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Reducing Depression Risk with An Alarm Clock

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We’ve all heard the expression “the early bird gets the worm” as an homage to the creative, successful types of people who swear by early mornings.  New research finds that the early bird may not only be more successful, but also up to 23% happier!

                A collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder, MIT, and Harvard studied over 800,000 adults and their sleeping patterns to confirm that the time you wake up has serious implications for better mental health.  The researchers discovered the exact time difference necessary to lower the risk of depression.

                Building upon results from previous, more limited studies, the correlations between people who sleep in showed a dramatic 27% increase in depression than those who woke early; but left researchers with questions.  How early is early, and how much earlier should you wake up to experience this boost in mental health?

                This newest investigation used a combination of genetic data, sleep questionnaires, and sleep trackers from fitness wearables to determine how these factors tied into an hourly schedule.  The time of day you prefer to be most active and your sleeping habits are largely controlled by genetics (up to 42%), so combining these statistics enabled the researchers to find that genetic variation responsible for early rising also predisposed those people to have a lower risk of depression.

                An hour is all it takes to note a difference in risk of depression.  Waking up an hour earlier reduces risk of depression by 23%!  In order to accommodate an earlier waking time, it’s also necessary to move bedtime back an hour so total sleep time isn’t affected.  In this way, it’s actually more about the midpoint of sleep (which is the halfway mark between when you go to bed and wake up) that’s being moved.

                If you can manage to go to bed two hours earlier and wake two hours earlier, the risk of depression is slashed by up to 40%!  Apart from genetic variants that  predispose someone to be more active in the morning and also protect them against the risk of depression, it’s the amount of sunlight exposure which the researchers believe also contributes to a better mood.  One of the ways serotonin production is activated is by sunlight reaching the eye.

                If you’re already an early riser, it probably won’t benefit you to get up even earlier, says scientists.  However, if you tend to stay up late or are trying to improve mental health, it could become you new favorite schedule!

References

Daghlas I, Lane JM, Saxena R, Vetter C. Genetically Proxied Diurnal Preference, Sleep Timing, and Risk of Major Depressive DisorderJAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 26, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0959

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