Early Bird May Have A Lower Depression Risk

According to recent statistics from the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression in the world, with it being a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. While this condition is more common in women, a recent study suggests that being an early riser might lower your risk.

The study

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Bouler and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston examined the link between mood disorders and chronotype – i.e. a person’s sleep-wake preference. Inclinations range from those who prefer to wake up early and go to sleep early (known as morning larks) and those who prefer the opposite routine (night owls). Genetics partly determines your sleep-wake preference. The study has become the largest study that has examined chronotype and mood disorders.

Depression risk factors such as body weight, physical activity, chronic disease, sleep duration, or night shift work were also assessed, and the women were followed for a four-year period in total.

For the study, researchers used data from 32,470 female nurses, which was extracted from the Nurses’ Health Study. The participants had an average age of 55 and were free from depression at the start of the study in 2009. When it came to their sleep preference, 37% described themselves as early risers, 53% per cent said they were intermediate types and 10% labelled themselves as night owls. The women were monitored for a four-year period and they were also asked to fill out health questionnaires biennially. Furthermore, depression risk factors such as physical activity, chronic disease and body weight were also taken into account.

The results

The study found that those who woke up later were at a higher risk of depression when compared to early risers. The study concluded with 2,581 cases of depression having developed with 290 of them being late risers. The night owls, were less likely to be married, more likely to live alone, more likely to smoke, and more likely to have erratic sleep patterns. Regardless of these factors, the study revealed that early risers had a 12-17% less chance of developing depression.

“This tells us that there might be an effect of chronotype on depression risk that is not driven by environmental and lifestyle factors,” says study lead author Céline Vetter.

Furthermore, late risers had a 6% higher risk of depression than intermediate types – although the researchers did note that this increase was modest and not statistically significant.

The verdict on early rising

These recent findings highlight the effect that sleep can have on ones’ mental health. Previous studies have revealed that people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression than individuals who sleep well. Furthermore, lack of sleep is a common side effect of depression.

Although the results suggest that your sleeping pattern may be an independent risk factor for depression, Vetter was sure to emphasize that the findings do not mean night owls will definitely develop depression. “Yes, chronotype is relevant when it comes to depression, but it is a small effect,” she explained. “Being an early type seems to be beneficial, and you can influence how early you are. Try to get enough sleep, exercise, spend time outdoors, dim the lights at night, and try to get as much light by day as possible.”

Night owls may also be able to change their preference. Furthermore, there are many other factors that influence our sleep patterns which can also influence depression risk and the study failed to assess them individually. Read more about the study here.

Want to find out more?

Click on the link to find the relevance of cognitive therapy as an effective treatment for depression.