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Mental Wellness

What Causes Morning Depression and How to Overcome it

Written by Dr. Sarah Gundle
Clinical Psychologist in NYC
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Depression can feel worse at different times of the day. We all cope differently and while most feel the curtain falling on them at night, depression can happen just as you are starting your day.

If you tend to wake up in a low mood, irritable, or simply not feeling it, you may have what some doctors call morning depression.

With morning depression, depressive symptoms are more severe in the morning than at other times of the day. You might find that you are sleeping more than usual or find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.

You can also experience low energy as you try to postpone any engagement as simple as getting coffee. You may feel irritated even when no one’s really pushing your buttons.

What is Morning Depression?

While the term is not recognized as a condition by the official diagnostic manual for mental disorders, it can be part of what’s called “diurnal mood variation.”[1]

Symptoms may include:

  • being sad, anxious, or depressed
  • having no energy to start your day
  • finding it hard to get out of bed
  • lacking interest in things that once brought you pleasure

Getting the Right Diagnosis for Morning Depression

When you feel this way, it is best to get the right diagnostics. It may have underlying issues that you need to solve as well.

1. Rule Out Other Causes

First, you have to differentiate between what you are feeling and the more chronic, serious depression. Being tired, irritated, or hopeless are also symptoms of other forms of depression that have different treatments.

It is therefore critical to rule these out before treating the morning depression. Talk to your medical doctor, health care provider, or therapist to understand if you may have something more than temporary mood swings or if you have hypersomnia.

It’s also important to rule out any physical causes by meeting with your medical doctor. You might be doing things to solve a different issue but there is an underlying cause or a cause that may have been overlooked.

In the end, your symptoms will not go away. That’s why it is vital that you find the right causes so that you can treat yourself correctly.

2. Are You Managing Your Health?

If you’re asking “why am I depressed in the morning?” it could be that you’re simply not managing your health properly.

Make sure you are managing your health by eating well, staying active, and getting enough or sleeping at the right time. You also have to manage any long-term conditions such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Diabetes

Physical health plays a pivotal role in your mental health.

3. Check Your Medications

Make sure that your drugs or any drug interactions are not behind your morning depression. It could be a side effect of your medications.

What Causes Morning Depression?

Morning depression can be caused by multiple things. But why is depression worse in the morning? Simply because this is mostly caused by a disturbance in your system, more so in your sleep.

Sleep is a very important activity as it helps us rest and regenerate ourselves. When sleep is disturbed, our mornings can be awful. Let’s take a look at the list below of how we develop morning depression.[2]

1. Disrupted Circadian Rhythms

Your body’s natural clock, called the circadian rhythm, regulates everything from heart rate to body temperature. It also affects energy, thinking, alertness, and mood.

These daily rhythms help you keep a stable mood. When these are disturbed, sleep is as well. People who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to be depressed.


2. Physiological Problems

It may be important to rule out any physical ailments, such as obstructive sleep apnea when you stop and start breathing during the night.

3. Stress Hormones

Your body releases a chemical called cortisol in response to stresses that induce the “fight or flight” reaction. Stress hormone elevates your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

Too much cortisol can be linked to anxiety and depression. Normally, cortisol levels spike in the mornings, leaving some people feeling more down. However, when your sleep schedule is off, these hormones will either be irregularly produced or create an imbalance causing morning depression.

Try managing your stress and you’ll soon see a great improvement.

4. Inflammation

Some studies have found high levels of an inflammation-causing chemical called interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the brains of people with depression and other mental health disorders.

IL-6 levels rise and fall at different times, but early morning is a common peak period. One study found that in some people, IL-6 amounts climb overnight and reach their highest level close to the time that their cortisol levels peak.

How to Treat Morning Depression?

Depression in the morning is a feeling that most people encounter. People experience these whether they’re aware or not. The key is to find out what causes these emotions and find the right help.

There are things that you can do to help regulate your morning depression. Read down below and start the healing process.[3]


1. Talk to a Therapist

This is particularly helpful when combined with medication. Talking to a therapist can help you identify maladaptive patterns in your life that might be disrupting your sleep.

There are different forms of therapy including cognitive-behavioral, dynamic, relational, and interpersonal among many others.

2. Medication

Meet with a psychopharmacologist or your primary doctor to discuss possible options.

While there are natural treatments, you are still free to take medication as long as you know what you are taking.

3. Change Your Routine

Keep your schedule constant including eating meals at the same time every day. Try to refrain from taking naps, avoid caffeine and lessen the use of electronic devices two hours before bedtime.

