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What Is Morning Depression?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on July 21, 2020

Depression can feel worse at different times of the day. Often, that can be in the morning.

If you tend to wake up in a low mood, you may have what some doctors call morning depression. The term is not recognized as a condition by the official diagnostic manual for mental disorders.

But it may be caused by the same things that bring on clinical depression. Your morning blues also may be caused by problems or medical conditions unrelated to depression.

Symptoms

Morning depression can be part of what’s called diurnal mood variation. It refers to the fact that symptoms of clinical depression can rise and fall throughout the day. Usually, it’s worst in the morning hours. But some people find that their mood slumps in the afternoon or in the evening instead.

Morning blues can look like classic depression. Signs may include feeling sad, anxious, and lacking interest in anything. You may feel most down after you wake up and notice that you:

  • Have no energy to start your day
  • Feel cranky
  • Overslept or find it hard to get out of bed
  • Feel frustrated

Possible Causes

Morning depression may stem from clinical depression. Or it may reflect other health issues.

Sleep problems. They often go with depression. People who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to be depressed. Depression itself can make it hard for you to fall or stay asleep.

A common physical cause of poor sleep and depression is obstructive sleep apnea. This is when you stop and start breathing during the night. Treating your sleep apnea can ease your depression symptoms.

Stress hormones. Your body releases a chemical called cortisol in response to “fight or flight” situations. This hormone amps up your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and breathing rate. Over time, too much cortisol may be linked to such problems as anxiety, depression, and a hard time with memory and concentration.

Usually, your cortisol levels spike after you wake up. It may be that your body overreacts to the stress hormone and leaves you feeling down in the mornings.

Inflammation. Studies have found high levels of an inflammation-causing chemical called interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the brains of people with depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders.

IL-6 levels rise and fall at different times in different people. But early morning is a common peak period. One study found that in some people, IL-6 amounts climb overnight and reach their highest level close to the time that their cortisol levels peak.

What You Can Do

If the symptoms of morning depression sound familiar to you, you can take steps to get help.

Get the right diagnosis. Talk to your doctor or health care provider to understand if you may have something more than temporary mood swings.

Take care of your overall health. Try to eat well, stay active, and manage any long-term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Physical health plays a role in your mental health.

Ask for a medication checkup. Your doctor or pharmacist can review if your drugs or drug interactions may be behind your morning depression.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Diurnal variation of depressive symptoms.”

Michelle Riba, MD, director, University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center PsychOncology Program, Ann Arbor, MI; past president, American Psychiatric Association.

Sleep Foundation: “Depression and sleep.”

Mayo Clinic: “Sleep apnea,” “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.”

Endocrine Society: “What is Cortisol?”

Sleep Medicine Reviews: “The cortisol awakening response -- applications and implications for sleep medicine.”

Neuro Endocrinology Letters: “Depressive symptoms are associated with higher morning plasma cortisol in primary care subjects.”

Neurobiology of Stress: “Integrating Interleukin-6 into depression diagnosis and treatment.”

Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases: “Overnight variations in cortisol, interleukin 6, tumour necrosis factor α and other cytokines in people with rheumatoid arthritis.”

Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Diurnal variation of depressive symptoms.”

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