Study finds that waking up an hour earlier can significantly reduce risk of depression

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A study by the University of Colorado of over a quarter of a million people found that waking up just an hour earlier in the mornings was correlated with a 23% reduced risk of depression. The study was published in JAMA psychiatry and is consistent with a 2018 study that found a 27% lower risk of depression among early risers. Other studies have found positive benefits to drinking coffee, so if you go to bed early, get up at the crack of dawn and have a cup or two you may be protecting your mental health. Here’s more, from PennLive:

Conducted by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (and published on Science Daily), this study took a look at 840,000 individuals that pushed their alarm clock settings up by an hour.

What they found was that, on the whole, that the risk of depression of these “early risers” was cut by 23 percent.

“We have known for some time that there is a relationship between sleep timing and mood, but a question we often hear from clinicians is: How much earlier do we need to shift people to see a benefit?” states the study’s senior author, Celine Vetter, assistant professor of integrative physiology at CU Boulder. “We found that even one-hour earlier sleep timing is associated with significantly lower risk of depression.”

The study, however, doesn’t just look at those who get up from their beds earlier; those who decide to go to sleep an hour earlier than they usually do also had a lower risk of depression as well.

“Keep your days bright and your nights dark,” advises lead author of the study, Iyas, Daghlas, M.D, to those looking to improve their lifestyle. “Have your morning coffee on the porch. Walk or ride your bike to work if you can and dim those electronics in the evening.”

[From PennLive]

If you’re interested in learning more about this study, The University of Colorado has a more thorough writeup on it, I just excerpted this one as it explained it simpler. There are also genetics at play, including a gene called PER2. I looked up my 23andMe data for this gene and tried to make sense of it, but ended up lost. The gist is that genes may influence your sleep preferences and may also be a factor in whether you’re prone to depression. Here’s a section from that article about this:

Do those with genetic variants which predispose them to be early risers also have lower risk of depression?

The answer is a firm yes.

Each one-hour earlier sleep midpoint (halfway between bedtime and wake time) corresponded with a 23% lower risk of major depressive disorder.

Put another way, if someone who normally goes to bed at 1 a.m. goes to bed at midnight instead and sleeps the same duration, they could cut their risk by 23%; if they go to bed at 11 p.m., they could cut it by about 40%.

It’s unclear from the study whether those who are already early risers could benefit from getting up even earlier. But for those in the intermediate range or evening range, shifting to an earlier bedtime would likely be helpful.

[From Colorado.edu]

As someone who goes to bed around 9pm and wakes up around 4:30, this is promising to me. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’ve always preferred to wake up earlier and go to bed when I’m tired. My mom tells stories about me asking to go to bed when I was a little girl. So many of us are dealing with mental health struggles after this tough year. Going to bed earlier and setting your alarm a little earlier can’t hurt.

I wish they had studied naps too though. I always love a good nap.

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Photos credit: Cottonbro, Andrea Piacquadio, Ketut Subiyanto and Monstera on Pexels

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47 Responses to “Study finds that waking up an hour earlier can significantly reduce risk of depression”

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  1. Northerngirl says:

    I feel at my best when I go to bed at 9 p.m., read a book until 9:30 p.m. and wake-up around 7 a.m. . I often wake-up during the night, so I need long hours of sleep.I love waking-up early, you get to have a long day! :)

    • Lily P says:

      Completely agree! And the morning is so pretty between 6 and 8 as everything springs back to life!

    • Elizabeth Phillips says:

      I feel best when I go to bed at 3 am and get up at noon. I have more energy, get more done, and feel more creative.

  2. Coco says:

    I am in the midst of readjusting my sleep hygiene and making sure I’m asleep by 10pm. That means getting into bed by 9pm. The main reason is my one year old is going through a sleep regression so I need to get to bed earlier to cope. I’m realizing how much I’ve been running on fumes for months now after getting good sleep the past couple of nights.

  3. Libellule says:

    It’s a big nope from me. I feel best when I go to bed around 2am and wake up at 10. I used to wake up at 5.30 for work and it’s one of the worst times of my life

    • Esmom says:

      I had a co-worker like that and everyone complained about her tardiness at work, she just could not make our daily 9:00 status meeting. She was such a talented member of the team that I was okay with her coming in later and staying later. Everyone’s different.

    • lucy2 says:

      That was my go to time frame for college and many years after. Now I’m more midnight to 8, but forever trying to shift it earlier for work.
      This work from home thing hasn’t helped, I rolled outta bed at 9:30 this morning!

