Science has long shown that sleep is connected to mental health in addition to physical well-being. Not only is it critical for keeping your mind sharp on a daily basis, but it’s also a crucial part of preventing age-related health problems down the line, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. On top of that, a new study shows that making a small change to your sleep schedule can also lower your risk of depression. The secret? It’s all about setting your alarm clock back an hour.
Prior research has shown that night owls tend to be at higher risk of depression than early birds, which scientists believe is due to a combination of genetics as well as circadian rhythms and the amount of light that people get depending on when they sleep. But does that mean that folks who sleep in need to suddenly alter their entire schedule? That’s what the study from University of Colorado at Boulder wanted to find out.
Aggregating survey and tracker data from over 840,000 people, scientists discovered that when people wake up even an hour earlier than their usual schedule after staying asleep for the same amount of time that they usually do, they cut their risk of depression by 23 percent. Interestingly, they also found that when someone goes to bed two hours earlier and therefore wakes up two hours earlier, that number jumps to 40 percent.
That said, changing sleep habits, even by one hour, can be hard for many people. If you’re willing to put in the effort though, the leader researcher from the study offered some simple advice. “Keep your days bright and your nights dark,” explains Celine Vetter, assistant professor of integrative physiology at the university. “Have your morning coffee on the porch. Walk or ride your bike to work if you can, and dim those electronics in the evening.” It might be worth a shot!