning person... we need to unpick the relationship". In each case, the risk of cancer appears to be increased by the body being out of kilter with the natural world. "Another limitation is that sleep timing preference (chronotype) is self-reported, and the investigation did not specifically recruit individuals with different sleep patterns, such as night-shift workers", Burgess wrote in the comments of the study.

Those that were found to have the genes of a morning person had a lower chance of getting breast cancer.

"We know already that night shift work is associated with worse mental and physical health".

There are theories around the causes of sleep's effect on cancer, she said, such as the idea that artificial light at night leads to hormonal disruption.

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