Reduce the risk of depressive symptoms? Go to bed an hour ago

Everyone has some sort of “chronological pattern” that matches their internal clock. For example, your chronotype influences your natural preference for a particular bedtime, in part through the PER2 “clock” gene. The relationship between sleep timing and mood has been researched for several years, but this is the first study to concretely show how much (or rather, how little) adjustment it takes to make a positive difference.

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The researchers looked at genetic data from 840,000 people, including 85,000 participants who also wore sleep trackers and 250,000 people completed a survey. A third of the latter group called themselves an early bird, and nine percent of them fell into the “night owl” category and the rest were among them. On average, people went to bed around 11 p.m., and woke up at 6 a.m., in the middle of their bedtime at 3 a.m.

The researchers compared the data of this group with that of another group of people, who had (anonymous) medical data, diagnoses of depression, and prescribed medications. They wondered: Do people with a genetic preference for getting up early have a lower risk of depression? The simple answer: Yes.

Symptoms of depression

If a person who usually falls asleep at 1 a.m. reaches midnight and stays asleep for the same amount of time, the risk of depression can be reduced by up to 23 percent. If they pushed bedtime even further, from 1 a.m. to 11 p.m., it could make a 40 percent difference.

It remains unclear whether early risers also benefit from getting up early. But if you’re a night owl or an “average” sleeper, it might be worth a try.

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Megan Vasquez

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