Why So Early? What Can I Do For Morning Depression?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A good night’s sleep and a productive morning can be crucial to our productivity, physical health, and emotional well-being throughout the day. So, experiencing sadness, fatigue, or a lack of motivation when you wake up can be concerning; and, in some cases, it may indicate the presence of a serious mental health concern. Morning depression is a term used to describe shifts in mood that make symptoms of depression feel worse when you wake up. If you find that depressive symptoms are often more severe in the morning, it can help to know how to address such fluctuations. Below, we’re going to provide an overview of morning depression and discuss treatment options.   

Overview of morning depression

If you have symptoms of depression in the morning (or more intense symptoms of depression in the morning than any other time), then you may be wondering about their source.

Morning depression is not itself a mental health condition; instead, it is considered the primary characteristic of diurnal mood variation, which can also include low energy/mood in the afternoon and worsening depression symptoms at night.

Diurnal mood variation is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as a symptom of major depressive disorder with melancholic features, a subtype of major depression. In addition to major depression, diurnal mood variation is thought to arise in other mood disorders, such as rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. 

But what causes these fluctuations in mood? The body has certain cycles, known as circadian rhythms, that help us fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. Depression can disrupt an individual’s circadian rhythm, causing them to struggle to wake up, which can lead to more severe symptoms of depression in the morning. Morning depression can have serious effects, potentially leading to physical health concerns, struggles at work or school, or further mental health challenges. 

Symptoms of morning depression include:

  • Substantially decreased energy levels at the beginning of the day
  • Lack of motivation in the morning
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Agitation or frustration
  • Sleeping considerably longer than normal

If you think you may be living with morning depression or a similar mental health challenge, a healthcare professional can provide you with a screening and determine whether further testing and treatment are necessary. 

Morning depression can present serious challenges

Treatment for morning depression

First-line treatment for major depression and other depressive disorders is typically a combination of medication and therapy. Additionally, there are several coping strategies that can be implemented in your everyday life that may help you get more restful sleep and feel better in the morning. If you’re looking to better manage morning depression, a healthcare professional can help you develop a treatment plan that works for you. 

Therapy

There is a large body of evidence pointing to the efficacy of psychotherapy when addressing symptoms of depression. Therapy can help you identify potential sources of morning depression symptoms, develop coping strategies, and address possible comorbid conditions. A therapist can also provide emotional support and help you access useful resources. 

Medication

A wide range of medications have been developed to reduce symptoms of depression. Some of the most common depression medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants. Always consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting or stopping any medication. 

Lifestyle changes

Coping strategies incorporated into your everyday life can complement the above forms of treatment or serve as part of a holistic treatment plan. The following are several lifestyle changes that may improve symptoms of morning depression.

Develop a healthy sleep routine

One of the most important steps you can take toward alleviating diurnal mood variation is getting quality sleep regularly and ensuring your sleep/wake times are in sync with your body’s circadian rhythm. Experts suggest exposing yourself to sunlight when you wake up in order to promote synchronicity with your body’s biological clock. They also stress the importance of consistency when it comes to your sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at similar times each day can contribute to good sleep hygiene. 

To help you get to sleep at night, consider creating a bedtime routine. This can include tending to personal hygiene, drinking a cup of herbal tea, reading, journaling, or doing other healthy activities that help you wind down. Maintaining a restful environment can also help. Try to eliminate noise and light from your room while keeping the temperature cool. You may also want to avoid your phone for an hour before bed. 

Exercise regularly

There is a proven connection between physical activity and improved symptoms of depression. Exercise can produce mood-boosting endorphins that may counteract feelings of sadness or a lack of motivation. It can also help alleviate symptoms of physical health concerns that may contribute to morning depression. Further, exercise has been shown to improve sleep by helping control our circadian rhythm. Consider joining a gym, practicing yoga, or creating an at-home workout routine. 

Lean on your support system

Social support has proven benefits when it comes to both depression and sleep. In one study, researchers found that participants who reported having strong social support had a 63% lower chance of experiencing exacerbated depression symptoms than those who did not—and a 52% lower chance of experiencing poor-quality sleep. A robust support network can provide you with encouragement, care, and guidance as you navigate morning depression. In addition to reaching out to friends and family members, consider joining a support group, which can help you connect with people who are experiencing similar challenges.

Meditate

Stress is a common factor in major depressive disorder. Worry and nervousness first thing in the morning can worsen your symptoms and may develop into a comorbid anxiety disorder. To alleviate stress, consider meditating when you wake up. Meditation can help you quiet your mind, focus, and relax. In one study, researchers found that students who regularly meditated experienced significant reductions in stress and depression. 

There are several different forms of meditation you can practice, including mindfulness, transcendental, and breath awareness. Guided meditations—in which someone talks you through the process of meditating— can be found online, through apps, or on streaming services.   

Limit alcohol consumption

There is a large amount of evidence that alcohol can both exacerbate symptoms of depression and disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. Alcohol can have an especially detrimental effect on sleep when consumed just before bed. Consider limiting alcohol consumption (particularly in the hours before bedtime) or abstaining altogether. 

Maintain a balanced diet 

Eating healthy food can help improve the quality of your sleep and your emotional well-being. Many experts recommend incorporating foods from the Mediterranean diet, which centers around the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, healthy fats, and fish. When it comes to managing morning depression, it may be particularly important for you to eat a substantial breakfast that is high in protein, which can boost your energy, lower cortisol levels, and help with cognitive function. 

How online therapy can help

Research suggests that online therapy can address both depressive symptoms and sleep disruptions. For example, in a meta-analysis of studies, researchers concluded that online therapy is an effective method of treatment for comorbid insomnia and depression. Additionally, the analysis notes that online therapy platforms can help users circumvent common barriers to treatment, such as cost, geographical limitations, and time constraints. 

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Morning depression can present serious challenges

If you’d like to learn more about addressing morning depression or similar concerns, consider connecting with a licensed therapist online. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can chat with a therapist remotely, which can be helpful if depression makes it hard to leave home. BetterHelp works with thousands of mental health professionals—who have a range of specialties—so you’ll have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your specific concerns related to depression, sleep disruptions, or other struggles. Below are reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people who have sought help for similar challenges.

Therapist reviews

“Audra listens and lets me work things out on my own sometimes. It is not always about her having all the answers, but rather, her helping me understand that I already know the answers. Sometimes when I get stuck, she offers just enough guidance to get me moving in a more positive direction. I really look forward to our talks!”

“Colleen has been an intricate part of my healing, and I know that I would not be as successful as I am without her encouragement, support, and advice. She is always there when I need her without hesitation and fully understands my goals and the challenges I face. She has wonderful techniques in helping me release and cope with stress and anxiety, which has greatly reduced my depression. Colleen is an absolutely fantastic therapist, and I can’t recommend her highly enough!”

Takeaway

It can be concerning to wake up in the morning feeling tired, unmotivated, or sad. If you’re experiencing morning depression, it can help to understand the sources of your symptoms and develop strategies for addressing them. By taking some of the above steps and, possibly, connecting with a licensed therapist online, you can address diurnal mood variations. You deserve support and care as you work to foster emotional wellness and experience more productive, enjoyable mornings.
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