    • Another Anna says:

      Libellule, I feel exactly the same way! I can force myself to get up early, but I’m never as sharp and I never work as fast as I do when I let my body stay on its natural cycle. And for me, there is no forcing myself to sleep any earlier. Even when I’m regularly getting up at 6:30 or 7 for work, I’m not able to go to sleep much earlier than I would naturally. All that happens is I’m tired the next morning and I used to end up eating a lot of sugar early in the morning to try to pep myself up. (Coffee doesn’t do anything to me except make my anxiety a whole lot worse.)

      Also correlation is not causation. Plus, I went at looked at that write-up and I don’t see any kind of control for neurodivergence. I have ADHD and going to bed an hour earlier doesn’t stop my brain from running. Usually to fall asleep, I have to run my body down until I physically can’t stay awake any longer. Lying down in the dark and not watching something or reading something is usually just more time for my anxiety to wind up. A lot of the ADHD people I know have issues sleeping because they can’t necessarily get their mind to stop working and that’s what’s keeping them awake. Interesting findings, but the information seems incomplete at best.

      I’ve had people swear to me that I’ll become a morning person as I get older, but looking at my late-70s dad who is also a night owl, this might just be the way I’m built. Notably, every single person in my family has struggled with depression and anxiety and, as many others have said, if you have depression, getting out of bed an hour earlier might not be a choice your body is going to let you make.

  4. Becks1 says:

    On a short term basis, I always feel better when I get up earlier. I get up at 645 for work (I basically log in as soon as I wake up), but sometimes I’ll roll out of bed at 630 or 615 and even that change makes me feel so much better. I think its because my body is in the process of waking up by 6, so staying in bed until 645 isn’t necessarily getting me more sleep.

    We had a soccer game at 8 am this past sunday (omg whyyyyyy) and I got up at 615 for it and I felt so much better the whole day. I think part of it may be because if I know I have to get up and do something, I am more responsible the night before, even if its on a Saturday – I don’t have that last glass of wine, I don’t stay up to watch “one more episode”, etc, I go to bed.

    My husband got me a Hatch alarm clock for my birthday and I also think that has helped, before that (bday in february) I was having a hard time getting up before 7 or 730, and the sunrise feature has made a big difference in helping me wake up.

    • LadyMTL says:

      And here I get annoyed if I have to wake up even 15 minutes earlier than normal, lol. I generally get up around 6:30 for work (I also log in almost immediately) and I cherish every minute I get to stay in bed. The few days where I used to have to go to the office were awful, because I’d get up an hour early thanks to having to commute.

      Mind you, I’ve always been the type of person who doesn’t linger before bed. If I say ‘bedtime at 10 PM’ then it’s bedtime. No phone, no reading, nada. Just a dark room and a comfy pillow, and I am usually out like a light within 15 minutes.

      • Becks1 says:

        I don’ like getting up early if I have to (Sunday was annoying, lol) but I like it when I wake up naturally and its 615 and I’m like, I might as well get up. It doesn’t happen that often though because I don’t sleep very well (I usually wake up about once an hour from midnight to 5 am).

  5. Maria says:

    I’m a night owl and always have been. My preferred bedtime is 2 am, lol. No matter what patterns I establish that will always be my preference.

    But the other thing that may be influencing this study is that if you have the “spoons” to get up earlier you probably have less depression to worry about (I mean assuming one has a choice, work/childcare are different stories). It’s hard to stop hitting the snooze button when you’re depressed, even when you’re not sleepy. Obviously everybody’s different but I would venture that for some people that’s the truth.

    • Sankay says:

      Yes, this would be my take as well. People with depression don’t have a choice.

      • msmlnp says:

        Thank you for saying that. I am a natural night owl, and have fought depression most of my life. I can’t go to bed early if I tried. I am naturally a 1am- 8:30am sleeper in the best of cirucmstances. My depression actually lifts in the summer when I can sleep per my natural schedule opposed to running out the door early to get my kids to school. I worked second shift as a nurse for many years because of this- and I have a kid wired the same as me. It is what it is!

  6. Esmom says:

    Fascinating, thanks for sharing. I have become an early to bed, early to rise person in the past two decades. I love working out early and being up before anyone else. Being prone to depression and anxiety, I’d like to think this is helping. I need to show this to my college student son who has a hard time settling into a consistent sleep/wake pattern. He knows it’s important but he’s still at the night owl age, which I think is a real thing.

    Another recent study showed that sleep deprivation after age 50 increases a person’s risk for dementia. I am seeing it with my mom now, who is having serious memory issues after being an insomniac (anxiety related) for her whole life. Another reason to get your sleep sorted as soon as possible.

