‘Morning people’ at lower risk of breast cancer?

BIG DAY OUT Marilyn Rice and Jo Maundrell

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.

The study on several women, which was investigating whether the way people sleep can contribute to the development of breast cancer, also found some evidence for a causal link between sleeping for longer and breast cancer.

Lead scientist Dr Rebecca Richmond, from the University of Bristol, said: 'Using genetic variants associated with people's preference for morning or evening, sleep duration and insomnia, we investigated whether these sleep traits have a causal contribution to the risk of developing breast cancer.

The study highlighted individuals who were genetically predisposed to be either "larks" or "owls".

The consortium has the largest collection of genetic data on women with breast cancer obtained so far. The variation is due to technical differences, stated Richmond.

It also found that women who slept longer than seven to eight hours a night had a 20 percent increased risk of the disease per additional hour slept.

"In other words, it may not be the case that changing your habits changes your risk of breast cancer; it may be more complex than that", she said. Also, the findings can not be applied across populations as the majority of women included were of European ancestry. While morning larks may have the upper hand when it comes to health and (possibly) happiness, it looks like night owls can take home the prize for being smarter, more creative, and more prolific lovers.

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

The researchers believe staying awake later may also have an impact on a woman's body clock, increasing the risk further.

"The statistical method used in this study, called Mendelian randomization, does not always allow causality to be inferred", said Dipender Gill, clinical research training fellow at Imperial College London.

If the study passes peer review, it will show convincing evidence linking body clock to breast cancer risk but it does not explain why this link exists in the first place.

Stephen Burgess, of the University of Cambridge, added: "It is increasingly clear that healthful sleep patterns are an important component of a healthful lifestyle".

And this is involved in breast cancer? "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.

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