Whether you suffer from ‘morning depression’ (characterised by ongoing intense feelings of sadness or low mood felt in the morning that dissipate within a few hours), or there are days when your symptoms of depression are most difficult to manage in the morning, feeling depressed upon waking is not a nice way to start your day.
The mornings can be a particularly tough time of day when you have depression, especially if you slept poorly overnight. When struggling with depression, waking up and facing a day full of (even the simplest) decisions can feel completely overwhelming, and drifting back off to sleep may be a much more desirable option.
Low mood or depression felt at certain times of day (very commonly experienced in the morning, but for others may be in the afternoon, evening or at night) is referred to as ‘diurnal variation of mood.’
Symptoms Of Morning Depression
Depression is characterised by intense feelings of sadness or low mood, and people that suffer from morning depression or find their depression is often worse in the earlier hours of the day may experience the following symptoms:
- have great difficulty waking up
- over-sleeping (otherwise referred to as ‘hyposomnia’)
- a significant lack of energy
- a feeling of heaviness
- feeling empty or like your life is lacking meaning
- brain fog (inability to think clearly or remember correctly)
- poor concentration
- considerable trouble physically getting out of bed
- delayed physical functioning
- mental or physical difficulty completing simple morning tasks e.g. getting dressed, preparing breakfast
- appetite changes (under-eating or over-eating)
- feeling irritable, frustrated or short tempered
- reduced interest in activities that previously brought great pleasure e.g. a morning stroll with the dog
What Are The Main Causes of Morning Depression?
There are a wide number of causes of morning depression or why a person battling depression feels their low mood or intense sadness is most prevalent upon or soon after waking in the morning, including:
Poor sleep sits high on the list for many people as a key cause of morning depression. Perhaps you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or maybe you wake several times overnight. Whatever the cause of your poor sleep, a lack of decent rest throughout the night can greatly increase feelings of depression in the morning, including symptoms such as difficulty waking up, brain fog and irritability.
(To learn how you can set yourself up for a good night’s sleep, see the section ‘Get A Decent Sleep’ below).
Disrupted Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm refers to our 24-hour internal body clock, otherwise viewed as the body’s natural ability to identify when we should be awake or asleep. There are two hormones that each play a very important role in regulating our circadian rhythm: cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is required for alertness throughout our day, and melatonin is released to aid feelings of sleepiness at night. The circadian rhythm of many individuals suffering from depression is disrupted, whereby the timing of the release of these hormones is disturbed and can cause us to feel particularly sleepy in the morning – which may contribute to further feelings of depression.
Low Blood Sugar Levels
Our blood sugar levels drop overnight due to lack of eating. Upon waking, we require sustenance in the form of food to raise our blood sugar levels in order to function efficiently. If you regularly skip breakfast, you are even more likely to feel tired, depressed and unable to function properly.
Inadequate Morning Nutrition
It is no secret that by consuming a balanced diet that includes an abundance of fresh food can greatly assist us to get the energy we need to operate at our best throughout the day.
In the mornings, particularly if you are struggling with depression, we often opt for the easiest breakfast we can get our hands on, which more often than not includes processed foods and/or ingredients. Processed foods generally contain much higher levels of sugar than fresh foods and tend to give us a short-term energy boost, but quickly leave us hungry and without energy shortly after (which can further exasperate depression symptoms).
Instead, taking some time either the night before or in the morning to prepare a healthy, nutritious breakfast consisting of whole foods can help give you the energy you need to get your day started.
Having To Face Reality
Many people battling depression often agree that sleep can be a great escape from the difficulties of reality. If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your lifestyle or current circumstances, simply waking to face your reality for another day can be very troubling and cause your depression to spiral downwards after you wake.
Feeling Overwhelmed Or Uncertain About The New Day Ahead
Feelings of severe depression can lead us to feel pessimistic or frightened about the day ahead i.e. the potential that exists in the morning for any number of ‘things to go wrong’ over the course of the day, which can then further increase depression.
Change Of Seasons
A change of seasons, particularly from summer through to winter, can largely affect our mood (even for people not suffering from depression). Waking up in darkness (and perhaps also returning home in darkness) can increase feelings of depression, due to lack of exposure to natural light. Similarly, waking up to a freezing cold (or hot) house can also increase symptoms of depression.
