Science Says Waking Up Early Can Protect Your Mental Health More Than You Realize

by Julia Guerra

From what I can tell, there are two types of people in this world: those who moan and groan and cringe at the idea of having to wake up before 9 a.m., and those who only wake up on the right side of the bed if they’re rising at dawn. Personally, I’m the latter, but I wasn’t always this way; rewind back to my high school mornings, and you’d witness an entirely different Julia than the one I am today. If you’re reading this tight-lipped, trust me, the health benefits of waking up early are well worth the effort of forcing yourself out of bed, no matter how sleepy you might feel at the beginning of your transition.

I know myself, and the reason I started waking up earlier than I had to on weekdays (as well as weekends) was ultimately because doing so would give me the opportunity to be more productive throughout the day. Still, if productivity isn’t incentive enough for you, maybe this will be: According to Harper's Bazzar, new research claims women who wake up earlier are less likely to develop a mental illness, such as depression and other mood disorders, compared to those who’d prefer to, say, sleep in on Saturday mornings, or milk that snooze option as much as possible before getting their workday started.

Listen, as someone who considers herself to be significantly introverted, I can totally sympathize with the need to clock in a few extra hours of shut-eye when the workload piles up or when your social calendar feels cluttered. Sleep is definitely necessary for your well-being, but if you had the ability to rearrange your bedtime to accommodate a six- to eight-hour snooze and still wake up before 7 a.m., why wouldn’t you, especially if it meant improving your mental health?

According to a new study, if you're early to bed and early to rise, you could have an advantage when it comes to your mental health.

Medical News Today reports the study, which was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, set out to find evidence that might link depression with women’s sleeping patterns. The research began in 2009 and analyzed more than 32,000 female nurses, who said they weren’t experiencing symptoms of depression at the beginning of the study. Over the course of a four-year trial period, the women were asked to complete two surveys about their sleep patterns and health. Interestingly enough, the results showed that, over time, those who considered themselves to be late risers were more likely to become depressed than those who woke up earlier each day.

Of course, it's important to note that a lot of factors can influence whether or not you’re at risk for developing depression (or any mental health issue, for that matter), like how well you sleep at night, everyday stressors, genetics, etc., so these results aren't the end-all-be-all by any means. However, according to Céline Vetter, a lead author on the study, this research alone is proof that mental health is affected by more than just lifestyle and environmental factors; it could also be influenced by your body's circadian rhythm (aka your internal clock that controls when you fall asleep at night and when you wake up in the morning).

And Vetter's not the only one who sees a correlation between sleep patterns and well-being. In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, Dr. Sujay Kansagra, says the effects of waking up early on your well-being are definitely psychological, and can even determine how well (or not-so-well) you perform at school, work, and basically every other aspect of your life. “Waking up early can help you gain a sense of accomplishment," Dr. Kansagra says. "Not only are you likely to tackle more throughout the day, but early-morning wake-up calls (after a good night’s sleep) can help you function at your optimum energy level each and every day.”

Believe me, it's not easy making the transition from night owl to early bird at first, but it's not impossible, and the health benefits are well worth the switch.

Now, for my night-owl friends reading through this article, who are possibly rolling their eyes or sulking because now science has undoubtedly given you the push you need to at least try waking up a little bit earlier than usual, let’s talk strategy. The bad news is, it’s not going to be easy, at least initially, but the good news is it'll all be worth it.

So, how does someone who defies the early-morning culture dive head-first into this exotic world of colorful sunrises, breakfast over brunch, and functioning at full-speed before noon? For starters, Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, says patience is key because, in order for any lifestyle change to stick, it’s going to take some time.

“In order to create change and behavior, you need to experience a change in your everyday schedule for at least two weeks in duration,” Forshee tells Elite Daily. “So, if you want to learn to become more of a morning person, create a two-week schedule where every day for that two weeks, you are waking up at the same time and going to bed around the same time.” TBH, this is probably going to suck during that first week, because your body is likely so used to waking up late that an earlier rise is going to come as a complete shock. You’re going to feel tired, and pressing snooze is going to be more tempting than ever before, but I encourage you to resist, friend. By the time two weeks has come and gone, you’ll be rising and shining with ease.

But, if you still need a little extra support, technology is on your side. Carl Johan Hederoth, CEO of Sleep Cycle, tells Elite Daily an alarm clock app like Sleep Cycle “wakes you in your lightest sleep phase,” which basically just means you’ll be up and at ‘em without the difficulty of wriggling yourself out of a deep sleep or good dream. This makes waking up before the sun tolerable, Hederoth says, if you can imagine that. However, once your eyes are open, and your alarm clock has been turned off, Dr. Kansagra advises you steer clear of all things technological for a bit, and instead, soak up some natural light in order to train your body to recognize that darkness means sleep, and sunlight means it's time to wake up.

Long story short: If you snooze, you lose, so wake TF up. After all, your mental health might depend on it.