  7. AS says:

    Coco good for you getting sleep! When my kids were little I would try to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ but sometimes whey would skip naps all day! And then other times I just had so much mental chatter and laundry I couldn’t even try to nap – it would just frustrate me. I wish I had just gone to bed earlier. I was relying far too much on the coffee-wine cycle and Netflix to relax and I was permanently exhausted. You’re doing the right thing and taking care of yourself. Now my children are older and sleep through the night finally and I still keep a very early bedtime because I just feel so much better. My life is boring and I don’t get any pop culture references but I am the mom I want to be – mostly patient and productive (at least right after my coffee). Good luck with the sleep regression. It WILL end I promise!

  8. SarahCS says:

    This is fascinating, thank you for sharing with us. Having had varying degrees of depression all my adult life and varying levels of trouble sleeping I really try to balance how I do things and I know that when I’m in bed for 10 it definitely helps. My boyfriend moved in last March when we went into lockdown and that took some adjusting to. He stays up way later than me watching tv but I just end up doing more in the later evening rather than starting to get ready for bed around 9 and it does impact me.

    At the other end of the equation this last year is the first time in ages that I have had a fairly regular wake up time rather than 5am one day 7 am the next then maybe 5.30am and that has probably made the biggest difference. I’m willing to travel for work again in the future but not to the same degree. My body clock is too fragile, once I’ve been awake at a certain time it holds onto that for days if not weeks (I once did a two week work trip to NYC and just stayed on UK time as it was easier to manage).

  9. Merricat says:

    I wake at 5, sleep by 10. I love the early morning, when it’s dark and quiet and even the night owls have gone to bed. That’s when I get my best work done.
    An afternoon nap is great when I can get it!

    • Hell Nah! says:

      Merricat, your sleep/wake schedule sounds ideal!
      Hoping to emulate it and feel more energized.

  10. mellie says:

    I need a full 7 1/2 -8 hours of sleep. If I can go to bed at 10 and get up at 6 a.m. that’s perfect for me add a couple of cups of black coffee, the Today show at 7 a.m., start teleworking around that time and I’m golden! I take a lunchtime run, go to strength training class around 4:30, fix dinner after and do it all over again. However, if I get out of my routine, I’m a b!tch on wheels…so that’s a problem for everyone around me.

    • Merricat says:

      Lol, I hate having my morning schedule messed with, it puts me off for the rest of the day.

    • Becks1 says:

      I have always said that I have a “window” when it comes to waking up – I need 15 minutes to myself to sort of finish waking up (that’s when I put the water on for my tea, wait for my computer to boot up, check my phone, etc) and that can’t be interrupted. If someone interrupts that – a dog, a child, my husband lol – it throws me off and I end up being a lot crankier for the rest of the day.

  11. CROOKSNNANNIES says:

    This seems really simple but I guarantee if anyone tells my friends with clinical depression “get up earlier,” it will sound a lot like “just take a walk” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” My friends work very hard to manage their symptoms but I think this will be challenging- and if they fail to wake up early they will blame themselves even more.

    • Maria says:

      +1

    • Becks1 says:

      I also think the flip side can be true – when I am going through a bout of anxiety, which I struggle with, I get up earlier because I’m sleeping worse, so I stop trying. My dad is the same way, he’ll wake up at 3 am and lay in bed and not be able to go back to sleep so he just ends up getting up at 430 am. But it’s not out of a “yay let’s take on the day!” kind of feeling, its a “I’m so anxious I can’t sleep and laying in bed doesn’t help.”

      This sounds like its more about managing minor depression IMO.

    • Elizabeth Phillips says:

      Completely agree, Crooks!

    • msmlnp says:

      PREACH!!!! Sleep problems are hugely related to depression! “wake up early” is as easy as “just lose weight!” It is far, far more complicated than that.

  12. Hell Nah! says:

    My cat wakes me for her breakfast, like clockwork, between 5 and 5:15 every morning. I collapse back into bed after I give her the smelliest of cat foods and have to struggle to wake up again by 9 am. I’ve told myself if I got into bed by 10 pm every night (with no excuses or exceptions) I’d be fine with getting up at her preferred feeding time and actually starting my day.

    As it stands now, I never seem to be able to turn out the lights before midnight and yes, I am prone to depression.

    This study’s findings gives me more motivation to follow through with the no excuses/no exceptions part of the equation. Wish me luck!

    • lucy2 says:

      Darn cats and their internal clocks. Mine were on a 6:00 kick for a while, but since I’ve been home during the pandemic, they’ve gotten super lazy and sleep in!

  13. Willow says:

    Okay, saying everyone get up an hour earlier causes less depression seems vague. Why does it help? Because you need more daylight? More time to get ready? If it’s changing the sleep/wake cycle in your body, how long is that effective before you have to change it again? Well, I definitely need to go look this up for more information. Thanks for the tip.

