Waking up early reduces depression.

Man sleeping

Sleeping person.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

When you wake up matters when it comes to depression.

We used to think that the critical factor connecting sleep and depression was the total number of hours of sleep. But when you go to bed and when you get up may also affect your mental health. It is true that people who get inadequate sleep, however much that is for them, are more likely to become depressed. Depending on your genetics and the amount of energy you expend every day, we expect people to need between seven and nine hours of sleep each day. Deviations from this norm may be connected to mental health issues.

Not enough sleep affects your mood.

Waking up tired makes you grouchy and leads to depression. The idea that you can be more productive by reducing the number of hours of sleep you get each night has turned out to do more harm than good. Being chronically sleep-deprived interferes with mental processes.

Not enough sleep makes you irritable and adds to depression. Even the traditional all-nighters before exams may be resulting in lower test scores, not better grades. Students who lay off the books the night before finals and get a good night’s rest often do better than those who try to stay up all night studying but took the test with a foggy head.

Not needing much sleep can also be a problem.

Some people have a genetic disposition that requires them to sleep less than their fellow humans. But when someone routinely sleeps less than six hours and wakes up with plenty of energy, this may be a sign of a developing mental illness. Sleeping less than normal is a key indicator for either cyclothymic disorder or one of the bipolar disorders. In those disorders is not just the reduced need for sleep; however, that makes the diagnosis. These high-energy people also act impulsively or irresponsibly and may have driven uncontrollable behavior. The lack of sleep doesn’t get them into trouble directly, but what they do while awake does.

It’s not just how much sleep but when.

Recently I’ve seen several studies tell us that night owls are more likely to be depressed. Late risers are twice as likely to become depressed as the early birds. Early risers are also more likely to be happy and optimistic. But these characteristics are not fixed. People who suddenly must stay up later at night and begin sleeping in may experience a decline in mood. This relationship works in the other direction also.

Becoming an early riser can help improve your mood.

For most types of depression, many things can help. Medication can help temporarily, but so can increasing physical activity and exercise. Changing your thinking, a major part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, can also reduce symptoms of depression. Recently we discovered that being an early riser can also reduce depression.

Deliberately shifting your sleep schedule can also improve your mood.

People who begin to deliberately get up earlier each morning and then go to bed earlier report seeing an improvement in their mood. If they suffer from some types of depression, it gets better. How much of a shift do you need to make? Waking up one hour earlier results in a significant improvement in mood.

During the pandemic, many people shifted to online schooling or working from home. There’s been an increase in people working later into the evening and then sleeping later in the morning. Surveys suggest that those people who stayed up the latest felt the emotional impacts of the pandemic more than those people who stuck with a schedule that mirrored the sun. As we get back to normal, moving back to an early to rise and early to bed lifestyle may be just the boost your mental health needs.

Sudden sleep changes may also be a sign of an oncoming mental illness.

The condition we call depression comes in two major forms. In melancholy depression, people can’t sleep. But in atypical depression, the depressed person begins to sleep for extended periods but is still tired. Of course, reduced need for sleep is often tied to a bipolar person moving into a manic or hypomanic episode.

The idea that this connection between sleep and significant emotional problems or even a mental illness can work in both directions hasn’t seen enough attention in the past. While changes in your sleep may indicate an oncoming mental illness, deliberately shifting your sleep schedule as much as possible to be an early riser may also have significant mental health benefits.

Genetics certainly play a role in both sleep cycles and the risk of developing depression. But it’s possible that something as simple as gradually shifting your sleep cycle so that you get more hours of daylight and sleep during the darkness may help improve your mood and may even reduce or prevent some forms of depression.

Have you noticed a connection between your bedtime and your mood? If you have seen an impact of sleep cycles on your mental health, please leave a comment below.

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