In the United States, depression is the leading cause of disability among people between the ages of 15 and 44. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders among Americans—affecting nearly eight percent of adults. That’s almost 20 million people.
According to a new study conducted by three major universities, making one simple change to your daily routine can drastically reduce your risk of depression. What’s the secret, according to this new research?
The University of Colorado Boulder, the Broad Institute at MIT, and Harvard University recently completed a genetic study of 840,000 people that found waking up just one hour earlier—but still getting the same amount of sleep—will reduce the risk of major depression by 23%.
The research, which was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, also indicated that waking up two hours earlier increased this benefit.
Why Is Waking Up Early So Beneficial?
The authors of the study suggest there are a few reasons why waking up one to two hours early is so beneficial. Early risers get higher and earlier light exposure, which can boost emotional well-being. They also tend to be more in sync with the societal clock and the typical workday.
Sleeping late can make it more difficult to align with a typical work-rest schedule. And that can leave you feeling isolated and depressed.
“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?” Céline Vetter, senior author and assistant professor of integrative physiology, explained to South China Morning Post.
“We found that even one-hour earlier sleep timing is associated with significantly lower risk of depression.”
More Energy And Productivity
Marketing and business development manager Nicholas Moutafis told the South China Morning Post that changing the start of his day from 6 am to 5 am has put him in the right headspace to be more productive.
“After waking up at 5 am, I drink some water and prepare my coffee. Then, I either read a little or write in my journal,” Moutafis explained. “Between 6 am and 7 am, I do my CrossFit workout, and at 7 am I have breakfast and prepare both my and my partner’s lunches for us to take to the office. At 8 am, I do 30 minutes of qigong and then get ready for work.”
Moutafis claimed that having this routine in the first few hours of the day is good for his body and soul. It gives him more energy and makes him more productive, but it also gives him quiet time to himself “before the world wakes up and the daily pressures of life and work begin.”
How To Become A Morning Person
If you want to attempt to change your sleep habits and enjoy the benefits of early rising–Kate Bridle, sleep specialist and founder of the sleep health consulting service Sleep HQ–told the South China Morning Post that she advises a two-week challenge. Simply set the goal of waking up at the same time every morning for two weeks.
During that time, you must keep your alarm away from the bed, so you are forced to physically get up to turn it off. By making yourself get out of bed, you will likely be exposed to more light. This will signal to your body that it’s time to wake up.
Once you’ve forced yourself to wake up at a new regular time for a few days in a row–and you resist daytime naps–Bridle says you will naturally start to feel sleepier earlier in the evening. Once you’ve made it through the two-week challenge, you’ll find it easier to wake up early.
Moutafis co-signs Bridle’s recommendation. He claimed that at first, waking up one hour earlier initially left him feeling tired during the day. However, he was adamant about sticking to the new schedule.
Avoid The Naps
If you start to feel drowsy in the afternoon during your two-week challenge, Bridle suggests going outside for a short walk to get some fresh air and sunshine. She also says to drink plenty of water because hydration—along with light and movement—is essential for keeping energy levels high.
You should also avoid caffeine when you’re feeling drowsy in the afternoon because it can affect your sleep quality later. If you can manage to ditch caffeine completely during your two-week challenge and make that a permanent lifestyle change, you may feel even more energetic and your sleep will likely improve in the long run.
Monitoring what you eat is also a good idea because some foods can make you feel sluggish. And according to Moutafis—who recently qualified as a qigong teacher—doing some activation exercises and stretches while focusing on breathing will get his “chi energy flowing.”
“One of my favorite moves is called Knocking on the Door of Life, which involves swinging your arms and allowing them to knock against your lower back and lower abdomen. This revitalizes and rejuvenates my body so that I can get on with my day.”
What If You’re Not A Morning Person?
Of course, getting up one or two hours earlier each day is easier said than done. Not everyone is a morning person, and our daily schedules are shaped by our job and lifestyle. There’s also the issue of genetics.
Bridle claimed the reason some of us aren’t morning people is largely due to our chronotype, which is our individual tendency to fall asleep at a certain time. If getting up at 5 am just isn’t an option for you, “there are other ways to improve your sleep habits,” Kate Bridle told South China Morning Post. “What really matters for your long-term health is sticking to a regular sleep schedule.”
“Getting sufficient high-quality sleep and following good sleep habits are key to maintaining optimal health,” Bridle said. “And don’t deprive yourself of sleep, because sleep deprivation is linked to poor mood and a higher incidence of depression.”