Is it healthier to be a morning person or a night owl?
By middle adulthood, we tend to get a sense of which time of day we feel the most lively and when we’re plagued by drowsiness. Some of us are up with the sun, and others stay up late, howling at the moon (or, more likely, scrolling on social media). These biological rhythm differences are called chronotypes.
According to self-report measures, about 40% of the adult population identify as belonging to the morning or evening chronotype categories, while approximately 60% of the population claim no preference. But what are the true differences between morning and night people? Is one chronotype healthier than the other? Are we more at risk for mood disorders or severe depressive symptoms if we have an evening type circadian phase preference? These are some important questions to address in this article as we review the link between chronotype and affective disorders.
What affects chronotype?
Our human circadian rhythms may seem mysterious, but there are some biological roots or reasons for our habits. Direct experience helps us know that our body responds to some form of an internal clock, especially when we have jet lag following a long flight or generally feel more energy when the sun is out. While there is some debate on the origins of chronotype, especially seeing as it varies by person, it is known to be affected by factors such as age, gender, heredity, social constraints and environmental factors.
Chronotype and Depressive Symptoms
Another factor of note is the seemingly reciprocal relationship between these daily temporal patterns and psychiatric disorders, including severe depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances, in general, are a well-known symptom of these mental disorders, and the insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality associated with evening type circadian preference is of concern. A 2021 longitudinal study links evening chronotype with increased risk for depressive mood episodes in bipolar disorder patients, and further studies have linked depressive symptoms such as emotional dysregulation and higher negative emotionality with abnormalities in biological rhythms.
Optimizing Your Energy
Regardless of whether you have always held morning or night traditions, been forced to adapt to one or the other, or are new to having to refocus your energy, we have some tips on how to harness the best parts of you to make for the best parts of your day. Knowing how prevalent the connection is between chronotype and depressive symptoms, consider our tips below for regulating the human circadian clock.
Regulate your sleep.
Whether you rise early, middle, or late, ensure that your sleep stays consistent. Research finds that poor sleep quality can disrupt brain chemistry, which leads to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or mental health experiences. Adults should aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night – but not to worry, if you find that your body simply needs more rest than what science has deemed acceptable, afford yourself that time.
Count to 10.
If you find yourself having a hard time getting out of bed when your alarm sounds, or if you’re living with a more severe case of delayed sleep phase syndrome, it could be helpful to give yourself a gentle nudge. One way to do this is to count to 10 – count slowly to 10 or count down from 10, and when the timer is up, your feet should be on the floor. Having forms of accountability makes us prioritize our responsibility to ourselves, which is getting our day started without the stress of jumping out of bed in a rush.
Start a waking schedule.
Many of us doom scroll to prevent the inevitable up-and-at-‘em process (and perhaps seeing all the bad news happening in the world makes it harder to get up?). But what if, instead of reaching for your phone, you decided to reach for a full glass of water beside your bed and drank it instead? Having a regimen to start your days, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, and/or listening to a podcast, helps us to slowly ease into the day with gratitude and focus. Using a behavioral activation system is another great way to track your mood and your movements throughout the day.
Find what motivates you.
Writing down or otherwise recording what gets us excited for the day helps us to create and sustain motivation and is a great combatant for daytime sleepiness. Gratitude journaling can be a helpful way to get these ideas flowing, especially when using prompts such as “What can I do today to make my day enjoyable?”. If your motivation is a hot cup of coffee, a nutritious meal on a lunch break, laughing with a friend or favorite coworker, or the fact that it’s getting cooler outside, use those small reminders to fuel your day, your energy, and your attitude.
Listen to bodily cues.
When we work with clients on tolerating distress and emotions, we often encourage them to pay attention to their bodies. This is because our bodies usually can detect stress or at least signal it to us when we are feeling overwhelmed, so long as we pay attention. If you feel tightness in your chest or shoulders, take a moment to unclench your jaw and breathe, or practice some progressive muscle relaxation. If you are feeling more agitated with people around you, ensure that you’ve had the proper amount of food, sleep, and social contact to fuel your day.
Keep a wind-down routine.
Whether you have an evening preference or are just looking to stave off depressive symptoms, it’s important to maintain a wind-down routine. This includes limiting screen time and decreasing blue light exposure that contributes to insomnia symptoms, deep breathing to calm the nervous system to prepare for sleep, and/or engaging in some reflective writing to assess how the day went. Winding down prepares our internal circadian clock to slow down for sleep, which helps us to feel rested and ready for the next day.
Healing Major Depressive Disorder at All Times of Day
We believe mental healthcare should be accessible and respectful not only of individuals’ circadian rhythm, but also every other commitment and responsibility they shoulder. We believe that our role as advocates for mental health access means providing services that meet clients in their energy fields, which is why we offer morning and evening services for both adults and teens living with affective disorders. Many adults don’t prefer to start a long movie after 8 pm, and some teens don’t want to see the sun before 8 am, so we’ve created a system to meet in the middle by providing both to cater to all.
We hope this lesson in chronosystems can encourage you as well, to meet and honor yourself in the middle of where you find your best, most creative, most meaningful work and joy.
For more on how THIRA Health helps cater services to your rhythmic schedule and how we serve clients with depressive symptoms, affective disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, and our bipolar patients, explore our website now!