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Getting up one hour earlier helps battle depression

Scientists have found that waking up just one hour earlier appears to reduce the depression risk by double digits.

Sleep is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and reduced perception of environmental stimuli. — Image: Rachel CALAMUSA (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sleep is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and reduced perception of environmental stimuli. — Image: Rachel CALAMUSA (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Analyzing patterns of behavior that can influence rates of depression, scientists have found that waking up just one hour earlier appears to reduce the depression risk by double digits. This comes from researchers based at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The research was based on a database containing information relating to 840,000 people. By looking at the data for patterns, the researchers discovered that shifting sleep time earlier decreased risk of major depression by 23 percent.

The data adds to accumulating evidence that what is termed the chronotype (a person’s propensity to sleep at a certain time) influences depression risk. The research adds to this area of knowledge by establishing just how much, or little, change in relation to sleep and rising is necessary to influence mental health.

As part of the research, a method called “Mendelian randomization” – one that leverages genetic associations to help decipher cause and effect – was adopted. This helped to illuminate the chronotype of individuals.

Here it was found that over 340 common genetic variants, including variants in the so-called “clock gene” PER2, influence a person’s chronotype. This means a person’s preference for when they sleep and when they want to wake up has a genetic basis.

This also points to one of the genetic factors with depression. However, this potential can be challenged by deliberately altering the wake-up time.

The findings have a relevance in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, in that many who work from home have gravitated towards a later sleep schedule.

Here earlier observational studies established that so-called night owls are twice as likely to suffer from depression compared with early risers. What the new research shows is how those with depression or who are at risk from depression can adjust the time they rise in the day as a means to decrease the potential for feelings of depression occurring.

As to why this is the case, it is possible that getting greater light exposure during the day, which early-risers tend to get, results in a cascade of hormonal impacts that can influence mood. Or the matter may be related to the internal biological clock.

The research appears in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The research paper is headed “Genetically Proxied Diurnal Preference, Sleep Timing, and Risk of Major Depressive Disorder”.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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