Mental health professionals around the world have long since championed morning rituals for better mental health. Starting your day off the right way can dramatically improve the outcome of your day, easing stress and putting you in the right frame of mind to take on whatever the day brings. For some, that’s an early morning workout, for others, it’s a big breakfast (both followed by coffee), but the best ways to start your day for better mental health, according to Lysn psychologist Elyse McNeil, is… getting up early.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, people who consider themselves ‘early birds’ are at a lower risk of mental illness. Research found those who naturally go to bed and rise early (six in the morning or earlier) had up to a 25% lower risk of depression, compared to those who identified themselves as night owls.
What’s more, the late risers were less likely to be married, more likely to live alone, be smokers and more likely to have erratic sleep patterns. This information reveals that there might be an effect of chronotype on depression that is not driven by environmental and lifestyle factors. A person’s chronotype is the tendency for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. Humans are normally diurnal creatures, meaning they are active in the daytime and exposure to daylight activates our body’s circadian rhythm (or our body clock).
The relationship between sleep and wake preference can affect both our mental and physical health, with sleep experts believing that setting your sleep cycle so you fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier puts your body more in tune with Earth’s circadian rhythms. You know the saying, ‘early to bed, early to rise’…
With those extra hours in your day, you’re able to use the extra time to do tasks that support emotional and physical being. Extra time in the morning allows you to collect your thoughts and mentally check in with yourself and you’re more likely to eat a well-balanced breakfast and spend time exercising. People who wake up early tend to be more productive than those who sleep in, simply because for many of us our brain’s are sharper in the morning and we can use that time wisely!
Night owls on the other hand need not fear. If you can’t get your body to get used to an early alarm, you can take other steps to ensure that you’re decreasing any risks of depression. Put time aside in daylight hours to exercise, spend time outdoors, ensure you are getting exposure to natural light and dim the fluorescent lights at night.
If you are determined to shift your sleep patterns, try to do it gradually to ensure that you’re not sacrificing the amount of sleep you’re getting. Start by working in 20 minute increments over a longer period of time and before you know it, you’ll be the early bird catching the worm too!