Also, you may try getting to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Routine can be a huge influence on circadian rhythms.

4. Get Exercise

Make sure you are exercising regularly. Exercise can increase sleep quality by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep and decreasing the amount of time lying awake in bed during the night.

Exercise can also reduce the need for sleep medications. It can also improve sleep indirectly by decreasing the risk of excessive weight gain, which in turn makes that person less likely to experience symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.


5. Plan One Thing to Do Upon Waking

Plan ahead at night to do one thing in the morning when you wake up. That could be:

  • Showering
  • Making the bed
  • Drinking a cup of tea
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Petting your pet
  • Standing up
  • Running

It’s important that it be a discrete task and that it be simple. Mastering one task is often helpful for finding the motivation to complete other tasks. When you complete a simple task such as making your bed, you’d have accomplished something already just after waking up.

6. Relax Yourself Before Bedtime

Indulge yourself in relaxing activities before going to sleep. It can be:

  • A warm bath
  • Drinking decaf tea
  • Reading a book
  • Writing a journal
  • Listening to calming music

For best results, try doing these things without using electronic gadgets or surfing the net.

7. Create Comfortable Sleeping Conditions

Your sleeping pattern is important but your sleeping conditions are just as important as well. A hard bed or a pillow that is too soft might be what is causing you to have sleeping problems.

Take a long look at your mattress, pillow, and sheets and see if switching them might make you feel more comfortable. Make yourself as cozy as possible.

8. Write Down Your Concerns Before You Sleep

Write down all your concerns or worrying thoughts you may have before sleeping on paper and then put that paper away and out of sight.

This is not the same as a journal. Simply, you are acting upon your thoughts and putting them on a piece of paper, away from you. So that you won’t be thinking about them. Leave that for tomorrow, or if you can, throw it away.


9. Adjust Your Schedule

Try to plan meetings, events, and tasks that require concentration later in the day not in the morning.

You might not be at your best self in the morning and may need time to correct your own rhythm. Having tasks that require this much concentration later in the day gives you enough time to collect yourself.

10. Change Your Eating Habits

There is an abundance of data that suggests that changing your diet can greatly impact sleep cycles, including morning depression. Dark leafy greens are particularly impactful as they contain water-soluble B vitamins. Other antioxidant-rich foods are

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

Food can also impact sleep in other ways. For instance, if you are eating too much or too little sleep can be affected. Restriction of food can lead to depression and irritability. Shame can result from overeating.

With these in mind, try having a balanced meal that can satisfy, indulge and nourish you.

11. Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs

Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines can reduce the need to sleep, which can cause morning depression. Opioids, marijuana, and alcohol may also disrupt sleep.

Not only do drugs, including alcohol, affect your amount of sleep, but they can negatively impact the quality of your sleep.


12. Light therapy

Phototherapy mimics outdoor light through a light therapy box that you sit nearby. It is a recognized treatment for the seasonal affective disorder, but some people with morning depression have found it useful as well.

Some studies have linked exposure to light as linked to the part of our brain which regulates mood.

13. ECT

Though not the first defense, some people have found ECT to be an effective treatment specifically for morning depression. The electric currents that are passed through your brain in ECT are done under general anesthesia.


Whether you’re having morning depression or other underlying problems, there is always a treatment that you can do to help yourself. These can vary from medications, support, or simple changes in your lifestyle.

After all, it is your body and you know best what’s not working properly. Then, you should also have the power to correct it. You just need a little guidance, effort, and commitment.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

What Causes Morning Depression and How to Overcome it

What Is Morning Depression? Just as with any other kind of depression, you may feel similar symptoms. However, morning depression is most severe in the morning. You may not want to get up or have no energy to start the day.

Getting the Right Diagnosis for Morning Depression. Before treating what you are feeling, find out first if there are any other underlying issues or if there are other causes. Causes may be that you’re simply not managing your health, serious ailments such as heart disease or diabetes, or medications you may be taking.

What Causes Morning Depression? There are different causes, but it all boils down to sleep. It could be that your circadian rhythms are disrupted, having physiological problems like apnea, stress, or inflammation.

How to Treat Morning Depression? The range of things you can do varies from talking to professionals, medication, exercising, relaxing before bed, starting a simple task in the morning, creating better sleeping conditions, writing down your worries before bed, adjusting your schedule, changing your eating habits, avoiding mood-altering drugs, doing light therapy or going through ECT.

Featured photo credit: Vladislav Muslakov via unsplash.com


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