Everyone has days when you don’t want to get out of bed. But if morning depression is becoming your daily reality, there’s hope for treatment.
Perhaps you’ve just opened your eyes, and you still feel exhausted. Or maybe you’re laying in bed thinking about the day ahead, and you can’t find much to look forward to. In extreme cases, you may even wonder what’s the point of getting out of bed.
For some people, this can be a repeating pattern that happens on most mornings. By the afternoon, it’s typical to start to feel a little better and move through your day with more ease.
If this cycle sounds familiar, you may be living with a manageable symptom of depression known as morning depression.
Morning depression is exactly what it sounds like. It’s common to experience symptoms of depression early in the day and notice improvement as the day goes on.
Sometimes referred to as diurnal mood variation, morning depression is not its own diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
Instead, it’s considered one of the symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder.
Morning depression looks different for everyone and tends to be a blend of classic depression symptoms along with difficulty getting your day going in the morning.
Some signs to look out for include:
- extreme sadness or low mood
- exhaustion and lethargy
- feeling hopeless about the day ahead
- hard time getting out of bed
- heavy brain fog
- irritability upon waking
- sleeping more than usual (hypersomnia)
- worse symptoms in the morning without a clear cause
- trouble with morning routine, like showering, brushing your teeth, and making coffee
Like depression, it can be difficult to pin down the exact reasons for this symptom. So much is still unknown about clinical depression, but researchers do have a few hints.
Feeling low in the morning may have to do with
When there’s sunlight, it helps rouse you awake in the morning with a hormone called cortisol. After dark, it prompts the release of melatonin, a hormone signaling that it’s time to rest.
More recent findings from 2021 have shown that those who live with morning depression may have differences in their hypothalamus, the part of the brain that helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
Some 2005research demonstrates that people who live with depression may have more of an inflammatory marker called plasma interleukin-6, which increases during the day and could reverse the circadian rhythm.
- inflammatory markers, like plasma interleukin-6
Understanding the link between pro-inflammatory markers and morning depression has been a promising route to discovering new treatments.
It’s common for your heart rate to increase when you’re stressed or experiencing tough emotions, which can affect sleep.
If you have depression or bipolar disorder, stress can lead to disturbances in the sleep circadian rhythm.
Multiple approaches are often the most effective treatment plan for managing morning depression, including a combination of:
Like all mental health conditions, finding what works best for you often takes time and effort. You may need to try different things before coming up with the right treatment plan.
While there’s little research specifically on psychotherapy (talk therapy) and morning depression, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is well-established to help symptoms of depression.
For some, antidepressant medications can help improve symptoms of depression. It may take several weeks to find the right medication and dosage, so try to be patient with this part of the process if medication is in your treatment plan.
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- citalopram (Celexa)
Instead, a healthcare professional may prescribe a different class of antidepressants called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some popular SNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta) or venlafaxine (Effexor).
You may have heard about light therapy, or phototherapy, for those who live with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Some 2020 research shows that light therapy may be mildly to moderately effective in treating nonseasonal forms of depression as well, which can include morning depression, though more studies are still needed.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
If your symptoms of depression are resistant to other forms of treatment, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be an option worth discussing with your doctor.
ECT is performed while you’re under anesthesia and sends electrical currents through your brain to help stimulate the production of neurotransmitters, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Some 2018 research shows ECT can reduce pro-inflammatory markers in the brain, which could be behind disruptions in circadian rhythm.
When your circadian rhythm gets disrupted for any reason, it can upset your hormone-release cycle. This can cause you to feel more alert at night or more groggy in the morning, which can make symptoms of depression more challenging.
In trying to get your body’s natural clock on schedule, you may find certain lifestyle changes especially helpful in promoting a regular sleep cycle, such as:
- getting regular exercise
- avoiding caffeine before bed
- developing a sleep hygiene routine
- dimming the lights 2 hours before bed
- keeping a consistent sleep schedule
- avoiding naps in the afternoon
- eating nutrients that may treat depression symptoms naturally
Be mindful of your influences
There’s no shame in being protective over your morning routine.
Try to avoid things that can worsen your mood first thing in the morning, like frightening news stories or the endless social media scroll of people who you may be likely to compare yourself to.
Also, 2020 research shows that gratitude-based interventions may improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. You may find it useful to make a gratitude list first thing in the morning to help start your day.
Gratitude on the go
A quick and easy way to practice gratitude can start with creating a list called “blessings” in the notes app on your phone.
Every morning, you can try to jot down 5 to 10 things you’re grateful for. On days when you can’t think of anything, you can scroll through your past entries.
You may notice this little boost helps motivate you to get out of bed when you’re dealing with morning depression.
Symptoms of depression can fluctuate throughout the day. For some people, it may feel worse in the morning.
Experiencing morning depression is not your fault and is certainly not something you’re choosing. Depression is common, and you’re not alone.
From what researchers know so far, morning depression likely has to do with nuances in your brain and circadian rhythm.
More research is still needed on treatments for morning depression specifically, but you may find that a combination of different approaches is helpful, such as:
- talk therapy
- lifestyle changes
To begin managing this symptom, it’s important to work with a doctor or therapist to come up with a treatment plan that works for you.