Using Mendelian Randomization methods to understand whether diurnal preference is causally related to mental health

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Jessica O'Loughlin
  • Francesco Casanova
  • Samuel E Jones
  • Saskia P Hagenaars
  • Robin N Beaumont
  • Rachel M Freathy
  • Edward R Watkins
  • Céline Vetter
  • Sean W Cain
  • Andrew J K Phillips
  • Daniel P Windred
  • Andrew R Wood
  • Michael N Weedon
  • Jessica Tyrrell


Late diurnal preference has been linked to poorer mental health outcomes, but the understanding of the causal role of diurnal preference on mental health and wellbeing is currently limited. Late diurnal preference is often associated with circadian misalignment (a mismatch between the timing of the endogenous circadian system and behavioural rhythms), so that evening people live more frequently against their internal clock. This study aims to quantify the causal contribution of diurnal preference on mental health outcomes, including anxiety, depression and general wellbeing and test the hypothesis that more misaligned individuals have poorer mental health and wellbeing using an actigraphy-based measure of circadian misalignment. Multiple Mendelian Randomization (MR) approaches were used to test causal pathways between diurnal preference and seven well-validated mental health and wellbeing outcomes in up to 451,025 individuals. In addition, observational analyses tested the association between a novel, objective measure of behavioural misalignment (Composite Phase Deviation, CPD) and seven mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Using genetic instruments identified in the largest GWAS for diurnal preference, we provide robust evidence that early diurnal preference is protective for depression and improves wellbeing. For example, using one-sample MR, a two-fold higher genetic liability of morningness was associated with lower odds of depressive symptoms (OR: 0.92, 95%CI: 0.88, 0.97). It is possible that behavioural factors including circadian misalignment may contribute in the chronotype depression relationship, but further work is needed to confirm these findings.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular psychiatry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Apr 2021