    • FHMom says:

      Yes. It’s a big Huh? from me. It’s seems like a bad idea to sleep less unless you are sleeping more because of depression. Perhaps it’s more along the lines of go to bed early and wake up early. That makes more sense to me.

  14. BeanieBean says:

    At the end, one of the docs says to keep your days bright & your nights dark, so maybe this is all leading to…we need daily sunshine? Have your coffee on the porch he says, bike to work he says. It’s almost less about sleep and more about sunshine. Get up earlier so that you’ll have more sunshine hours in your day.

  15. Eleonora says:

    If I go to sleep early, it will take about 3 hours begote I actually fall asleep. Or I wake up in the middle of the night.

    I need 8 hours. Anything less than 7 and I feel like shit the whole day, with trouble concentrating etc.

  16. Snuffles says:

    I would LOVE to be a morning person, but my problem has always been that my body isn’t good at processing caffeine. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence going back to college but in recent years, DNA testing confirmed my suspicion. My body does not handle caffeine or alcohol well. Only small amounts.

    I was never a coffee drinker but I used to drink caffeinated tea all the time and too much of it made my body shake, gave me heart palpitations and exacerbated my anxiety. So waking up and getting going on my day has always been hard for me.

    I have no problem going to sleep early or technically waking up. But it takes me a few hours for my mind and body to get going. All I want to do is roll over and sleep some more. I try drinking a glass of water and that helps a bit but I’m sure it is nothing compared to what a good jolt of caffeine can do.

  17. Lucy says:

    Ok, but when I had a 830 bedtime and a 430 am wake up time was when I was the most depressed in my life. The Venn diagram of that time included two hours of commuting and a hole co workers, plus my physical health was crashing.
    I got laid off and slept from 11 to 1030 every day for two months and it healed everything.

  18. Clara says:

    It’s probably very personal but completely true in my experience! I struggled with depression for 2 years and I still have to be careful not to slip back into it. One of the key things was early mornings and getting out of bed immediately instead of staying in it for hours after waking up. I also started suffering from migraines a year ago and oversleeping is one of the main triggers. Sticking to the same 5:30 am alarm every single day has been such a game changer!

  19. Case says:

    As someone who used to stay up really late and roll out of bed as late as possible, I absolutely agree with this. I notice my mood and motivation dips significantly when I go to bed later/sleep in later. I actually just came out of several weeks where I was in that rut and it was really impacting my day-to-day. Sleeping by 10:30 or 11 and waking around 7 is so much better for my mental health. I have to stay on top of it because it’s so easy to slip into old habits, but I try my best and I think it helps a lot.

  20. WintryMix says:

    As someone whose ideal sleep schedule would be bedtime at 2am and wake at 10am, I read this and just think….yes it may reduce depression but at what cost?? 😂 This night owl cannot change I’m afraid.

  21. Penny Lane says:

    I’m a night owl and rarely go to sleep before 1am. I also struggle with chronic depression. I now make it a point to go to sleep by midnight and have noticed that I feel much better when I wake up in the morning.

  22. Ginger says:

    Appreciating the pics you chose! Not another blonde but poc. Surprised I noticed which tells you what I was used to. I feel seen!

  23. Stephanie says:

    Similar to you except go to bed at 10, wake up around 5:45, read my phone alerts for ~15 minutes, and then literally bounce out of bed haha

  24. chumsley says:

    For me, I think I’m just living in the wrong time zone. I live in Texas, so I’m in the central time zone and here I’m a night owl. Even if I’m tired, I sometimes struggle to fall asleep and it’s so hard to wake up. But when I go back to Japan (I was born there and spend my first four years there), I fall asleep early and wake up easily. So my theory is that I’m on Japan time. Or rather, Uchina time, since my family is from Okinawa and tardiness is a thing I struggle with sometimes.

  25. Cherriepie84 says:

    I have never been much of a morning person but for the past few months I have been making a concerted effort to get out of bed earlier (5:45am compared to 7:30 am) and I find that I am more productive and have more time to achieve my daily targets. Instead of midnight, I am now in bed by 10pm latest….so far so good! Will definitely be checking out this study.

  26. K says:

    My natural time has always been around midnight or 1 to 8am or 830. I recall being very little staying up with my mom after midnight. Def inherited. Both parents had insomnia.

  27. Faye G says:

    Hmm I might try this. As a lifelong night owl I love the late night hours, but hate the feeling of waking up late. I’m a budding writer and get great ideas at night, but my mental health needs improvement so I dunno.

  28. Andrea says:

    As a lifelong night owl who also prefers 2am bed and 10am wakeup, the earlier I wake up, the grumpier and sleep deprived I am. I am caffeine sensitive, so a coffee even early will disturb my sleep. Thankfully, I now work online afternoons and evenings.