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For some time now, the country has been at a crisis level concerning mental health. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. experiences a diagnosable mental disorder each year. Among the most common challenges people face is depression.
While the number of people living with depression is concerning, this volume isn’t the crux of the crisis. Rather, the issues revolve around the fact many patients aren’t able to gain effective treatment. This has led to studies into alternative forms of symptom management. One of the most interesting of these is the research by the University of Colorado Boulder into how rising an hour earlier each day can make people less prone to depression.
This seems like a simple route to improved mental health, but is it effective? We’re going to take a closer look at the idea.
It has been known for a long time that sleep and depression are connected. This can be from a symptomatic level — the emotions associated with depression can lead to patients frequently losing sleep or being more prone to hypersomnia (sleeping throughout the day). Sleep is also considered to have a causal impact. Experts consider the ideal amount of sleep to be 7-9 hours, but people who regularly sleep more than 8 hours a night may well experience more depressive symptoms than those who sleep fewer. This is startling, as it suggests even the difference of an hour given or taken from sleep impacts your mental wellness.
This makes the University of Colorado Boulder study interesting as it follows the idea that waking up an hour earlier than usual can help with depression. This isn’t to simply stop you from feeling sad; it focuses on people experiencing major depressive symptoms. The study examined 840,000 people and sought to establish to what extent a person’s chronotype (the time they sleep) influences their risk of depression. From a practical perspective, researchers wanted to know if there was a quantifiable period patients could be advised to sleep. Their findings indicated that going to bed an hour earlier and waking an hour earlier has a significant impact.
The reason this may be the case is still something subject to debate. Part of the Colorado study centered around the possibility of a genetic link. A firm positive correlation was found in those who have a predisposition to rise earlier in the day and those who are less likely to experience a major depressive disorder. While there is a significant amount of additional study to perform, this evidence certainly supports rising an hour earlier as a beneficial action.
The studies certainly exhibit some promising ideas. However, as with any action concerning your mental health, it’s important not to just dive right in and make changes. There are some preparations you should perform beforehand.
Some of these include:
There is a tendency today for people to self-diagnose illnesses like depression. This is unwise, as even professionals find it challenging to diagnose correctly. Indeed, while anxiety and depression are separate conditions with distinct features, there are elements of overlap. They can also arise as comorbidity, meaning they can occur simultaneously and symptoms of one can fuel the other. Before making changes to your sleep routine, you must establish it’s important you establish the correct diagnosis. The study has only been performed on those experiencing depression. There is no evidence for other conditions.
It can be easy, when reviewing new studies, to put high expectations on a form of treatment. This is understandable; the symptoms of depression can be disruptive, painful, and in some cases embarrassing, and it’s only natural you’d want to be free of them. But it’s always wise to discuss planned changes in your condition management with your doctor or community nursing liaison. This isn’t just from the basis of gaining their professional opinion. They can also offer insights into how this might be impacted by other tools, such as your medication. You’ll also find they can be useful in helping you to plan your sleep routine changes effectively. Mental health treatment is, after all, a collaboration, and your doctor will be keen to engage with you here.
Once you’ve established that it is appropriate to put this change into practice, it’s wise to take a mindful approach to the process. A key element here is making efforts to maintain the quality of your sleep. Implement a bedtime routine to put you in the best mental and physical position for sleep; it’s a form of self-care that can be valuable for everyone.
This routine can include ceasing the use of devices an hour or so before bed and switching to softer lighting in your bedroom. It can also be wise to consider whether your sleeping apparatus is appropriate for good sleep hygiene. If you tend to get overheated during the night, it may be worth considering investing in a cooling mattress to minimize disrupted sleep patterns. This can draw the heat away from your body and improve the circulation of air throughout the night. If you experience sleep apnea, it can be worth looking at supportive pillows.
Alongside a routine and apparatus, your process should include some form of monitoring. After all, you need to establish whether it’s having an impact. It can be helpful to start a mood diary before you begin rising earlier. Keep track of what if any fluctuations occur and how this relates to the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting. This is a good tool to give you ownership over your condition and a solid document to discuss with your mental health professional.
Can waking up an hour earlier help your depression? One study points to the possibility it can. Though it’s clear further research is needed. It may well prove to be a useful action to include in your management program, but it’s important to first take preparatory steps. If you choose to engage, you may find the most positive results come from also taking actions to maximize the quality of your sleep and maintain an awareness of its causal impact on your mood.
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