How to tackle morning depression

Trigger warning: Some aspects of the content may be triggering. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Samaritans at 116 123 or Pieta at 1800 247 247.

Morning depression is not simply the failure to fine-tune one’s circadian rhythm, or the experience of crippling brain fog upon waking up, or the inability to find hope or even meaning in daily life and its activities. It is a combination of these symptomatic behavioural changes and more.

Morning depression is a form of depression and hence can be clinically diagnosed by a medical health professional. Previously, it used to be diagnosed as a health condition on its own, but mental health experts now look at it as a symptom of depression.

This means that a person suffering from morning depression is not just someone who is “not a morning person” or is relatively crabby in the morning; it is someone who is terribly maladjusted to the practice of starting the day with a healthy headspace.

It drains a person’s energy levels and significantly alters the mood for a relatively extensive period of time (the minimum duration being two weeks).

Other clinical names of this condition are diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation. This is not to be confused with seasonal affective disorder which relates to changes in seasons as opposed to times of the day.

As is the case with most other mental health diagnoses, disturbed or disrupted sleep is often the major cause behind the condition. Sufferers of morning depression often have a disrupted circadian rhythm or body clock.

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While many people with a discordant sleep pattern and body clock – like shift workers or people travelling from one time zone to another – would find reconfiguring their circadian rhythm relatively manageable, for people with morning depression, it is generally a lot harder to achieve, even with the best possible practices and sleep hygiene methods.

The condition causes an individual with depression to feel more severe depressive symptoms in the morning than at any other time of the day. A person, upon waking up, may have to wrestle with crippling fatigue, brain fog, inability to think rationally or clearly, hopelessness, lack of motivation to start the day, extreme sense of loss or sadness, frustration, anxiety, anger, along with having to shake off morning grogginess.

So, yes, morning depression is more than having a dysfunctional circadian rhythm, even though it is almost always the primary cause.

Depressed Man
Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

Healthline outlines the following list of symptoms associated with this specific type of mood disorder in this article about morning depression. This list, of course, is not comprehensive by any means and the occurrence of symptoms would be subjective to the lifestyle choices and personality of a particular individual, as is the case with most mental health issues.

  • trouble waking up and getting out of bed in the morning
  • a profound lack of energy when you start your day
  • difficulty facing simple tasks, such as showering or making coffee
  • delayed physical or cognitive functioning (“thinking through a fog”)
  • inattentiveness or a lack of concentration
  • intense agitation or frustration
  • lack of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • feelings of emptiness
  • changes in appetite (usually eating more or less than usual)
  • hypersomnia (sleeping longer than normal)

These can be combined with the more general symptoms of depression, particularly major depressive disorder as have been noted in this article by WebMD.

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Trouble getting to sleep or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Feelings restless and agitated, or else very sluggish and slowed down physically or mentally
  • Being tired and without energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Samaritans at 116 123 or Pieta at 1800 247 247.

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Morning depression can make everyday life unbearable, given that most of the time our net productivity depends on our energy levels in the morning and the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves at the beginning of the day.

Also, owing to the fact that most of the world operate during daylight hours and that professional activities are fairly concentrated in the period between sunrise and dusk, the first few hours in the morning are extremely crucial for leading a balanced, productive lifestyle.

This mental health state becomes a persistent hiccup in terms of living up to commitments, be it in personal or professional life. It has the potential to trickle down just as easily into one’s personal life, relationships and commitments if they are leading an unsatisfactory quality of life overall.

Sometimes, the feeling of gloom is so overpowering, that daily obligations and commitments seem to lose their purpose. As a result, even something as fundamental as life itself may begin to lose its purpose.

Angry Woman
Photo by Malicki M Beser on Unsplash

Ways to Manage Morning Depression

So how does one work around morning depression?

Since the condition is one which tends to be a long-drawn affair, it is safe to suggest that a person experiencing it has noticed considerable impediments to leading a normal, balanced lifestyle similar to what their peers may seem to enjoy.

The following are some suggestions that may help with tearing a person away from the vicious cycle of depression in general, interspersed with recuperative ideas with more specific relation to morning depression.

Note: What helps one person may not work for another, and coping mechanisms vary in effect for every individual.

Medication and Therapy

Consulting your healthcare provider can be the most rational choice in the light of an episode of morning depression. They will usually recommend a combination of talk therapy and medication over the course of a few months to treat it. You would most likely be prescribed an SNRI as a medication since they are the most effective in treating morning depression. Prominent forms of psychotherapy like interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy may be relevant to treating the condition. This combined approach of treatment is especially effective in addressing elements in your life that might not just be contributing to but actually might be worsening your depressive symptoms like workplace or relationship problems as well as negative thought patterns.

