Do You Have Morning Depression?

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Many people feel more depressed and anxious in the morning hours than any other time of day. According to a study in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, diurnal mood variations -- shifts in mood at different times of the day --seem to be a typical part of depression. Morning lows, afternoon slumps, or evening worsening can all occur during a single depressive episode.

Why morning depression?

It is unclear what causes diurnal mood variation but some think it has to do with a disruption to biological circadian rhythms or our body's natural body clock. For some people it may be biologically easier to feel better later in the day.

People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder or SAD also have a disruption of their biological circadian rhythms. A cluster of nerves in the brain located on the on the hypothalamus are responsible for our biological clock.

What affects our biological clock? Light is definitely one factor. This is why some folk feel off kilter or even depressed as the winter approaches giving us less daylight. If your biological clock is offset this can affect the secretion of melatonin which induces sleep. People with a disturbance to their body clock may suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, or have sleep problems. Disruptions to our body clock affect our mental health.

Based on my own experience, here of some my guesses as to why some people suffer from morning depression:

  • Seasonal change. Once the seasons change, especially from summer to winter, there is a period of time when it is likely you will wake up in darkness. If you work fulltime, you will also return home in darkness. For all the people working in sunless cubes, you may totally miss any light at all. Many studies have shown that a lack of light can make you feel depressed and also mess with your biological clock.

  • Blood sugar levels. In the mornings your blood sugar may be low. You have not eaten in many hours. If you are a person who skips breakfast, then you are increasing the odds for feeling crummy due to a lack of energy.

  • Lack of sleep. Many people who suffer from depression also suffer from sleep problems. If you have not gotten a good night's sleep, then you are going to wake up feeling tired and miserable.

  • Sleeping too much. Sleep can be a refuge for those of us who suffer from depression. Waking up disrupts that peaceful feeling as the pressures and anxieties of the day come flooding into our consciousness. It is, so to speak, a "rude awakening." Some days when I wake up, my worries feel like I am being pelted by rocks. They seem all the more magnified because of the sharp contrast between sleep and wakefulness.

  • The to-do list. When you are depressed, the beginning of the day can seem overwhelming. There is so much time ahead for things to potentially go wrong. There are days when I wake up and think, "Please help me to survive this day." Those are the days you have to literally push yourself to get out of that bed.

What you can do to help morning depresson

The following list is generated from my own ideas as well as from others who suffer from morning depression.

  • Wake up early. One fellow wrote on a support group forum that he wakes up early on purpose. He usually feels bad. But then he goes to sleep a second time for a short while. He then wakes up and feels better. I am not sure if this method would work for anyone else but it sounds interesting.

  • See faces in the morning. Seth Roberts, a professor of psychology at Berkeley found that seeing faces in the morning on television improved his mood. I suppose it couldn't hurt to try this.

  • Let in light. I say get some light in the mornings. Open up your blinds or buy one of those special light boxes or dawn simulators.

  • Eat something in the morning. The boost of energy will improve your mood. Oatmeal is a nutritious carboydratate that can increase your serontonin levels and help your mood. Oatmeal is one of my favorite comfort foods as it is warm and filling. And oatmeal fills you without adding a ton of calories.

  • Get a good night's sleep. I take melatonin to get to sleep. I find that I am asleep within an hour of taking melatonin. I feel it has made a tremendous impact upon my ability to cope the next day.

  • Take some time in the morning for you. Get up a little earlier if you have to, but take that time to gain some peace of mind. I used to go into my workplace early so that I could play piano. I worked in a church and they happened to have this old piano there. It sometimes was the highlight of my day. Do something in the morning which makes you feel good.

  • Talk to your doctor or therapist! Your morning mood may have some other medical cause or even be due to how you are taking your antidepressants. The people treating you need to know this information so that they can provide the best help to you.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."