Fortunately, there are a range of things you can begin implementing in your daily life to help you manage your morning depression.
Things You Can Do To Help You Manage Your Morning Depression
Prepare Your Outfit And Pack Your Bag The Night Before
By selecting what you are going to wear the next day, you can relieve yourself of some of the decisions you shall face in the morning (as well as save yourself some time!). The same benefits apply to packing your bag in the evening (e.g. for school/uni, work, the gym, etc). It is ideal to address other morning decisions you can find overwhelming the night before. For example, what you wish to eat for breakfast or pack for lunch. You may surprise yourself – a little preparation the night before can go a long way come the next morning.
Write Down Your Morning Routine
Having your daily morning routine somewhere handy (e.g. beside your bed, on your bathroom mirror or kitchen bench) can be a huge help on those mornings whereby getting out of bed is a mammoth struggle in itself. A list detailing your morning routine can save you having to think about all the things you need to do after you get up and can prevent you from forgetting anything important. Instead, a morning routine can help you get on with starting your day without giving what you need to do too much thought.
Have Something To Look Forward To
Whether it’s something you enjoy once you’re out of bed, or an activity later in the day, it can be really helpful to schedule in something enjoyable you can look forward to each day when you are suffering from morning depression.
For example, you may wish to wake earlier than normal and enjoy a warm cup of tea or coffee while the sun rises or take your dog for a stroll before heading off to school/work. (The exposure to natural light and fresh morning air can assist your body to wake up). Perhaps you may wish to take a little extra time to prepare a breakfast you love, such as a healthy nutrient-dense smoothie or wholefood pancakes with fresh fruit and nuts/seeds.
You may prefer to schedule in something to enjoy at lunchtime or later in your day if you find taking time out in the morning for yourself too difficult. For example, meeting up with a friend for lunch or dinner, attending a gentle PM yoga class or getting cosy on the couch with a good book later in the evening.
Whatever it is that you enjoy, be sure to make time for it so you have something to look forward to each day. Even if you can put aside only a very short amount of time, say five to ten minutes – make a habit of doing something each day which makes you feel happy.
Keep A Diary
One of the leading reasons people have difficulty falling to and staying asleep at night is due to concerns over events to come the following day (or week, etc.). By keeping a diary of important dates, appointments and tasks you need to complete, you can free your mind of plans for the following day (or coming days) before you head to bed.
Get A Decent Sleep
First and foremost in helping you manage morning depression is getting a good night of sleep prior (though some days the morning can still prove difficult even after a solid night’s sleep). This can be achieved by putting into practice good ‘sleep hygiene’ – habits or a regular routine that is followed before going to sleep.
You may wish to consider the following things as part of your pre-sleep routine:
(- Avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption before heading to bed: which disrupt your ability to get to and stay asleep)
– Undertake a relaxing activity before bed: choose an activity you can do at home before bed that you find relaxing e.g. drinking a warm cup of peppermint tea, taking a warm bath with essential oils, reading a nice book or doing some gentle stretches.
– Activate ‘night mode’ on your devices: at least one hour prior to sleeping, turn any electronics such as a smartphone or tablet to ‘night mode’ (blue light is designed to keep us alert).
– Dim lighting: dimming the lights can help prompt our body for rest and sleep.
– Prepare your most comfortable sleeping conditions: including the temperature of your bedroom, your pyjamas/sleepwear and preferred bed linen.
– Write down any worries you have (‘brain dump’): to empty your mind of any worries and concerns before going to sleep.
– Go to bed at the same time each night (and wake up at the same time each day): by doing so, our body can learn to understand when it is time to go to sleep.
– Practice mindfulness meditation: to help you calm your mind before sleep (we cover this topic in more detail later in this article). You may wish to try a deep breathing exercise, a guided meditation or listen to a sleep story before you sleep.
It’s important to keep in mind that morning depression can still strike you even after a great night’s sleep, and on those days, giving some of our other suggestions a shot may be most helpful.
Light Therapy Or Phototherapy
Exposure to bright or natural light can be very helpful for sufferers of morning depression. By simply opening your bedroom curtains or blinds, even if only a small amount, light can assist your body to wake up and get going. You may also wish to get outside in nature after the sun is up to help your body switch to ‘day mode’.