Journal Writing

Scores of health and lifestyle features talk about therapy and reaching out to trusted ones for support, during depressive episodes. Yet, there are people out there who (surprisingly, if you will) might have access to neither, to whom even the act of reaching out and sharing intimate details about themselves might seem either too expensive, too disempowering or downright panic-inducing. There have been instances of individuals tragically losing their lives to this withering mental health condition without ever being able to mention it to another soul.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Samaritans at 116 123 or Pieta at 1800 247 247.

While reaching out to people you are close to or to a licensed professional, aids with the process of recovery, no doubt, it is time we stop treating it as instrumental to a treatment trajectory. It is time we acknowledge that it is perfectly fine to not depend on another human being for the process of healing. That is because not everyone has the luxury of access to another individual.

It is not yet another source of shame or discontentment in someone’s life to not have someone to talk to, for the very simple reason that you are the only individual with your own distinct mental frequency. That frequency cannot possibly mirror someone else’s. This realisation grants you the unique power of being able to tend to your own psychological needs and barriers (in the case of depression) quite competently if only there is a way to pinpoint the emotions, events and thought patterns behind a depressive spiral.

Keeping a journal helps with that. Being able to write down things that bother you and disrupt your peace and balance can be extremely empowering and cathartic.

Journal Writing
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

If writing stuff down in a journal regularly does not come to you naturally, there are several journal writing apps on the market, like Daylio, Five Minute Journal, Grid Diary with templated journaling, question prompts and mood rankers. These are especially for those who do not necessarily thrive on having a way with words.

Light Therapy

Aside from treating seasonal affective disorder, light therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, can help treat morning depression.

A person can sit or work next to a therapy lightbox which mimics natural daylight, to help with restoring the natural body clock. It is also believed to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and help regulate it.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure in which electric currents are passed through the brain to intentionally induce a seizure in an attempt to alter the brain chemistry. Altered chemical levels may reverse symptoms of depression.

Although the description may sound foreboding to the uninitiated, ECT is a fairly safe treatment, as explained by Healthline. It is conducted under general anaesthesia which means that one will be unconscious during the procedure and would not feel a thing. The electric currents are administered in a monitored and controlled environment, keeping the procedure as effective as possible, while mitigating risks at the same time.

Supplementary Lifestyle Changes

In addition to any of the above corrective suggestions, practising proper sleep hygiene may further advance the recovery process. The most pivotal change needed to be brought about in order to keep morning depression at bay is stabilising your sleep patterns and realigning your inner body clock to the environmental cues around you.

This would help your body secrete appropriate hormones for the time of day which in turn would help regulate your mood and minimise other symptoms.

Sleep Hygiene
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

The following are some of the most popular tips for sleep hygiene:

  •       Maintaining a clean and clutter-free bedroom with a fresh scent helps. If possible, try cracking the window open to let some fresh air flow through for at least thirty minutes every morning.
  •       Now that a lot of us are working from home, it is preferable to keep your workspace out of your bedroom. If that is not possible, at least make sure the workstation consists of a neatly organised table and a comfortable chair, and NOT the bed that you sleep in.
  •       Going to bed and waking up at fixed times every day signals the body to realign its inner clock.
  •       Having meals at fixed times of the day serves the same purpose.
  •       Taking a daytime nap, if necessary. Any longer than thirty minutes should be strictly avoided, no matter how overwhelming the state of exhaustion.
  •       Promoting a sleep-friendly environment in the bedroom like keeping it dark, cool and silent should help.
  •       Avoid substances that can disrupt sleep like alcohol, caffeine, tobacco.
  •       Keep a healthy and regular exercise routine, preferably outdoors, but refrain from any form of exercise for at least 4 hours before bedtime.


The Takeaway

Getting a good night’s rest and starting the next day with a fresh and ready mind should not be a luxury. If it increasingly appears to be so, there is something wrong indeed and it is time you begin to address them in a healthy way.

 If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Samaritans at 116 123 or Pieta at 1800 247 247.



Yishi Chakrabarty
Yishi Chakrabarty

As a journalist in Ireland, Yishi primarily writes about women's issues and mental health. Her work includes political analyses and social commentary. Originally from India, she has an academic background in History and Journalism.

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