Early Birds Should Take Meds at Different Times Than Night Owls

Your body clock might affect when you should be taking medication, new research suggests.

Our bodies all run on an internal clock, which is dictated by both our genetics and our environment. And because of this unique combination of internal and external factors, our body clocks all run slightly differently. So, while some people tend to feel more awake first thing in the morning, others prefer a later start and later finish. You may have heard of this in the context of “early birds” and “night owls.”

Scientifically, this biological preference is called your chronotype, and it’s not just our bedtime that’s affected here. We’re increasingly learning that our circadian cycles influence everything from our muscle strength to our metabolism.

Recent studies have also found that our chronotypes may influence how our blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. So, it makes sense that early birds and night owls might benefit from different schedules when it comes to receiving blood pressure medication.

Timing of medication
Image of pills next to a clock (inset). The best time to take your medication might vary depending on your chronotype, scientists say.

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In a new study, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, researchers from the University of Dundee, Scotland, in collaboration with research center Helmholtz Munich examined data from over 5,000 participants with high blood pressure, detailing when they took their regular antihypertensive medication. The data also included an online questionnaire to assess the participants’ chronotypes.

Those who were categorized as earlier chronotypes—aka “morning larks”—who took their prescribed medication in the morning were less likely to experience a heart attack than those who took it in the evening.

Conversely, “night owls” who took their medication in the evening were less likely to be hospitalized for nonfatal heart attacks compared to those who took it in the morning.

“These results are exciting because they could represent a ‘paradigm shift’ in the treatment of hypertension,” Filippo Pigazzani, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant cardiologist from the university’s School of Medicine, who conceived the study, said in a statement.

“Our research has now shown for the first time that considering chronotype when deciding dosing time of antihypertensives—personalized chronotherapy—could reduce the risk of heart attack.”

While these results are purely observational, their findings could have significant implications for public health, considering high blood pressure affects nearly half of all American adults, according to the American Heart Association. However, Pigazzani cautioned not to make any changes to your medication schedule before consulting your doctor.

“Before any patients change when they are taking their antihypertensive medications, our findings first need to be confirmed in new randomized clinical trials of personalized chronotherapy,” he said.

While more research is needed to confirm these results, the findings add to a growing body of evidence that classical one-size-fits-all approaches to medication need to be reconsidered.

“It’s important for physicians to remember that not all patients are the same,” Kenneth Dyar, a circadian biologist from Helmholtz Munich, who helped design the study, said in a statement. “Humans show wide inter-individual differences in their chronotype, and these personal differences are known to affect disease risk.”

The full findings can be found in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

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