Sleep Care

Are Night Owls Genetically Prone to Binge Drinking?

Alcohol abuse happens for many reasons however, genetics can be a factor. Recently a study was conducted that actually made links to circadian rhythm (sleeping) patterns and risks for genetic influences of alcohol use. Researchers wanted to see if night owls are more prone to binge drinking and alcohol abuse than morning people. By utilizing a variety of questionnaires on sets of twins, daily preferences were broken down, studied, and analyzed and led to some very interesting results.

By using the population based Twin Registry of the University of Washington, genetic influences and if they impact alcohol use was studied. A group of 1,127 twin pairs and 691 individual twins were researched. Two different questionnaires were used to reach a result; the Likert Scale and a reduced Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire.

The Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) measures whether a person is most sleepy or most alert either in the morning or in the evening. A few example questions are, “Approximately what time would you get up if you were entirely free to plan your day?” or “During the first half hour after you wake how do you feel?” By tallying all the points researchers better understand where an individual falls with peak sleepiness and how their circadian rhythm is operating.

The Likert scale was utilized to determine the quantity, frequency of alcohol use, and if binge drinking was present. The CDC defines binge drinking as men drinking 5 or more drinks and women drinking 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. A Likert scale asks people to respond to statements in terms of how strongly, if at all, they agree with the statement given. By not simply providing a “yes” or “no” answer the Likert Scale provides the opportunity for better analysis of a group. For the purposes of this study a 5 point Likert Scale was used (1 – Strongly Agree through 5 -Strongly Disagree).

The average age of the participants was 36 years old. 30.7% of the group was considered “morning types” meaning most alert in the morning, while 17.4% were the opposite “evening types”. Of the entire group of participants 21.2% reported never drinking at all. Out of the group who fell in the drinkers 35.7% reported having 3 or more drinks per occasion. Almost half the group at 48.1% had one or more occurrence of binge drinking.

So which group, either morning types or evening types, did the group reporting drinking and binge drinking fall under? There was a significant association with evening types.

Here differences in circadian rhythms and environmental factors around us actually may be linked to genetic influences on alcohol use. All alcohol use was self-reported for the study and while the Likert Scale at times lies victim to the temptation of individuals answering to show themselves in a positive light, it is very interesting how these factors can possibly highlight different genetic tendencies.