If your work or lifestyle demands you to leave from and return home in darkness, you may find a light box helpful. A light box emits light that is designed to mimic natural sunlight, which can help to elevate your mood. You may like to sit one by your bed to help you wake in the morning, or pop one on your desk or in your workspace.
A light box can be particularly helpful in the cooler months (especially for sufferers of seasonal affective disorder) whereby the number of hours of sunlight is reduced. Similarly, if you leave the house and get home in the dark, you may largely benefit from getting outside at lunch time for some sunlight.
Allow Yourself Adequate Time To Get Ready In The Morning
It is important to remember that when we are feeling depressed, we can feel sluggish and struggle to get done the things we need to. It’s a good idea to allow yourself a little more time than normal to get ready in the mornings – even ten minutes can make a huge difference. The last thing you want to do is worsen your feelings of depression by having to rush through your morning routine (or forget something important) before you have even arrived at what you need to accomplish over your day.
Try A Morning Stretch or Gentle Exercise
Stretching is a fantastic activity to do in the morning when you are struggling with morning depression. A few gentle stretches once you’ve hopped out of bed can go a long way to relieve any morning stiffness, and by breathing calmly throughout, can help you to calm your mind and ease any depressive thoughts.
If you are up to it, some gentle exercise in the morning can also help to relieve symptoms of morning depression. You may like to try walking, gentle cycling, swimming or yoga, for example. A morning release of endorphins can be very beneficial for morning depression sufferers.
Mindfulness meditation, a popular form of meditation practised worldwide, refers to ‘the practice of focusing the mind (meditation) on the present moment (mindfulness)’. Mindfulness meditation can be a very powerful tool for bringing our attention to the present moment as we wake up in the morning, and can teach us to view our feelings of low mood or sadness (depression) as feelings only, and that they do not define who we are.
Daily mindfulness meditation practice can be very helpful for managing morning depression. For more information and some good starting exercises you can try when you wake up in the morning, check out our article ‘Beginners Guide To Mindfulness Meditation For Depression And Anxiety’.
When practiced daily upon waking, positive affirmations can be a powerful tool to fight your morning depression. Positive affirmations are positive spoken statements designed to create positive change in our lives. Practicing positive affirmations as soon as we wake up can help us to become alert as well as assist in stopping us from automatically feeling very depressed first thing in the morning.
Check out some basic positive affirmations as a starting point for your morning depression by clicking here.
‘Brain Dump’ Any Negative Feelings You Have Each Morning
Keeping a notebook and pen next your bed can prove really handy on days where negative, depressive thoughts flood your mind as you wake. Try taking a few minutes on such mornings to sit comfortably and empty your mind of any depressive thoughts. You may wish to write them down, or draw them simply on paper. Then, close your notebook, and do your best to ‘’leave behind’’ those thoughts and begin your day. (You may wish to try the same approach before bed, if your mind is battling depressive thoughts).
Eat A Nutritious Breakfast Every Day
When we wake in the morning, our blood sugar levels can be very low and by skipping breakfast, you may be more likely to feel tired and unable to function properly over your morning.
Eating a nutritious wholefood breakfast every day brings your blood sugar levels back up to a level where you can function more efficiently and helps to reduce tiredness associated with morning depression. Do your best to steer clear of heavily processed foods that are often high in sugar, as you may feel energetic in the short term and then ‘crash’ later on, which can amplify any feelings of depression.
Managing A Change Of Seasons
A change in seasons, particularly from summer through to autumn and winter, can exasperate morning depression symptoms. To help relieve morning depression on a cold winter morning, it may help you to:
- Put on your dressing gown and slippers and turn a heater on as soon as you get up to warm up your home
- Take a warm shower
- Lay out your clothes the night before so you can get dressed quickly
If you are someone that struggles more so in the heat with morning depression, you may like to try:
- Turning on air conditioning or a fan once you’ve woken up
- Taking a cool shower
- Eating a cool, refreshing breakfast such as a nutrient-dense smoothie or a bowl of chilled, fresh fruit with yoghurt, granola and nuts/seeds
By giving one or more of the above suggestions a shot, you may be better able to manage feelings of depression in the morning. However, in order to fully recover from your depression, it is important to see a professional therapist who can assist your with your recover. Get in touch with Brain Wellness Spa to get the help you need to recover from depression.