Genetic Sleep Preferences Influence College Major, Career Choice Interview with: Frederick M. Brown, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
The Pennsylvania State University
Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Wellness
Director, Human Performance Rhythms Laboratory  What was the primary finding of your study?

Dr. Brown: Time of day of an occupation, as well as a regular versus irregular
routine, may influence whether a person wants to go into it or not. Most
educational research has focused on academic major selection motivated
by job aptitude, personality, and sociocultural factors. Our findings
suggest that a person’s genetically determined built-in morning versus
evening (M/E) preference for best time of day to work or sleep may
influence career choice in two important ways: This M/E preference for
work and sleep is related to 1) personality and to 2) the time of day
the job is executed. These may interact with how much sleep a person
thinks they need. In addition to the personality traits associated with
M/E, such as morning people being more introverted and evening people
more extroverted, an individual’s choice of major may be influenced by
their preference for the typical work hours of a profession, such as a
routine 9-to-5 schedule versus irregular evening and weekend work.

We found that the top five college majors selected by morning-oriented
students were routine-schedule “detail oriented” health-related
professions including Nutrition, Nursing, and Kinesiology, and business
professions including Finance and Accounting. The top five college
majors selected by evening-oriented students were variable-schedule “big
picture” often very social professions including Administration of
Justice, Management Science & Information Systems, Speech Communication,
Political Science, and Psychology. Our findings also indicate college
majors vary significantly in the amount of weekday chronic sleep loss
that students in those majors were getting. This ranged from virtually
no sleep loss for Speech Communication majors to more than 3 hours for
Media majors. It is possible then that choice of college major also may
be related to the amount of tolerance for chronic partial sleep
deprivation that students think they can stand in that occupation.  What was most surprising about the results of your study?

Dr. Brown: The most surprising element is that a student’s M/E influence on their
selection of a college major likely involves both personality traits and
their built-in biological tolerance for early (morning-oriented) vs.
late or irregular (evening-oriented) job hours.  Why are these results important?

Dr. Brown: A mismatch of job time and biological time, as well as intolerance to
partial sleep loss, can negatively influence peak job and school
performance. It can become a stressor and increase on-the job errors or
accidents. Not only that, individuals who show strong aptitude for
certain professions may be dissuaded from pursuing them in favor of
following their preferred morning vs. evening active routine. In
addition, they may become dissuaded if university time-of-day scheduling
of coursework in those majors is in conflict with their biologically
suitable times of day. Unlike traditional university schedules, more
jobs now recognize and allow for flex time. In this way individuals can
maximize their productivity by aligning work times with their M/E
orientation and minimize their chronic partial sleep loss.


International SLEEP conference
Baltimore, MD 2013

Last Updated on March 19, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD