Are sleep and depression related? And does when you sleep make a difference in your moods and reducing the risk of depression? Absolutely. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, shows that rising one hour earlier reduces the risk of depression by 23%. And, if you wake two hours earlier, the risk drops to 40%. Now that is significant.
The researchers who did this study noticed a trend in sleeping habits as we emerge from the pandemic from working and attending school remotely, Many of us have shifted to a later sleep schedule, which when added to the other stressors of the pandemic, it ups the risk of mood disorders and depression. They used this trend as a factor to quantify how the timing of our sleep affects moods.
“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?” said 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.”
Previous observational studies have shown that night owls are as much as twice as likely to suffer from depression as early risers, regardless of how long they sleep. But because mood disorders themselves can disrupt sleep patterns, researchers have had a hard time deciphering what causes what. For this study, researchers looked at chronotyping, or a person’s propensity to sleep at a certain time, and our biological “clock gene.”
To get a clearer sense of whether shifting sleep time earlier is truly protective, and how much shift is required, lead author Iyas Daghlas, M.D., turned to data from the DNA testing company 23 and Me and the biomedical database UK Biobank.
The study authors looked at 340 common genetic variants, including variants in the so-called “clock gene” PER2, which are known to influence 12-42% of a person’s sleep timing preference.
The researchers assessed the genetic data and variants from up to 850,000 individuals, including data from 85,000 who had worn wearable sleep trackers for 7 days and 250,000 who had filled out sleep-preference questionnaires. This gave them a more granular picture, down to the hour, of how variants in genes influence when we sleep and wake up.
In the largest of these samples, about a third of surveyed subjects self-identified as morning larks, 9% were night owls and the rest were in the middle. Overall, the average sleep mid-point was 3 a.m., meaning they went to bed at 11 p.m. and got up at 6 a.m.
How Does Rising One Hour Earlier Reduce the Risk of Depression?
With this information in hand, the researchers turned to a different sample, which included genetic information along with medical and prescription records and surveys about diagnoses of major depressive disorder. They then asked: Do those with genetic variants that predisposes 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. This suggests that 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.
What could explain this effect?
“We live in a society that is designed for morning people, and evening people often feel as if they are in a constant state of misalignment with that societal clock,” said Daghlas. So what can be done to help right this misalignment?
- Try to get greater light exposure during the day (which early-risers tend to get) because this results in a cascade of hormonal impacts that can influence mood.
- “Keep your days bright and your nights dark,” she says. “Have your morning coffee on the porch.”
- If you can, walk or ride your bike to work, or get outside in the morning before work.
- Lastly, dim electronics and screens in the evening and turn them off at least an hour before bedtime.
How Can Naturopathic Medicine Help with Sleep and Mood Disorders?
If you are having chronic sleep problems, naturopathic docotors are trained to look at each individual and focus first on lifestyle changes including optimizing diet, environment, and sleep hygiene, removing stimulants, increasing physical activity, and creating routines.
If you see a naturopathic doctor for help with depression they will work with you and a mental health professionals to identify the underlying cause of the depression, anxiety, and stress. There are many ways they can support the patient with behavioral medicine including mindfulness, breathing techniques, and meditation. When appropriate, NDs may prescribe botanical medicine and supplements such as melatonin to address stress, anxiety, and depression.
Read more on how naturopathic doctors treat insomnia, sleep problems, depression and anxiety.
Source: Daghlas I, Lane JM, Saxena R, Vetter C. Genetically Proxied Diurnal Preference, Sleep Timing, and Risk of Major Depressive Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online May 26, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.0959
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Kimberly Lord Stewart is the content and marketing director of the Institute for Natural Medicine. She loves to get a good night’s sleep and has learned to turn off her phone and dive into warm blankets and a good book before turning in.
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