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BOSTON — Does being an early bird lead to developing an eating disorder? A new study finds early risers may be more susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa. Researchers discovered a genetic connection between this serious eating disorder and waking up earlier in the morning.

The teams from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), University College London, and the University of the Republic in Uruguay say that individuals with anorexia nervosa commonly experience early waking and suffer from insomnia. This new study differentiates anorexia nervosa as a morning-oriented disorder, setting it apart from other psychiatric conditions such as depression, binge eating disorder, and schizophrenia, which are typically associated with evening tendencies.

The research focuses on exploring the relationship between anorexia, the circadian clock, which governs sleep and various biological functions, and certain sleep traits, including insomnia. The teams used statistical methods to examine the impact of genes related to anorexia on various sleep patterns, thereby establishing a connection between anorexia nervosa and sleep behaviors.

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One significant finding of the study is the association between genes linked to anorexia nervosa and those related to being a “morning chronotype” — a tendency to wake and sleep early. The results suggest a potential increased risk of anorexia nervosa for early risers and vice versa.

By creating a “genetic risk score” for anorexia, researchers found this score to be associated with a higher risk of insomnia.

“Our findings implicate anorexia nervosa as a morning disorder in contrast to most other evening-based psychiatric diseases and support the association between anorexia nervosa and insomnia as seen in earlier studies,” says senior author Dr. Hassan Dashti, an assistant investigator in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at MGH, in a media release.

Despite the high relapse rates of up to 52 percent for current anorexia treatments and the unclear cause of the disorder, this study sheds new light on its potential links with sleep patterns.

“The clinical implications of our new findings are currently unclear. However, our results could direct future investigations into circadian-based therapies for anorexia nervosa prevention and treatment,” notes Hannah Wilcox, the study’s lead author from MGH.

With anorexia having the second highest mortality rate among psychiatric diseases, the team emphasizes the need for further research in this area.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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